How to use SignOn!


1. Contents of SignOn!

The course consists of ten lessons. The topics were chosen according to three criteria: usefulness for Internet users, for travelling and/or deaf-related topics. The lessons are of varying complexity and also of varying design (e.g. texts and dialogues). All of them centre on the Main Text which illustrates the topic and provides the users with the most important vocabulary.

Each main text contains also sign language translations (all, sentence-by-sentence, word / phrase and grammar) and exercises. A dictionary based on the word / phrase section may be accessed separately.

Further information (both topic-related and general useful information) can be found in "More information" and the "Toolkit".

2. How to use SignOn!

The link "Help / Info" which is accessible throughout the program contains a brief visual introduction to the most important features: it combines screenshots with arrows and English explanations (simple English was chosen because the target group as well as other international users should be able to understand it). More detailed explanations can be found below.

2.1. How to choose a sign language

On the main page of SignOn! the users can find a short introduction in sign language. The default setting is International Sign, but the users may also choose one of the national sign languages of the partner countries (Austrian Sign Language, British Sign Language, Catalan Sign Language, Dutch Sign Language, Finnish Sign Language, Icelandic Sign Language or Norwegian Sign Language). In order to change the sign language, the users have to click on one of the national flags.

2.2. How to choose a topic and work with it

On the main page, a topic may be chosen by clicking on it. Within the program, a list of the topics can be found in the menu on the left. Here, the sign language can be chosen by simply clicking on a flag.

There are four possible settings for each topic, which may be accessed by clicking on the tabs "All", "Sentence", "Word / Phrase" or "Grammar". "All" gives a translation of the whole text by clicking somewhere in the text. "Sentence" allows the users to get a sentence-by-sentence translation of the text. By clicking on "Word / Phrase", difficult words and phrases are highlighted in the text. These are either translated directly or explained in sign language. "Grammar" explains the most important grammar phenomena briefly in sign language. As each lesson focuses on several grammar points, the menu item "Grammar menu" on the left gives an overview: an alphabetical list shows which grammar topics are dealt with in which lesson(s).

2.2.1. How to use the exercises

Each topic contains exercises which allow the users to practice the new words or some grammar. A new window will open and give the users a choice between several different exercises.

Each exercise also has the options "Main Menu" to return to the main exercise page, and "Help", which gives a visual explanation of the controls and the tasks, similar to the introductory help to the program. This help page also contains screenshots combined with arrows and brief explanations in (written) English.

Any exercise may be left at any point or accessed without finishing the previous exercise; there are also no grades (except for a written feedback "good", "very good :-)" or "Incorrect
:-(" after the exercise has been finished). Navigation is possible by clicking on the green link "Next à" after an exercise has been finished or by clicking on the blue triangular arrows next to "page x of y" which allow the users to navigate forwards and backwards.

There are three kinds of exercise types: Drag and drop

This exercise type combines videos with written English labels, e.g. new words or questions about the content of the text. Each label has to be matched with the correct video (a translation of the word into sign language or the answer to the question) by dragging the label onto the correct video window. The videos may be replayed by clicking on the video window. With this exercise type, there are no wrong choices as wrong labels will simply revert to their original position on the right. Once all six labels have been positioned correctly, the user will be directed to the next exercise. Multiple Choice

This exercise type combines a video window with several options in written English. The users have to click on the correct answer (e.g. they have to match a video with the correct English translation). This exercise type is also used cloze-style, by giving a written sentence from the text with a blank (the video gives the respective sign language translation of the sentence); the users have to click on the correct English word or grammatical form to fill in the blank.

Correct or wrong answers are marked with a green tick or a red "x", then the users will automatically get the next part of the exercise. Right order

This exercise type serves to practice spelling and word order. A video window gives some word or sentence in sign language which the users then have to recreate by combining either single letters or parts of sentences into a correct whole.

If the word or sentence is not completed correctly, the users will get a message "Incorrect :-(" and may choose to move on to the next part of the exercise or to do the same exercise again.

2.3. Elements common to all the topics

2.3.1. How to use the dictionary

The dictionary may be called up at any time by clicking on the link "Dictionary". The new window may be positioned at the user's discretion. Again, the user has to choose a sign language first and then to click on a word / phrase in the list of  (written) English translations.

The video can be paused, played in a loop or enlarged by using the buttons beneath the video window. 

As the contents of the dictionary all depend on the context of the lessons, there may be sometimes more than one translation into sign language for the same English word so that the same word appears more than once in the list. In this case (e.g. "adult"), the dictionary contains an additional feature: by clicking on the numbered button after "example sentence" (beneath the video buttons), a sentence which gives the respective context will be displayed in written and signed form (e.g. "How much does an adult elephant weigh?" and "Are you travelling alone, or with one or more adults?").

2.3.2 How to use the "More information"

"More information" is a list of  Internet sites related to the topics of SignOn!. They either provide background information (e.g. the Deaflympics homepage, links to various international deaf organisations) or give useful additional information (e.g. on-line translators, netiquette rules, links to weblogs, search engines, etc.). The links are all assigned to a topic; the individual topics may be reached either by scrolling down the list or by accessing them via the linked list of topics at the top of "More information". If there are several links, they are grouped under a brief explanatory heading (in written English).

Only links for relatively stable sites were chosen to be included in "More information" so that the links would not change every few weeks.

2.3.3. How to use the Toolkit

The Toolkit is another list of links which contain useful general knowledge, e.g. on-line resources for English as a Second Language, on-line dictionaries (both for spoken/written languages and sign languages), currency converters, on-line encyclopaedias, etc.). Brief headings in written English explain the links; they are also marked with national flags to specify the language of the link. Language-specific links may be accessed either by scrolling down the list or by clicking on one of the national flags at the top of the Toolkit.

This layout was chosen so that the users would have access to all of the links and not only to the links in their own national written language.

2.4. How to use SignOn! for learning English

2.4.1. SignOn! for autonomous learning

SignOn! was designed as a self-learn course: the users may decide individually what they want to learn and how they want to do it. As there is no rigid course structure, the users may work through the topics in any order they like or simply pick out the topics which are most interesting or useful to them. There are no grades or exams, so the users need not be afraid of making mistakes.

SignOn! uses immersion as a teaching tool, i.e. the users will be confronted by an English text. They can switch to sign language videos as a help function and may choose between a total translation of the text, sentence-by-sentence translation, a translation of difficult words/phrases (which doubles as a dictionary) and a sign language explanation of English grammar. The grammar section gives brief explanations for difficult forms or structures. Those are not comprehensive but are meant either to serve as a reminder or to give at least some information in sign language so that the users will know what to look up in a grammar book.

There are different learning strategies possible. Ideally, the users will read the whole Main Text and try to work out the general content first without looking up every word. If they do not understand a certain word or structure, they can then switch to sign language and choose how much of a translation / explanation is needed.

2.4.2. SignOn! in the classroom

Although the SignOn! program was meant to be used autonomously by the deaf users, it can also be used in the context of the classroom. In this case, the students can either read through the text on their own, try to work out the meaning by using the translations and have possible questions answered by the teacher, or the teacher can have them read through the texts and then deepen their knowledge by looking at the sign language videos for translations and/or grammatical structures.

The advantage of the electronic format is that the students will have access to the materials around the clock; they can look at them again and again if they want to and compare written English and their national sign language at their leisure. In a classroom, such multiple repetions are usually not possible.

There is an added benefit: as the users may switch between different national sign languages, it is also possible to learn some signs from another sign language by using the translations and especially the dictionary.

When the users start with the course, we expect them to be on level A2 for reading and A1 for writing (measured according to the Council of Europe Self Assessment Grid; c.f. Although probably not all of them will reach the next level after finishing SignOn!, they should have acquired some of the skills defined for the next highest level. An overview of our expectations for improvement can be found in Table 1.



Starting level

Level of texts,
activities in lessons

Ending level

Reading and writing skills in written English

A2 for reading and A1 for writing (cf. Self Assessment Grid)

Recalling the competences of level A1, A2 and building up additional competence towards the next level;
activities, strategies for English only

English vocabulary


250 new words

English syntax

Simple phrases and sentences

Pragmatics of Internet-English


Basic knowledge of pragmatic functions and the ability to analyse one's own language production

Table 1: Assumed competence levels of students before and after finishing the SignOn! course


Although this table may give the impression that the target group is a rather homogeneous group, the discussion among the partners showed that this is not the case. For the English deaf, English is their national written language; other partners like the Dutch reported that the deaf in their countries have at least some English competence, while in Austria and Spain they have almost no knowledge of English at all. This shows the inhomogeneity of the target group with respect to their written English competence.

3. How to develop new materials

For new topics, an English text will have to be translated into the national sign language(s) and filmed. The videos will need to be cut into single sentences. The words / phrases and the grammar explanations will have to be filmed separately. All the texts and the videos will then have to be sent to Møller Resource Centre, where the technicians will include the new material into the program.

For technical information on video size and other specifications, please contact Møller Resource Centre:

Department of Reseach and Development
Møller Resource Centre
PO Box 175 Heimdal
7473 Trondheim

Contact person:
Olle Eriksen
Head of Department of Research and Development
Tel. +47 72 59 65 00
Fax +47 72 59 65 01

For any other questions, please contact the coordinator:

Franz Dotter
Zentrum für Gebärdensprache und Hörbehindertenkommunikation
Universität Klagenfurt
9020 Klagenfurt

Tel.: +43 (0)463 27 00 – 2821
Fax: +43 (0)463 27 00 – 2899