Mime Signs Video Dictionary and Sign Families – Introduction

Making it Easy and Fun!

Posted on July 8, 2019, by Lois Maroney, LMHC

I first started learning Russian when I was in 7th grade. Little did I know the profound influence the decision to learn Russian, and the teacher who taught it, would have on my life. Every Friday we would single file out of the classroom to the baseball field with a broomstick as a bat and play Lapta, the Russian one-base version of baseball. Easter time we painted Ukrainian Easter eggs, using a stylus, layers of wax, and colorful dye. There were times after a long grammar lesson he would tell us to put our heads down on the desk and rest, as he then walked in between the rows of desks singing to us in Russian, “Moscow Nights”. I am deaf now, but I thank God for auditory memory as I can still “hear” his voice belting out this song.

It’s no surprise, at least to me, that years later I became a Russian teacher. I knew I needed to make a complex language as easy as possible for high school students and have some fun along the way. My first day of teaching Beginning Russian, I would tell the class they already knew some Russian! I then started speaking Russian cognates (words that sound the same in English) and asked the students to guess what I was saying. I loved seeing the look of surprise on their face as they guessed each word and realized it was true – they already knew some Russian! Their confidence soared as they learned an extensive vocabulary of Russian that was easy to learn.

Taking something complex and making it as simple as possible to learn, with words of encouragement, has become part of who I am in both my teaching and counseling careers. Perhaps you have doubts that you already know some American Sign Language like the students who doubted they knew any Russian on that first day of class. I encourage you to explore the mimes on this website and you will find that you already have a considerable sign language vocabulary as many of these signs are natural gestures. It is my hope that your confidence will soar and you will have some fun along the way.

About this Mime Signs Video Dictionary


For each mime sign, there is a video with the English equivalent captioned on the video. If there are other recognized English equivalents for that mime sign, you will find them under the video in parentheses. These are other words that the sign means, according to Random House American Sign Language Dictionary or another reputable sign language source (aslpro.cc, handspeak.com, signingsavvy.com,lifeprint.com, etc.).


It can often be difficult to see the handshape used, therefore the handshape is noted. A memory aide is offered to help you remember the sign.


Many English words have multiple meanings – what it means in English may not be the same in sign language. To use the sign conceptually accurately from one language to another, a sentence is provided.

Synonyms and Idioms

Following sentence usage there may be synonyms or idioms listed that will help those who use simultaneous communication. This clearly speaks to the late-deafened population who want to continue to talk English, with all the English idioms/expressions/vocabulary choices and sign at the same time. The synonyms and idiomatic expressions are offered to consider using at this time in the learning process. As you continue to learn sign language, you may find there are other signs you prefer to use. Developing your own style in sign communication is strongly encouraged.

CASE on the Sign Language Continuum

Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) uses English grammar with vocabulary that is a combination of ASL signs, modified ASL signs, or unique English signs. This allows for simultaneous communication (SimCom). Many late-deafened adults and hearing allies wish to use their voices and sign at the same time. They are able to do so with CASE, which follows the grammar of English.

Using signs conceptually accurately has primary importance in the CASE approach, therefore ASL signs are selected based on the meaning of the idea being conveyed in English. Also, of importance, is to produce the signs in English word order. English grammar structure, however, is not strictly adhered to in the sense that signs are not used for articles, helping verbs, and verb conjugations. For example, the simultaneous communication signer who wishes to express the English sentence “I am going to the store” will say all of the words in English and use 3 ASL signs I go store. Notice how this is different from the ASL example above “Store go I”. In CASE, English grammar is used with many ASL signs whereas in ASL, ASL grammar is used with ASL signs.

Learn more about the sign language continuum here.

Lois Maroney’s Approach

Maroney’s approach uses Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) and recognizes that it can be daunting to learn a new language as an adult. The approach is designed to build confidence that one can learn to sign. The learning method is conceptual and visual and focuses on rapid vocabulary building. Learning mime signs and sign families organized by concept can make vocabulary much easier to remember.

The selection of signs

Various communities (regional, professional, cultural, familial, etc.) have preferred signs. Therefore, one sign may have several variations. This method gave a preference to selecting signs that are natural gestures. Preference was also given to selecting signs that are initialized and follow the same movement pattern (sign families). This was done to help people who find themselves in a situation where they need to learn sign quickly and to build a substantial sign vocabulary. Once you develop the confidence that you can learn sign and start to explore other avenues to expand your sign knowledge, you may find other sign variations you prefer to use based on the community with whom you identify.

Learn more about the differences between English signs and ASL signs here.

What are initialized Signs?

Initialization is the process of using the ASL fingerspelled letter that represents the first letter of an English word as the handshape for a sign.

Read more about initialization here.

Does learning CASE help one learn ASL?

CASE and ASL are not mutually inclusive. CASE uses mostly ASL signs. The main difference is grammar. Learning CASE can help you learn ASL because you are learning many ASL signs.

The grammar of ASL can be very difficult for late-deafened adults and hearing persons to learn. CASE follows English grammar, which makes simultaneous communication (signing and speaking at the same time) much easier. Simultaneous communication helps the hearing person associate words with signs and learn sign language more quickly. It also enables people who are deaf or hard of hearing to speechread.

What are Mime Signs?

Mime signs are signs that look like what they mean. Many of these signs are natural gestures. They are easy to learn and remember. Learning mime signs is a great way to increase your vocabulary quickly!

What are Sign Families?

Sign families are groups of signs organized by movement patterns. For example, “road” and “path” are in the SAME sign family. One uses different handshapes but the same movement to sign each word.