By Reeva Askar and Acaila Eastman
American sign language (ASL), is the language used by American deaf and hard of hearing people. Nearly 10,000,000 people are hard of hearing and 1,000,000 are functionally deaf in the United States, according to Oxford Academics.
ASL is a non verbal language that consists of hand signs, body movement, and facial expressions.
ASL teacher Kelly Steen teaches ASL 1, 2, and 3. ASL 1 educates students on the basics of vocabulary and deaf culture. ASL 2 focuses more on the construction of sentences called ASL GLOSS. ASL GLOSS is a simplified notational system used to transcribe American Sign Language into other languages. For advanced students, ASL 3 teaches students how to have conversations using more complex signs.
“During my first years of middle school, I took American Sign Language as my second language. I was able to learn the language at a faster pace than my friends because I studied a lot on my own time. When using sign language to communicate, there are no words being actively thought when performing at a higher level,” sophomore Liana Movsisyan said.
Before becoming an ASL teacher full time, Steen was a math teacher. GHC then invited her to be a co-teacher for ASL. Because of Steen’s knowledge and passion, she eventually became the full time ASL teacher.
“I started off as a math teacher, and eventually I turned into an ASL teacher and from there I just progressed. So at first I struggled obviously, just like anyone else, but when I learned ASL I became better as not just a student but also a teacher,” Steen said.
Hearing students in this course have the opportunity to take a language that is very different from the other courses offered such as Spanish and French. Since it is not verbal, this is a big change for many students.
“I decided to take ASL because there are many resources such as Duolingo to learn Spanish and French, but not many to learn ASL. I thought this was a great opportunity to learn a language I wouldn’t be able to learn on my own,” sophomore Soren Dela Pena said.
ASL is not an imitation of English but is its own distinct language that has more similarities to other languages such as Japanese. It may use the same vocab but the order of every sentence is completely different from how you would say it in English.
“This language works well for people who learn better with hands-on, visual lectures as opposed to the traditional, note-taking ones. In an ASL class, you’ll learn different hand movements and signs for every word,” Movsisyan said.
For the deaf and hard of hearing population, having someone who knows ASL can be very useful. We have 11 students on campus who are either deaf or hard of hearing. Some of those students are in the ASL classes. Like Steen, most of them have an interpreter with them in each of their classes.
These interpreters translate what the teacher is saying to help students learn at the same level as hearing students.
“I’ve only found ASL ‘difficult’ if a signer doesn’t allow themselves to play with the language in all its beauty. So don’t be afraid to sign from your heart and let us figure out what’s on your mind,” interpreter Russell Vidal said.
Because deaf students are constantly with and surrounded by interpreters, they build a sort of bond with the interpreters, creating a much more friendly and welcoming environment for the students.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is that all of our deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) students are different. Every student has unique skills and needs that we adjust to meet with each new classroom we are in,” interpreter Megan Reed said.
In society DHH people don’t always get the support they need, so students are very grateful that GHC provides a program for not only DHH students to learn this amazing language but also for hearing students.