Level: General

Why does one learn a signed language?

There are many reasons why people learn a signed language -- American Sign Language (ASL), for example.

Language requirement

In some schools, colleges, and universities, language requirement is the reason for studying a foreign or second language. Then again, there are other reasons why students choose ASL over other foreign languages such as French, German, Chinese, or another.

Some students are thrilled that ASL is offered at their college or university that they have always wanted to learn it since they were in kindergarten. On the other hand, some other students, who don't want to take any required second language at all, may think, "Oh, hmm, this language must be the easiest." Oops, eventually they realize that ASL is not "English on hands" and, oh, it's not easier than French. Somewhere in the middle, some students are open-minded for exploring something new that they hadn't thought of before.

Family and friends

One may be interested in learning basic ASL to "communicate" with a deaf relative or to chat with a Deaf friend. Maybe, one starts learning when dating a Deaf person instead of writing back and forth. Some parents take ASL classes for their deaf children.

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." -- Nelson Mandela.

"Emigration"

When one enters a Deaf community (via marriage or lifelong friendship), they learn the "local" language to communicate and integrate with the Deaf community.

"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." -- Frank Smith.

Work and career

Teachers, counselors, and some other professionals in the related fields may be required to know the language (e.g. ASL) to work with Deaf ASL-speaking people.

In some cases, a LPI (Language Proficiency Index) conducted by a qualified national organization may be required for some jobs. If you are an organization or company, be sure to ask for a formal LPI result. Certified professional interpreters are required in formal settings, such as medical, legal, and educational.

Knowing the language in other professions such as firefighting, police, etc. can be very beneficial.

Socializing

Knowing the sign language allows you socialize with Deaf people directly and enjoy subtle interactions including humor, joke, chit-chats, and more.

A basic language skill in ASL can help you get by, such as ordering food and drink, finding your way around, asking for basic information, etc. With more advanced skills, you can have everyday conversations with people.

"A different language is a different vision of life." -- Federico Fellini.

Appreciation in literature and arts

You probably are interested in learning the language to understand and appreciate a poem, a drama, or a story in ASL directly that its linguistic nuances, rhymes, meanings, language play, and such cannot be translated or interpreted. Maybe you learn the language in order to gain a better understanding of their culture and way of thinking or perspective.

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Linguistics studies

Maybe you are interested in learning or studying the linguistic aspects of signed language (ASL or another language) from phonology to sociolinguistics. It helps increase your understanding in the nature of language and how language processing and acquisition work.

Love at first sight

Maybe sign language has been always fascinating since you were a kid and you have been wanting to learn it. You think it's beautiful, expressive, and graceful.

Multi/bilingual family

Your parents are Deaf and you're a lucky coda or doda (children of Deaf parents). Or, your mother is probably an interpreter and she speaks one of the languages with you.

Awareness of audism

We Deaf people always appreciate hearing people's interest in learning sign language for some reasons above and we are delighted that you and we can converse. It's important to also be aware of some other reasons to avoid for learning a signed language of Deaf people.

To become a sign language learner in a non-oppressive way, it's important to unpack your motivations for wanting to learn a signed language, whether it involves paternalism, cultural/language appropriation, attention, gain, profit, and/or entitlement. Language comes with culture and history; when learning sign language, understand audism, linguicism, cultural appropriation, microaggression, and so on.

More readings on -ism

American Natives and Deaf people have some similar experiences in parallel from systemic oppression to linguicism. Many of the writings in the post, "Three Questions to Ask Yourself Before Learning an Indigenous Language as a Non-Native" by Taté Walker can be said the same true for hearing people learning sign language and for Deaf experiences. Worthy reading: https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/07/learn-indigenous-language/

"Finally, understand there's a difference between 'fluency' and 'expertise' when it comes to language and culture. The former is achievable; the latter is not if you're non-Native." Sign language is deeply intertwined with Deafhood and being Deaf (culturally visual) as well as history and systemic phonocentric oppression.

For example, keep in mind that you have hearing privilege for learning sign language of your free will as well as acquiring your own language from birth while uncountable deaf babies around the world were/are forbidden from acquiring their own sign language until many years later (language deprivation and/or deprivation) or never.

Allyship

Learn sign language and Deaf culture for your communication with Deaf people, friends, or family members. For your personal exploration, interest, and/or learning experience. Appreciate the signed language, Deaf culture, history, language arts, etc. and don't appropriate them.

Try to seek out qualified Deaf ASL instructors if available; support resources run by Deaf. Deaf perspectives, experiences, culture, and history including audism must be centered in your sign language learning.

Refer to materials and resources created or developed by Deaf creators, authors, or writers as well as books or articles written by hearing allies recommended by Deaf experts.

Embrace "hearing fragility" as part of your learning process.

Respect our language, culture, and history. In the end, we are delighted that you and we can converse in sign language (ASL or another language).

Related posts

Related posts: Top benefits for learning signed language.

one of the most studied language in North America.

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New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.