Signalongs – Bastardization or Authenticity of ASL Music Artistry.


Yep. We do have a controversy. I am vocal about people using American Sign Language to translate musical lyrics. I have strong opinions about this.

“ASL Music- An Oxymoron” vlog which I created on October 11, 2007 when I noticed a disturbing trend of people who are not Deaf are using American Sign Language to express themselves by ‘translating’ musical songs. I get peeved by watching these videos. This vlog generated a lot of discussion.

I have learned few things.

1. Hearing people and some D/deaf people LOVE music. It is like a ‘gospel’ to them. I can respect that.

2. Hearing people appreciate visual movement complementing with music. That’s why they love going to concerts and watch an artist singing and dancing on the stage. It is enthralling for them. Same for chorus at religious places. I get it.

3. Using American Sign Language as a part of visual movement with music, is a best hook for the audience who never seen ASL on the stage. It is the only way they can get exposed to it. I get it too. I certainly get it.

4. Tying up music with ASL – it is like a glue for young adults who want to learn, and thus helped the popularity of American Sign Language.

5. Taking ASL classes by itself didn’t really help with translation/interpretation of musical lyrics. People who take ASL classes alone thought that if they learn a sign for a word, then they will “match” that sign with lyrics. That’s what is happening out there. They just don’t understand that ASL and English are two separate languages, and you cannot link these two languages together. That is a no-no.

6. Some students who decide to enter into the interpreter training programs, and use their skills to translate lyrics with ASL without going through the complex interpreting process, and not asking Deaf ASL fluent artists for any feedbacks or giving them some credit. That is a no-no.

In past few years, there is a resurgence of Deaf and CODA artists working collaboratively with skilled and talented Deaf filmmakers, and they produce high-quality ASL Music videos. The most recent one is Camp Mark Seven’s Pharrell’s “Happy”. This video went viral with almost 850,000 hits.

Also, I learned that Rocky Mountain Deaf School produced this “Happy” video and it was posted on May 30, 2014.

Two completely different translations, with two different video and editing work. Both are good.

Now, I want to address the controversy with Paul and Tina Sirimarco’s Signalong videos. They created the first video, “You’re The One That I Want” from Grease, which went viral. It has 1.25 million hits on YouTube.

After releasing this video, Paul and Tina produced more videos which resulted a strong following of fans and supporters. They decided to set up a fundraiser website where they can collect funds to produce more musical videos and educating/teaching American Sign Language for the audience. Their goal is to spread the ‘gospel’ of ASL to the masses. I was bit upset because Tina who is an interpreter did these songs along with her fiance, Paul who are learning ASL to join with her for duets, and their signs are hard to follow and I am unable to appreciate their work. I have seen some of the signs which are conceptually wrong, and it does not make any sense to me. That is called a bastardization of ASL. Several Deaf people tried to tell them of their concerns, gave suggestions, but quickly dismissed and called them as “haters”.

Before you call me as a hater. Please read on.

I want show you another video posted on Facebook on August 23, 2014, done by a different couple, Becky Poehling Woodall (ASL Interpreter) and Daniel Woodall (Child of Deaf Adults and also an ASL Interpreter) did the duet in their car translating “Fine By Me” by Andy Grammer. Please check this song’s lyrics here.

What do you think? I watched this video and I am moved by their stellar interpretation and translating this music with ASL as authentic as possible.

Paul and Tina Sirimarco, and others – please respect American Sign Language and if you want to express music with ASL, do them right way and seek for the best role models such as the Woodalls and Deaf/ASL fluent artists for feedbacks before posting online.


One Commenter suggested that I show a video of talented Deaf artists creating ASL Music that should be showcased on my blog. I wholeheartedly agree with this commenter. I checked many videos done by Deaf people and these videos are mostly interpreting to ENGLISH lyrics in ASL, but did not convey the music itself. It looked bit flat to me.

The only possible visual Representation of using ASL to convey music itself, and not interpreting to ENGLISH lyrics. “Hand Music” from the film In The Land Of The Deaf by Nicolas Philibert.

I am hoping that we can do bit differently, by expressing ourselves using ASL first, and then add music to it. I would love to see a Deaf person’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony 9 using ASL classifiers and movements only. That would be challenging and creative too!


Also, please support our Deaf/ASL fluent performers and artists. How can we show support? Go to YouTube and seek for their videos and click LIKE! Share this video on Facebook with your friends. Donate money and resources for them to produce more high quality videos. Invite them to your local ASL Festivals to promote their art. Give them credit and recognition, write articles, blogs, tweet, and anything!

Here is a list of Deaf Professional Artists – go to D-PAN website here. If there are more names, let me know by leaving a comment here.

There is one fundsource website seeking for funds to create a professionally made ASL music video, Let it Go. Please go there now to make donations.

Thank you,
Amy Cohen Efron

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29 comments on “Signalongs – Bastardization or Authenticity of ASL Music Artistry.

I do respect the signing skill of those Deaf people (or CODAs) who translate Hearing songs into ASL, but invariably, no matter how well they sign, it feels “flat” to me — I am only seeing signs, I do not get any true sense of “music” — no beat, no harmony, no rhymes, etc. I want to see our Deaf community break away from piggybacking off of the Hearing music and develop our own visually-based musical forms. See for example my video here:

Hi Don!

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your comments here. That is a very good point about incorporating sense of music with accurate translation of lyrics. I strongly believe that we need to develop our visually-based musical forms. That is what my vlog I produced in 2007 about ASL Music : An Oxymoron. That is my point. There is one person who did the video supporting my point. Here’s the video.

I look forward to continuing this healthy dialogue with you.

Amy Cohen Efron

Thank you so much for your kind words for my husband and I! We are proud of the skills God gave us and blessed to be able to share them!!!

-The Woodall’s

Thanks for the video. Yes, they do establish a beat with their bodies. However, this is just the standard 1-2, 1-2-3 chant style. Fine, but we can go WAY beyond that into different beats and styles, I am 100% positive!

I think the deaf and hearing see things differently. We should not judge either one of them. Yes, the hearing learn about ASL differently than what the deaf has learned while growing up. Be respectful toward the hearing for trying! I am deaf and understand either side. I know the deaf wants ASL expressed in their own way, so help the hearing understand more if they don’t. Life is too short to be putting anyone down. Look what has been happening in this world of people who discriminate for different reasons. We need to work together, not against each other. Help each other.

That is my point of my blog. When a hearing person signs in ASL, and we see that it was conceptually wrong. We offered feedbacks and suggestions in how to improve their work. We were quickly dismissed. I found another couple who are hearing and did the song, they did so well because they did ask for feedbacks. And, I am tired how some people thinking of us as ‘haters’ just because we are sharing our concerns. Is our concerns not worth ‘listening’? Hey, thank you so much for leaving your comments on my blog!

I loved reading this!! As a hearing person who has been using ASL for nearly 20 years and teaching it for 10, I freely admit to enjoying signing music. I also admit that I don’t sign music for Deaf people, but for hearing people as a “hook” to get them to take ASL classes and learn more about Deaf people and Deaf culture. When Deaf people do give me feedback (mind you constructive feedback and not vague things like “not impressed”, which was recently posted on one of my music interpretation videos), I appreciate it!

I have been incredibly disgusted and saddened by Tina and Paul and by CaptainValor (Stephen Torrence), all hearing people asking for money so they can sign more music videos. When people like this do that, rather than hooking hearing people in and then pointing them towards Deaf people (which is what should be happening), it makes it that much harder for true hearing allies to be accepted. I am fine with being called a hater for hating them, because I do hate what they are doing. Cultural appropriation of the worst kind.

Thanks for this blog!

Thank you for pointing this out. Most of the time these videos are done for the fame or profit factor. However you did not post a video of a deaf person doing ASL videos, but instead posted another hearing couple doing a music video. So if the point was to focus on promoting the deaf this article fell flat. You just substituted another hearing couple who are interpreters doing the same thing. My request is to edit your blog to reflect the deaf culture and spotlight a native Deaf signer. Thank you.

Thank you for your feedback, and I was wondering that I have presented the first two videos, CM7’s Happy and RMDS’s Happy by deaf people would give them an idea about ASL Music? Would you be kind to give me suggestion of which video done by Deaf people to show the difference? I am more than happy to post it on my blog. Thank you so much!

Thank you for responding. I have posted a link that reflects a difference and how many deaf people feel. They are quite funny and have commented in ideafnews as well.

My point is give your platform to the deaf not another hearing couple, again I ask you to edit to reflect and give the deaf the platform. Thank you.


My point of this blog is quite clear to tell Hearing people not to do when they create videos. I will definitely take your suggestion into consideration for my next blog to give a complete platform for Deaf Artists and their talents.


I also feel Rosa Lee Timm ASL music is so GREAT!! Did u see the one she ASL music on Wind blowing by Carrie Underwood? This one is CHAMP!!

Thank you for writing this article. You have summed up very nicely what I have been thinking/feeling and know others have too. This is perhaps the best commentary to date.
I hope it goes viral.

I just wanted to give my 2 cents regarding an interpreter whom I think is suburb in making music videos using asl…check her out on you tube….her name is Tiffany Hill. Thanks

Correction on misspelled word….meant to say suberb ( not sure if spelled correctly)

I would like to say thank you for including CM7’s Happy Video. It’s often overlooked that Coda/Kodas are often overlooked of being a part of Deaf culture. I as a Coda feel that music makes me want to Sign. Maybe it’s because of my lack of a beautiful singing voice, but when the lyrics and music feels close to my heart I want to Sign it! I have seen this occur many times at KODA camps and it happens so much at Coda get togethers. It’s a way to express ourselves by using the language we have been learning since birth, and to enjoy and present how the music makes us feel. It’s the most beautiful ASL performances I have seen that have come out of these gatherings. I can’t speak for all of course, and everyone has DIFFERENT backgrounds so of course we’re all not the same. Thank you again for including CM7’s Happy in your post.

[…] of the form of discrimination known as audism, and it pretty much means that your favs, such as Paul and Tina of Frozen songsigning fame or Dirty Signs with Kristin, are problematic. Many Deaf people have written or vlogged about how […]


Hello, I just stumbled upon your beautiful article and really appreciate all of the great points you made. I would like to ask a question though: I am a hearing person who has been involved in my local deaf community and have many good friends. I learned ASL with the goal have communicating with and understanding them in their world (not asking them to adapt to mine). My friends and I love discussing movies and TV, and I was wondering if making a YouTube channel where me (a hearing person) and maybe one or two of my friends discuss popular movies in ASL would come off as offensive to the deaf community in general? My friends are very kind, and would be okay with it, but they are just a small part of a larger community and I’d like to get some feedback.

The last thing I’d want to do is be disrespectful to the people that have welcomed me and shown me just a piece of their culture and the language they use to communicate.


I took Asl for many years to try to become an interpreter but do to life issues I was unable to complete my program. I sign to music in the car to practice Asl so I don’t forget it. I would never put up a video or use it for profit it’s a beautiful language that I don’t even pretend to be completely fluent in. I want to go back to school and complete my degree one day but until then I hope to keep learning and practicing. I hope my bad signing hasnt offended anyone. Thsnk you for your post.

Alas, the prophecy “your fave is problematic” has come true once again. I’m a hearing beginner ASL student. Thank you for this article! I want to learn how to respect the Deaf community as I learn about the culture and language so I don’t hurt the Deaf community in any efforts to promote them and ASL.

A comment (the vlog about “ASL Music Oxymoron”s and the CSD Eagle Fight Song) reminded me of an art form that was very popular in the schools I went to growing up: Stepping! ( )
Hearing people can and do enjoy many forms of dance (ballet as a case in point) that use rhythm and movement instead of spoken words to convey ideas. Instead of sign-alongs, why not rhythmic signing or sign dancing? Why not more traditional ASL arts like ABC stories?

I feel that translating from a spoken language is prone to issues; not only are conceptual inaccuracies common, but simultaneous signing and spoken language is really distracting, confusing, and difficult to do well if done at all. Would producing a song with one person singing in English and another person singing in Spanish at the SAME time help people who know one language learn about or appreciate the other language? No! It would be hard enough to distinguish one language from another, which is why I think it’s strange to do sign-alongs to promote ASL. Trying to translate English lyrics into ASL is a very good practice tool for people studying to interpret; however, this does not necessarily make it a promotion of ASL, Deaf culture, or Deaf art to hearing people, who are trained to listen to words first and foremost.

tl;dr: I agree with many of the other comments… If the intent is to promote ASL and Deaf Culture, promote Deaf artists!

I learned some ASL when I was young. My mom’s best friend had two deaf children, I wanted to learn so that I could play with them and communicate. When my children were tiny, I signed the alphabet right along with saying the letters. I thought it would be a good idea for the children to be able to communicate with at least some signs.

If I turn on a video that has ASL, first, I turn off the sound and watch the signs. Can I understand some of them? Can I see them (doesn’t help if stuff is below the frame of view). When I see signs I don’t understand, I try to hunt for them. It confuses me when I look up and find out the sign for that concept is completely different.

I’m not an interpreter, and my ASL vocabulary is relatively small. I am glad that I can at least communicate some and I wish I knew more. It’s a helpful skill, just like learning any language.

In my humble opinion, I think everyone could benefit from knowing enough ASL to get across basic information. The alphabet is a big help when someone needs information or needs a question answered.

So if someone is going to make a music video and interpret the lyrics. I really do think they should be done so that the signing is visible, and with signs that are actually ASL. And honestly, part of the communication is the body language and facial expression in sign language. So that needs to coordinate also.

ASL doesn’t really translate to English “word for word” it is its own language. It has its own beauty. And it’s NOT a totally silent language, either.

Every party or gathering place or sporting event I’ve every attended that was “deaf” was loud. The music is loud. Drums are played very loud for the cheerleaders. The dancing is raucous and the communications can contain a lot of body language. So if someone is going to SHOW an ASL interpretation of music lyrics done to the music, I really do think it can be beautiful, a good communication, fun, AND educational . . . only if it’s done well. Bad or non-ASL signs, pollute the communications. And, yes, those are my opinions.


I am a Deaf Studies major and I am doing my senior project on ASL and Cultural Appropriation of a language.

I was just curious if you think that ASL can be culturally appropriated? Tina and Paul are making money from these videos and Im curious what your perspective on this is?

This must have been posted awhile ago. I first want to say that I respect the deaf communities opinions on them. I have an aunt and uncle who are deaf and my parents taught me ASL when I was 13. I actually know Tina from when I was a kid and I know she is not what you all have called her “haters”. She was inspired to learn ASL in college and be an interpreter. She meant no harm to the deaf community whether or not she was wrong towards the deaf culture. The reason why I am writing this is because God says Do Not Judge. Not saying all of the comments made about her is judgements but a lot of them are. When the hearing does something to hurt the deaf culture I can guarantee that is not their intentions. Most people don’t know how to act against criticism and that is probably the reason why they took it harshly. If they were aware they were hurting the language I am sure they wouldn’t have done those things. My point is no one knows who anyone is until they actually know them. Don’t be so critical. We all do things wrong not knowing it at some point.

[…] My mind was brought to signalongs — videos of people signing along to popular music — and this article, whose author is concerned with how signalongs contribute to a misunderstanding of ASL. When ASL […]

[…]   Another interesting post I found is by Amy Cohen Effron.  Her blog about Sign-alongs clearly states her opinion about ASL music videos.  She is insulted when a hearing person makes an ASL music video that is conceptually incorrect and won’t accept constructive criticism.  Worse even when she is called a “hater” for making suggestions.  Misusing her language, not taking critique and using the video for personal gain is what she calls a bastardization of her language.  What she appreciates are ASL videos that make sense with the sound off.  It makes perfect sense to me. […]

Hello, I just stumbled across this article in search of help for my ASL assignment.
Initially I am hearing-impaired. I grew up “mainstream” and was never allowed to learn American Sign Language until just recently when I was able to sign up for an online class. My ASL teacher is a hearing person and gave us the assignment of translating a song into ASL. I find it hard already to make use of ASL grammar without turning it into SEE or Pigdin or something. (As you can tell I’m only on my 2nd semester) I would like to know more about why the deaf community is so against this type of expression and more about the culture appropriation. I have seen a lot of anger about certain things I don’t really understand, and I don’t feel that connected to the deaf community (though I wear hearing aids and was born deaf) because I just have never been educated or raised around it. Anyone who could help me please do

[…] deaf or hard-of-hearing, so I am speaking as an outsider here. Read more about what other folks are writing about interpreting music into […]

One of my favorite movies as a young girl was, Helen Keller the book, and the movie The Miracle worker”. I was immediately enamored. No pity was involved. U now sign for worship at church. My husband has been losing hearing for years and I’ve taught him several ohrases.

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