American Sign Language: A handy language to learn

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American Sign Language (ASL) is considered one of the most beneficial languages to learn and should be considered as a foreign language at more schools around the country.  As of 2015, there has been a reported 360 million people in the U.S that experience serious disabling hearing loss, which is 5% of the world’s population.  ASL is studied in many colleges, making it the fourth most studied second-language in universities.  Providing ASL as a class at more schools and universities would inspire a larger number of hearing students to expand their knowledge of the language and better understand the culture of the deaf community.

Learning ASL doesn’t only help the deaf.  Studies suggest students who learn sign language earlier have an overall higher IQ than other students, increasing up to 13 points.  Learning ASL gives students a better understanding of the English language.  It has been shown that teaching children sign language helps them grow faster intellectually and socially.  Children who are taught sign language are more likely to have a closer relationship with their parents and peers.

Paula Honda, currently the only deaf interpreter in Harford County Public Schools, has been working as an interpreter since 1987.  She started learning sign language at Harford Community College before moving to McDaniel College for credited sign language.   Ms. Honda shared there are currently four students in Harford County that need an interpreter’s help in school.  Paula mentioned she once taught an ASL class in 1995 at Aberdeen Middle School.  She was interested in the idea of making sign language a class at Harford County high schools because it would “give [students] the basic knowledge of the language and they [would] know what to expect” if they choose to take a class in college.

The New York Times has remarked that they believe teaching sign language as a foreign language in high schools wouldn’t make sense, because most of the deaf community are able to hear with a hearing aid or cochlear implant.  However, not all deaf people have insurance that covers hearing aids and they cost can be very expensive.  Also, very many aren’t comfortable learning to hear or speak and rely only on sign language and reading lips.

If including sign language as a foreign language is not possible, providing a sign language club may still offer similar benefits.  Students would still be able to learn the language and the school wouldn’t need a teacher for a sign language class.  Paula Honda explained that at almost every school she has worked at, she has set up a support group for students to learn the language.  She says “I think an ASL club would benefit [both] the deaf student and their peers.  It would open up the doors of communication for everyone.”

Learning ASL in schools would greatly benefit the community as a whole.  It would open the student’s eyes to deaf culture and break the barrier between deaf people and the “hearing world.”

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