Op-ed

The importance of ASL

In this world exists a language that lives in perfect silence. There are no words, only the occasional sound; a choreographed dance in which two people can communicate with their bodies alone, where all is linked to an extremely empowered and rich culture. This seemingly mystical language I’m describing is called ASL. ASL, or American Sign Language, is the mode of communication used primarily by the hard of hearing and deaf community. Additionally, ASL is used to help babies and toddlers communicate with their parents or to aid children who are nonverbal due to conditions such as down syndrome and cerebral palsy. With its versatility, it’s no wonder that this language is so widespread.

So why is ASL so completely underrated? Why do so few people garner even a basic understanding of sign language? I would argue that every student wishing to further their knowledge in any field should attain a basic understanding of ASL. In the United States alone, two million people cannot understand normal speech—many of whom rely on ASL to communicate. However, in the public sphere, those who use sign as their “native tongue” are often surrounded by those who cannot understand them and vice versa.

Take, for example, the man in line at Starbucks who is completely deaf and does not speak: he must find a way to communicate without words. He must find a way to understand what is being said without sounds. Why is it that deaf people are often pressured to speak or read lips? Those within the signing community are strong and empowered individuals who take pride in their language; they should not feel obligated to learn additional skills just to order a coffee.

People who cannot understand English are entitled to the same interpersonal communication as any other human being. Everyone deserves to be understood. Even if it is as basic as learning the alphabet, numbers or basic phrases of ASL, your efforts will surely mean a great deal to someone. People would do both themselves and others well by achieving a basic level of sign language.

When I first started my ASL journey a few months ago I was hesitant that I would be able to recall the language. In high school, I struggled with foreign language on account of the complex spelling, accents and grammar involved. However, I did not encounter any of these struggles with ASL. Although it can be, Sign Language was not intended to be a written language, therefore spelling struggles are void. The grammar is also extremely simple. My main concerns with learning this language were the memorizations of the various signs and corresponding facial expressions. Yet, there was no need for this concern. Many signs within ASL are what I consider to be common knowledge, their motion reflects their meaning. The sign for a book is made by forming your hands into a book-like shape, the sign for milk resembles milking cow utters and so on. Intuition and muscle memory kick in while communicating in this language, which makes the process of learning very simple.

So, for anyone who struggled with foreign language, do not be intimidated by ASL. I’d argue that you will pick up signing faster than you can imagine and have tons of fun while doing it, too! West Chester University offers several wonderful sign language classes which discuss the language itself as well as deaf culture. I, as well as those within my ASL class, are greatly fascinated by the completely immersive experience of the “no English zone,” where only signing is used. If you prefer a method of learning which is more self-guided, then there are also many resources online which you can learn from!

Ultimately, Sign Language is an extremely interesting and beautiful language that I strongly believe will turn you into a more well-rounded individual. Set aside some time to look into this language—perhaps it will make the day of someone you’d never expected, and it will surely benefit you. I promise you won’t regret it!

Samantha Batty is a first-year student English writings major. SB908125@wcupa.edu

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