In my usual Groupon browsing, I stopped when I came across a voucher for learning American Sign Language, or ASL. I was looking for something new and interesting.
I thought, what the heck. It’s only 3 bucks (after using a coupon ON TOP of the Groupon). It seemed like an interesting language to learn, especially with my quiet nature.
I admire his gentle demeanor. Even though we heard his translator’s voice throughout the shows, we could still connect with his emotions and passion through his facial expressions and body language.
In learning American Sign Language, I noticed a few things right off the bat.
My fingers are not as strong as I thought.
I lift some pretty heavy weights at the gym. I bake, I clean, and I move my hands around a lot throughout the day. However, I also sit at a desk for 8+ hours a day, typing, clicking, and scrolling away.
One of the first things I learned in my ASL class was how to sign the alphabet. This is one of the most important aspects to learn because if I’m unsure how to sign a phrase or a word, then I can spell it out. This is known as fingerspelling.
While I practiced the alphabet, I noticed right away that my fingers had trouble forming some of the letters. They felt tense. Inflexible. They were especially stiff when I signed the letter “U”, which requires placing the pointer finger and the middle finger together and pointing them to the right (the sign a Disney employee might give for directions).
Learning American Sign Language involves more than just our hands.
You may have already guessed this: sign language requires even more visual cues since it is the only language without words.
These visual cues include facial expressions, furrowing the brow, crinkling the nose, and widening the eyes. There are social cues that indicate whether we agree or disagree with a topic, whether we understand the conversation, if we are listening, or if we don’t understand and need the person to repeat a sign or break it down.
Sign language also has a different grammatical structure. Where we place our hands, the shape, the movement, and the palm orientation all play an important role in signing.
We learn (more) patience.
As with any language, it takes time learning American Sign Language. Practice is extremely important. Not only did I learn how to sign in the lessons, but I also learned about the Deaf community and how to communicate.
I created a reminder to practice ASL every night around 7:30 p.m. That allows me to set aside the time and hold myself accountable. Some nights I’m super excited to sit down and learn. Other nights, I come home tired from work, so I take some time to rest and then practice later on.
I’ve always liked structure. Schedules, organization, due dates – those are my jam.
That’s what I loved about school (yes, I loved school. Yes, I even miss it a little. Okay, A LOT. I even took a few online classes with my library months after I graduated because I felt so strange without it). Our presentations, our grades, our assessments, and our deadlines held us accountable.
It’s difficult to organize ourselves once we’re thrown out into the world on our own. Sure, we may have people around us to help us. But in the end, the only person we can count on is ourselves. It’s all about determination and consistency.
I finished my first American Sign Language course a little while ago. I recently signed up for a second course, so I’m excited to see where this goes!
Is there a new language you’re learning, or interested in learning? I’d love to hear about it!