In a global community, learning a foreign language is extremely important. One must have the tools to communicate with people in various countries, including their own.But one language is often forgotten in this process.
Sign languages are used by millions of people in the world, and www.42explore.com/signlang.htm suggests that American Sign Language, used in the United States and Canada, is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States (the numbers are hard to determine because there are substantial variations among deaf and hearing sign language groups).
Sign languages, contrary to popular myth, are complete languages with their own linguistic structures. They are used extensively in deaf culture and provide the deaf and hard of hearing a way to fully experience language, where they could not when focusing merely on a spoken language. Most sign language users are also fluent in a spoken language, though their speaking abilities may vary greatly.
The deaf are not the only group of people who use nonverbal languages, as deafness.about.com reminds us. Many people with a variety of disabilities and conditions are unable to communicate verbally can use sign languages or simplified forms of them.
In addition, there have been a rash of articles lately about the benefits of teaching babies to sign. According to an article on theparentsite.com, babies who learn to sign are less frustrated, can communicate earlier, have better vocabularies and develop better reading skills. There are also indications that their IQs benefit.
So with such benefits and possibilities of communicating with other branches of society, it seems obvious that Americans should make every effort to learn to speak ASL or at least become proficient in basic signs.
TCU currently offers four semesters of sign language. According to Theresa Gonzalez, coordinator for the Habilitation of the Deaf program, they do not count as foreign language credit under the old UCR requirements, but under the new core, Intermediate Sign Language will count as a cultural awareness credit. The two ASL courses may eventually count as well.
“Usually the students in basic sign come from diverse majors,” Gonzalez said. “In my opinion, this is their opportunity to make deaf individuals feel as if they are part of a hearing world … That acceptance can only help them function in the world.”
Sign language clearly should have counted toward the old UCR foreign language requirement; indeed, there was a proposal to that effect before the core changed. But with no foreign language requirement in the new core, assigning sign language courses cultural awareness credit is a step in the right direction.
Since the change in cores, Gonzalez said, enrollment in this semester’s intermediate sign language class has increased by about 15 students, from a previous average of 20 to 25 students.
Will more classes be offered? “It depends on the numbers,” Gonzales said. With raised enrollment and cultural awareness credit, it is “more of an option.”
TCU is taking an excellent step by encouraging students to take these classes, by providing core credits. Every student should learn to communicate with new people, especially people in his or her own country.
And even if students don’t know any deaf sign language speakers, they can reap the benefits here at home: Sign language is extremely useful in loud clubs and bars and is much simpler than yelling when trying to communicate over long distances. And who doesn’t want babies with high IQs?
But sign language can be about so much more – learning about sign language and deaf culture, Gonzalez said, “will probably stop the cycle of the deaf feeling like they are outsiders in a hearing world.”
Opinion editor Stephanie Weaver is an English, philosophy and French major from Westwood, Kan.