Friday, June 19, 2015

You Mean You Took ASL I and You're Not An Interpreter Yet?!?!

Ain't life grand? You often said you wanted to learn American Sign Language. "It's so beautiful," you'd always exclaimed. And it is (if you know what you're doing). So, after years of watching "Signing Time" and thumbing through "The Joy of Signing" while you have a free moment on the toilet, you're finally convinced to visit your area's community college and enroll in ASL I. You leave the college beaming--exuding excitement all over the place. (If you exude at my house, I'll expect you to clean it up. I'm just saying...)

Class starts: Depending on which college's ASL class you attend, you learn ABCs, numbering, vocabulary, a few phrases, grammar, and a little about the Deaf culture and communication. You recognize that you're definitely not the best in the class,, but onward you trudge.

The teacher gives the class a mandatory assignment that you have to go to a Deaf event and sign (no talking, please) with some deafies. You do, in fact, go to one at the neighborhood mall. Your teacher introduces you to some very kind, patient and understanding Deaf people, but mostly you find solace with some of the other members of your class.

Finally, you finish! Class is over! Your teacher compliments your hard work and off you go into the world of wonders.  You're bilingual now, right? I mean, you learned a lot. And it wasn't easy! Man, you can fingerspell both your first and your last name! What else could there be? It's not like you want to interpret for the President. You just want to be able to sing songs in sign (how did you like that for alliteration) and chat with the (gulp) "hearing impaired." What more could you possibly need?

But life goes on. And although you continue to work on your fingerspelling and some signs, you seem to fall into a funk and resort back to that sinfully annoying woman on "Signing Time."

Six months after you completed ASL I, you happen to see a table of people in an elegant restaurant, signing to each other. You stare--Trying to figure out if you can understand them. Nope--Not really. You go back to eating, wishing so much you could communicate with them.

Heck with it! You get up and walk over to their table. They see you, so they stop signing and turn to you. "HI, I'M...," you get five out of the twelve letters of your name wrong, but you don't notice. The group at the table looks at each other, confused. One deaf man signs something you understand: DEAF.

"DEAF YOU?" He asks in ASL.

"NO," you sign. "I NOSY." The group breaks outs into guffaws and giggles. What you don't realize is that, though you intended to reply, "NO, I'M HEARING," your hand actually was too high and, well, maybe NOSY was the more appropriate sign anyway.

Later, an elderly woman from the deaf table's group wanders over to let you know (by way of a napkin note) to keep studying and that it will get easier eventually.

And it does get "easier." Well, maybe not. I guess I would rather say you become more proficient the longer you study it. Seriously study it. And what every knowledgeable teacher would tell you, the more time you spend signing with deaf and hard of hearing people (NOT just signing friends from school), the smoother and more fluid your words and presentation will become.

To be totally honest, I gotta tell ya, taking one ASL class, expecting to be skilled enough to engage in even moderate conversation in sign (especially with a native Deaf person), is insane. But the next time you become upset with your signing, thinking you should be learning faster, imagine that it's German you're learning. Would you be so hard on yourself then? Well, a foreign language is a foreign language. American Sign Language is just as complex as any other. Give it time.

So here's what you do: Give yourself a pat on the back for all you've already accomplished, sign up for ASL II, go to Deaf events as much as you can, and, sooner or later, you'll fulfill your wish of hangin' with the crew. Now, go study!

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