I started learning ASL because of my sister. She started taking it as a freshman and after seeing her practicing her signing around the house, I grew interested in the language. My sister has always insisted that I should learn something new. I knew sign language was a unique language and I thought it would be easy to learn when I entered high school. My first class seemed easy at first, but I didn’t know how much I had to learn and remember.
My first ASL course was an intro to the basics of American Sign Language and the Deaf community. Learning a new language is always hard at first, but if you always watch and listen, it can stay imprinted into your mind. It took me a long time to master the specific letters and with the words that came after them. Aside from fingerspelling, I had a bit of trouble signing in complete sentences and getting involved in a conversation. I felt stiff when I was signing and I wasn’t very expressive with my emotions. However, being a hearing student and learning ASL, my teacher told my class to keep learning sign language so that we are able to communicate to those who need it most. We are given the chance to experience a whole community.
I thought that Deaf people didn’t have the luxury of having a “normal” life. They may experience ridicule and feel isolated from the rest of society because of their disability. Fortunately, my teacher taught our class about Deaf gain, where people don’t see deafness as an obstacle but as a benefit to a whole new perspective. Deaf people aren’t limited in their abilities just because they are missing one of the five senses. Their disability doesn’t stop them from trying to accomplish their goals in life. Take Mandy Harvey for example: she was one of the finalists of America’s Got Talent. She lost her hearing when she was 18 years old but kept pursuing her dream of being a performer. She is able to perform by feeling the vibrations to keep up with the pacing of the music. She even earned the Golden Buzzer for her amazing audition. I was so inspired by her courage, perseverance, and fearlessness.
Last Friday, I thought it would be a good idea to try something I haven’t done in a while. You see, I’ve been having some trouble with keeping up with some quizzes and new vocabulary for my current ASL class, so my parents and I thought it would be best if I did ASL coffee night at Coffee Bean in Mission Valley in order to practice my sign language and get some extra credit for the class. At first, I was extremely nervous because 1) I felt like I would be isolated from a language that I was still learning, 2) I was worried that I might say something wrong, and 3) I get scared talking to new people. It would have been overwhelming for me, but my mom was there to support me through it. She told to me to start off simple and then get to know the person, just like in a normal conversation.
When we got to the event, I was still nervous. I could practically hear my heart beating. It took place in the outside sitting area of the coffee shop. When I got there, I saw a lot of people signing and I was thinking to myself, “How should I get involved?” or “How I should introduce myself?” or “What should I sign about?” While I was thinking, I overheard a conversation. I didn’t think I would since it was a deaf event, but then it hit me. What if there were people and/or students in the same situation as me? Turns out, I was right. I looked over and I saw two women learning to be interpreters & a father and daughter who wore hearing aids. Of course, I couldn’t just go up and talk to them–I mean that would kind of ruin the purpose of practicing my sign language. When I first tried to join their conversation, I was getting nearly every sign wrong. I felt embarrassed, but they were very encouraging. They told me it was alright because they were learning just like me, that it was okay to be nervous or scared, and that I shouldn’t be too worried about it.
From that conversation to the next, the night only got better. I met a few college students who were taking ASL 1 classes and a middle school student who goes to another school. I loved how I bonded with all of these people even with my mistakes. When I went inside to meet up with my mom at her table, I met another group of women all taking the same night class for ASL. We all shared and compared what we learned from our teachers, as some signs for the same word could be different. It depends on the teaching style really.
I also saw a few students from my school. I even bonded with a really nice freshman who just so happens to also be in Anime Club. I learned that his whole family learned sign language because his father was a cop who learned how to be an interpreter. I also met his brother who accompanied him to the event. While we talked about our experiences, we learned more about each other and what we learned from our classes. I couldn’t have asked for a better time. I still can’t stop smiling about it.
This was a really interesting experience for me and I really recommend everyone to try something new, something you may feel nervous about or something you don’t think you’re good at. You could meet a lot of interesting people. For me, I was surprised how many hearing people show interest in learning new things outside of their own world. I recommend learning this language to anyone who wants to be involved in a whole other community or gain new life perspective!