Sunday, July 20, 2014

Immersion Can Be Scary

Ask any Deaf or Sign Language teacher the best and most important way to learn ASL and they're bound to say immersion. You learn by doing. Get out there and meet other deaf people or sign language interpreters. Deaf is best!

When I lost all of my hearing decades ago, I knew that it was time to buckle down and finally learn ASL. The Signed English I was using would no longer do.

At this time, my son, who was born four months early, was in occupational therapy in our home. They hired an interpreter to come to each session so I would be able to participate, too. Most of the time, though, we would sit on the couch and chat or she would help teach me ASL. After a while, it got to where I couldn't really learn more without putting myself out there.

Now, if you know me, you know that I don't do well in social situations. In short, people scare me. Not like, "Boo!" I mean, people don't jump out from behind trees and try to make me pee in my pants (though I'm sure that happens to some people), but the idea of getting out in public and, even worse, chatting with strangers makes me run for the bathroom to lock the door. I'm not sure what I'm afraid of. But, unfortunately, the few times I have put myself out there, my fears have been validated. People can be very rude and mean--especially when they encounter someone with a difference (like deafness).

But, I decided I wanted to give it a try. There was a Deaf club in a town close by and they were meeting one Tuesday night. I asked my little sister to come with me and we ventured out that night.

Oh! It was a terrible experience! Scared the heck out of me. My sister pledged to never go to another Deaf club with me for the rest of her life.

When we got there, we were asked to introduce ourselves. My fingerspelling at that time was horrendous! I couldn't even spell my name fluently. And P-R-A-I-R-I-E-T-O-W-N was a very scary word to attempt (that was where I was living at the time).

Later, during the free social time, my sister and I sat at a table, scared to death, and talked with very few people. Eventually, an older Deaf woman came over to chat. We couldn't make heads or tails of what she was signing, so we did the logical thing--we giggled at everything she said.

"My name is Esther."


"Have you lived in the area for very long?"


"Why are you laughing at everything I'm saying?"


Finally she gave up and left, rightfully agitated with us. So there was not a positive experience to be had. Of course, that was because we did it wrong.

So, as you can see, immersion isn't always easy. It's still the best/only way, mind you. You can't avoid it. But it can be a very scary task. Just be sure, when you do go out, to make it worth your while. Actually socialize. And, if you don't understand--please don't giggle. Take it one step at a time. That's what I had to do. You can do it, too!


  1. Your post is very encouraging to me, Michele. I had an immersion experience when I traveled to Costa Rica with a group who used ASL. My one class in beginning ASL was inadequate to say the least, especially since my traveling companions were from different parts of the USA, so even the signs I knew were different from theirs. But from my communication experiences with them I realized how ASL is preferable over signed English. I have since taken a second ASL class, but I still need to get out into the deaf community more. Thanks again, Michele. All the best, Sarah

    1. Sarah,

      I'm so glad my blog helped you out. I think people assume that everyone else has a great experience out there on the "battle field," but it's not so. Many people struggle. Probably more than the ones who say it went great. I hope you give it another try and don't let the bad experience hinder your love for the language. :)

  2. I just found your blog and love it! About me, I'm losing my hearing, and I'm just now trying to learn ASL. I can do some PSE, but not well. I have to learn ASL on the internet because I can't get to a class. I'm scared to go to a deaf or HH meet up because of what you wrote. I can fingerspell ok, but it's slow. And the city I live in is Murfreesboro! I get nervous just thinking about trying to fingerspell Murfreesboro fast, I also live in Tennessee. It would probably take me 10 seconds to fingerspell Murfreesboro, Tennessee!