Former THE PRACTICE star CAMRYN MANHEIM started taking sign language lessons seriously after she helped save a deaf man's life following a car collision.

The actress dabbled with signing in her teens but never thought it would be useful - until she was called to help New York City police make sense of a traffic incident.

She recalls, "I was walking down the street and I noticed a man was hit by a car and he was lying on the street with his eyes wide open and there were policemen standing all around him, going, 'Why don't you just tell us your name?'

"Somehow I knew, maybe just because of the little impact I had from that (signing) class, and I walked over and said, 'I think he's deaf, do you want me to ask him?'"

Despite her lack of sign language proficiency, she managed to interpret the man's details to police and then accompanied him to hospital.

She adds, "His wife, his parents and his two children showed up - all deaf - and for the next five hours I tried to explain to them what was going on with this operation he was going through.

"I vowed right then, 'I'm learning this language (so), should this ever happen again, I could really be of help and not just try to do a little charades.'"

Manheim's studies paid off - she used to work as a sign language interpreter for Manhattan, New York's hospitals and now she teaches children the benefits of signing in Los Angeles, Nevada.