Learning Sign Language

Over the summer I took a class in American Sign Language. I was very impressed and enjoyed it a lot. It’s always been one of those skills I wanted to pick up (along with other languages, flying, etc.) so I finally did it.

I have taken foreign language classes before, but always found them to be very difficult. In particular, I never did well with the so called “immersion” classes where they don’t speak any English, just whatever language you are learning. Supposedly this is good “because that’s how you learned your first language; however if we had to learn everything from scratch I don’t think we would know as much. After taking this immersion class, I think the success or failure of the students largely rests on the skill of the instructor. In our case, the instructor was excellent and walking us through our mistakes until we understood them. My brain hurt after each class, but I can use more ASL after one semester than I could use Spanish after five semesters. The language itself is rather neat, but it is pretty hard to learn on your own. There aren’t any dictionaries that you can use to look up an unfamiliar sign that you see, and the ones for you to look up the sign for a word you know are often not very clear (video based ones on-line are much better.) Similarly, there’s no easy way to “take notes” in class.

ASL is “American Sign Language.” Sign language varies from one country to the next. ASL is based more on French Sign Language than on others. It is not very international, which was disappointing. No one knows for sure, but the best studies I have seen are that there are maybe 500,000 signers in the U.S. I’m betting that number will increase with the aging population and the Walkman and iPod generations loud music habits catching up with them. Despite Rush Limbaugh praising his cochlear implant, fixing deafness is not a quick, overnight, LASIK-like procedure.

Even though I use my fingers to type all the time, it was surprising how sore your hands could get after a few hours. Also, your eyes get sore from constant tracking. I’m sure it was good exercise.

With practice, it seemed pretty easy to pick up and after a few weeks I started having moments where I thought “hey, I can sign what I just said.”

Sadly, I’m not continuing with the classes because they were excessively inconvenient. They started in the middle of rush hour and were only in Clarkston. I can’t find any classes that go beyond one semester other than Georgia Perimeter College, and they only offer classes at the Clarkston campus.

I also really need some friends to do it too. Flipping through my notes, I realize that in just a few short months I have forgotten a lot of it. You really need to be able to use it to maintain it as a skill – it’s not like riding a bicycle.

If you want to learn sign language, start with fingerspelling. It is the first thing you will learn, and you will use it everyday. Proficient signers fingerspell so fast it is almost a blur. Find someone to practice with as reading it is much harder than signing it. With time, you will develop a Scrabble like mentality where you can miss some letters and will still figure out what it is. And, if you talk to someone who is deaf and don’t understand a sign, just repeat the sign back with a quizzical look and they’ll spell it out for you. :)

Perhaps if enough people are interested, we can hire an interpreter and get a class started in Dunwoody, Roswell, or Marietta? It wouldn’t be “accredited,” but it beats the pants off traffic. Let me know!

Comments are closed.


Copyright © 2012 -1354585409