I’m about 4 classes into my ASL course, sponsored by Olay and Go Mighty, and while I am still stumbling along in the communication department, I’m proud to say that during the last class, I managed to follow a 2-hour conversation entirely in ASL!
Or ‘mostly’ follow anyway.
One of the great things about ASL is that it’s based on concepts rather than specific words, so you can get by picking up the gist of an idea rather than having to understand every single word in a sentence, like in English, for example. Last class we started off by reviewing Unit 13: More Ways to Express Yourself, and our instructor started telling us about her life story to demonstrate some of the signs. Before we knew it, it was 90 minutes later and she had shared her challenges growing up in a small town in a school where she was the only deaf student, and where her teachers and principal didn’t know “what to do with her,” to her desire to become a math teacher but getting discouraged in college when she couldn’t follow along with the lesson in class, to her ascent up the management chain at various government agencies, to her finally fulfilling her passion to teach, as an ASL instructor years later (yay!).
And she shared this entire, moving, riveting story in ASL.
She apologized at the end of the class for “not really teaching” that day and all of us were quick to correct her – we had learned far more from watching her speak to us, in context, than we likely would have going over isolated concepts from the textbook. Of course I struggled many, many times throughout the conversation, but with the help of some more advanced colleagues in the class, combined with the instructor pausing to finger spell some words, and write some harder ones on the whiteboard, I managed to follow along and even ask questions.
We all left that night feeling like we had a better understanding of the language and about our instructor as a person. It was great. Clearly the key to learning a language is full-on immersion! Too bad I’m too old to go to ASL summer camp…or is it?