American Sign Language

Reprinted with permission from the blog Teachable Moments

Many states and many many colleges and universities recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as a foreign language.

I do not know anyone who came out of high school, or even college, fluent in a second language unless they already had exposure to that language at home.  Despite taking two years of French in middle school, a few years of Spanish in high school and three years of Italian in college, I cannot speak any language other than English.  I do not come from a multilingual family, and found that while I could understand the languages, it took a very long time for me to formulate the words in my head.  By the time I knew what I wanted to say, I was already too far behind in the conversation.  This led to anxiety.  I skipped the oral part of my Italian final my senior year in college.  I could not stand in front of my class for 6 minutes speaking in Italian with no note cards.  I would rather take a zero and risk my GPA than have that experience.  I explained this to my professor and while this did impact my grade, thankfully it did not decimate my grade.

In order to meet college entry requirements, it is typical that three consecutive years of a foreign language must be studied.   ASL meets this requirement in most states and is acceptable for entry to many colleges, including Ivy League Universities such as Yale.  ASL meets the needs of my tactile learner, and I just happen to know a ASL instructor who agreed to teach my girls, as well as two of their friends every week at her house!
Our class began in September and will continue all year.  After just 6 weeks of lessons, I am simply amazed at how much they are learning.  Not only have they learned the finger alphabet, they have learned many signs for colors, household objects, animals, counting, money, and how to link the signs together to express thoughts. They can sign simple sentences like “I ate eggs and toast today”.  In addition to the language of signing, they are being taught about deaf culture.  We have watched two excellent documentaries:
Sound and Fury (streaming on Netflix)
Audism Unveiled 

We have finger alphabet signs hanging in our kitchen and both bathrooms.  The girls quiz each other in the car or on the train and do their homework during our library study hall time.  They have a friend who is fluent in ASL and practice with her.

This has been a wonderful introduction to a beautiful language.  My hope is that their teacher will continue on past May, but should life lead us in different directions, I am grateful that we have several locations where the girls can continue lessons.  However, they will not be as cozy and inviting as learning in a house with the support and encouragement of their friends.

November 15, 2013


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