Lately it seems like American Sign Language is everywhere! It’s been making appearances at musical performances and sporting events. It can be seen in news stories, comic books, movies, and TV shows. Pop stars are using it, sports mascots are using it, even President Obama knows a little ASL. With so many people finally embracing this second American language, there has never been a better time to begin learning to sign.
In my opinion, the best reason to learn sign language is that it allows you to communicate with the estimated half million Americans who use ASL as their primary language. This gives you the opportunity to make new friends, connect with deaf classmates and coworkers, or help deaf customers feel welcome at your business. Knowing ASL, even just some basic everyday signs, sends a message to deaf people that you are willing to step outside of your hearing comfort zone to engage with them. Our society is so focused on verbal communication, sound, and noise, that deaf people often feel forgotten. Even learning how to say “hello” or take a simple food order in sign language breaks down a small barrier and can brighten another person’s day.
Knowing how to sign opens up a whole new world — a place where words exist in 3-dimensions. ASL is a beautiful visual communication form which relies on body language and facial cues. It is emotional and highly expressive. If you’re a hearing person who wants to become a better listener, learning sign language can actually help! Sign language requires eye contact and attention to detail, which makes ASL users very perceptive to subtle changes in mood.
Members of Deaf Culture are considered a linguistic minority, with ASL serving as the foundation for this unique subset of American Culture. Discovering ASL can help hearing individuals access a different perspective about the very society they live in. As a person learns the words of another culture, they can come to understand their values. The more one explores ASL, the more opportunity they have to understand the Deaf experience.
Besides breaking through the barriers between deaf and hearing culture, there are a number of other benefits to learning ASL. It makes you bilingual, which looks great on your resume. It allows you to communicate with people across a noisy room. Sometimes, such as the example of this 10 year old girl, knowing ASL can help you save a life. If you’ve never seen an ASL musical performance or ASL poetry, you are definitely missing out. Check out some videos by Peter Cook or the Deaf Jam documentary to get a little taste; but nothing compares to the live experience.
Hearing individuals who are interested in sign language have nothing to lose and everything to gain! ASL is fun to learn, and as American as apple pie. Learning a new language can be challenging, but moving outside our comfort zones encourages personal growth and development. Why limit your possibilities? You never know, maybe the romantic partner of your dreams is deaf. Not knowing sign language could prevent you from ever making that connection.
If you’ve been thinking about discovering the silent world of ASL, just start learning today! You don’t even need to leave your couch.
There are a number of completely free resources for learning sign language on your own time.
In addition to this brief list, there are hundreds of other sign language resources available online at very affordable prices. Of course, it is always best to learn one-on-one when possible. Be sure to look for classes in your community, or connect with an ASL instructor for a few structured lessons. Start today and before you know it, you will find yourself immersed in the fascinating culture of Deaf America!