Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Top 5 Reasons to Learn Sign Language

In recent years ASL, American Sign Language, has gained more popularity and credibility among the schools of the United States, and for good reason. It is not just gestures, pointing or spelling. It can convey complex, abstract ideas and not just simple pictures or concrete items. It is a language all its own, complete with grammar, sentence structure, idioms, slang, tense and any other facet of what makes a "language" you can come up with. And moreover, it's gorgeous. When signed by a graceful, fluent ASL native, it rivals the beauty of even the most sexy Italian.

Those are the academic reasons to learn sign language. Well, maybe that last part about Italian being a sexy language isn't, but who's going to argue, right? I've got a Top 5 reasons list that are more personal, perhaps more practical, hitting closer to home.

5. Everyone should learn at least one foreign language.

This is a plug for foreign languages in general. Do you realize that many children in Europe know two languages before they even begin school? And by the time they graduate it's commonplace to be fluent in three or four? And Americans complain about how hard it is to learn Spanish... does anyone realize how difficult it is to learn English? Look at an American child and see! Brandon, Brooklyn and I went to Chili's last week. We were all eating our tortilla chips and Brandon and I were dipping them into the salsa and ranch dressing (if you haven't tried Chili's chips and ranch, you MUST. Now. Seriously, come back and read this later- go eat). Brooklyn decided she wanted to try too, so she dipped her chip into the salsa. I said, "Baby, you won't like that. It's hot". So what does she do? She blows on it.

Hot. Are we talking about a fever, the weather, amount of spice, or temperature of something like a food item? She's even blown on the oven when I've told her not to touch it because it's hot. "Hot" is actually a fairly difficult concept, and in relation to the rest of our language, that one is a breeze!

The world is becoming more global. We are becoming more and more the same in economics, politics and lifestyle. America may be paving the way in a lot of this globalization, but in foreign language learning we are far behind. Are we going to keep demanding that everyone learn English? Right now it's only the "official" language of Canada, The USA, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Soccer (which everyone BUT Americans call football) and a few smaller countries I can't think of. I'm not a geographer.

ASL is American Sign Language, and though it is only spoken in Canada and the United States, the sheer number of deaf and hard of hearing individuals who need speak the language are severely outnumbering those of us who can interpret it.

4. You can speak two languages simultaneously.

Granted, when you are speaking English (or any other language for that matter) while signing, it then is not true ASL, because ASL grammar and English grammar are different. ASL grammar is much more like Spanish in that the subject gets name first and then described. Details aside, I am teaching my daughter to sign and I can speak the words to her at the same time. I sign "more milk" while asking her if she wants "more milk". She may get it faster if I did one or the other, I may be confusing her, but guess what? She understands both anyway. She's going to be bilingual- what what! My girl's gots SKILLZ!

3. You can speak to people from long distances.

Say you're in a room full of people and you see your friend from a long way off. You know yelling will do no good because the music is blaring and everyone is laughing and chatting. So you sign! Even from very far away, a fluent signer can recognize what is being said and can understand.

2. You can deliver a very powerful message in places where voices are not permitted to be loud.

One of my main goals of teaching Brooklyn sign language is so I can threaten her in church.

No, just kidding. But seriously- how may times have we seen parents (or been the parents) loudly "whisper" to their kid to be quiet or they're gonna get it? How many arms have been grabbed, how many snaps? With a quick STOP. ENOUGH. and an evil look, you may have just found a crisis averted, and with no one in the surrounding pews any the wiser. However, I used this same theory with my speech and debate students. While sitting in a round watching competitors, a couple of them started goofing off. I had taught them enough signs to understand certain things, so when I signed STOP NOW, my class clown signed back to me NO. STOP TOMORROW. Funny, Logan. Very funny.

1. You won't wake up one morning and find you've become French, but you just may wake up day and realize you're deaf.

Take this study from Gallaudet University, for example:
A Brief Summary of Estimates for the Size of the Deaf Population
in the USA Based on Available Federal Data and Published Research:

  • About 2 to 4 of every 1,000 people in the United States are "functionally deaf," though more than half became deaf relatively late in life; fewer than 1 out of every 1,000 people in the United States became deaf before 18 years of age.
  • However, if people with a severe hearing impairment are included with those who are deaf, then the number is 4 to 10 times higher. That is, anywhere from 9 to 22 out of every 1,000 people have a severe hearing impairment or are deaf. Again, at least half of these people reported their hearing loss after 64 years of age.
  • Finally, if everyone who has any kind of "trouble" with their hearing is included then anywhere from 37 to 140 out of every 1,000 people in the United States have some kind of hearing loss, with a large share being at least 65 years old.
No, not everyone who is deaf uses sign language. There is a very distinct difference in being deaf and Deaf, the capital D signifying that that person does not view themselves as handicapped, but rather belonging to a community who enjoy their language, culture and see themselves just like everyone else in the world. They see themselves as if they were just French, Italian, Mexican... just from another place, another world, just someone else needing a translator. There are others who are deaf who choose not to learn sign language or who choose to gain as much of their hearing back as possible to feel "normal", through cochlear implants and hearing aids.

Regardless, the fact remains that you could wake up one day and not be able to hear. And then what do you do? Write notes on scraps of paper back and forth for the rest of your life? Write "yes" and "no" on your hands like Max Von Sydow in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"?

Or maybe you're like me, and one day you wake up and you have your hearing, but you have no voice. What then? For me, the answer is clear: my poor husband has to put his eyes to work, because if my throat hurts, I'm not talking. I'm signing. Last night we had a few hours of talking about the basketball championship, his baseball games, my day, and filling out a bracket of 64 about what the Best Disney Song of all time was. I found some of his choices a bit blasphemous, but then again, any critic would complain that "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" was a 15 seed. We each chose 2 of each seed, and  I just hate that song. Whatcha gonna do 'bout it? He put "When I See an Elephant Fly" as a 15 seed. He's such a child of the 90's. No respect for the classics. I say that... but "Bare Necessities" eventually won his championship and "Part of Your World" won mine, so that's ironic. THE POINT IS: probably 70% of our night was discussed through signs, and the rest through whispers.

Talking is overrated. Learn ASL. You'll look cool at parties. There, a 6th reason, on the house.


1 comment:

  1. Have you posted the bracket somewhere? I wanna see it :)

    Cool post. I only know how to spell and say "that is an ugly baby."