The folks at Giphy, that stalwart provider of looping cats and people falling down, are getting slyly socially active. Last week the company added a library of over 2,000 GIFs intended to teach words and phrases in American Sign Language. The project might seem like an odd match, given the meme-heavy use of the form, but the producers have high hopes.
ASL is the third most spoken language in the U.S. and almost exclusively visual. Harnessing the physical nature of the language, the looping repetition of the video form, and the easily shared nature of GIFs, they expect the videos to get traction with both hearing and non-hearing users.
The series was conceived by Giphy video artist Wallis Millar-Blanchaer and Stephanie Weber, a Giphy studios coordinator. The videos are cut from the educational YouTube series Sign With Robert, where full length videos feature introductory and conversational skills.
The GIF format is a charming distillation of the often complex language, and the Sign With Robert series seems to have been a solid choice. The clear visuals and customary facial cues double as easy to follow and true to practice.
To start, the library was developed based on users' top searches on the site, then those terms were tailored and rounded out with the Sign With Robert team. The result is an interesting mix of easy and compounding terms, built with an attention to detail around the language as it is used in the real world.
As Millar-Blanchaer related to Mashable, "In our initial cut for the GIF for 'bachelorette party,' we unintentionally and unknowingly had edited it in a way that looked like the women were being called 'bitches.'" Issues like these, involving the subtlety of pronunciation, often arise in language education tools, so it's heartening to see the project working with seasoned educators and meeting them head on. With a focus on real world use, simple (seeming) tools like this might creep into all types of education.