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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ASL course

By Sangmin Lee

American Sign Language (ASL) is dominantly used among deaf Americans. It is derived from French, so it is very similar to French sign language. Sign language is not universal. Each country has its own sign language. For example, even though we can communicate with the British by using spoken English, we can’t do that by using sign language.

Kathleen Alexander, instructor, has been teaching ASL since 2007. She uses only ASL in the classroom for teaching students, and everyone uses ASL to communicate—there’s no English spoken in the class. She teaches sentence structures for ASL, which are very different from sentence structures of English. “It is as hard to learn sign language as it is spoken language. It takes seven years to become fluent in sign language,” Alexander said.

Alexander said she sometimes has criminal justice students or education students in her courses, but ASL isn’t limited to those who have a major related to it. Any student can take this course because it meets the foreign language credit. Alexander said that it is one of the reasons why this course is popular.

Chadra Elrod, junior, who took ASL I and II, said she took the course instead of taking Spanish because she always thought ASL was interesting. Another reason why students take this course is that people think ASL is easy. They might think the hand motions of ASL are beautiful, or they have family member who is deaf. Abby White, sophomore, who took ASL I last semester, is taking ASL II this semester because in Columbia, the deaf community is rather large, but there are not many hearing signers and interpreters. White said she figured if she took the class, she could use the language at work.

At Columbia College, there are three different levels of ASL courses in the Day and Evening programs. As the class level becomes higher, the course content will be harder.

As part of the class, the ASL class requires you to attend two deaf social gatherings at the Columbia Mall in the semester. People from the deaf community and the students attend to have a conversation together. Elrod said the deaf community is really nice, and they would help her if she were struggling. Besides the conversation events, the deaf community has bowling and dancing events. They play volleyball or softball, and they invite the students to participate. “The deaf people are very patient and welcoming to students who want to learn,” White said.

According to students, there are some differences between learning ASL and spoken foreign language. Elrod said that with Spanish, you have to conjugate verbs a lot, and there are many different words. On the other hand, if you have some phonology with ASL, you can have a conversation with someone. Elrod said the sentence structure in both languages is almost the same. She said the sentence structure is backward from English in Spanish and ASL. White, who is also taking a Japanese language class, said that the movement of the hands in ASL makes it easier for her to remember than in Japanese where you’re memorizing words by saying them. In difficulty, however, they're pretty evenly matched, as grammar is difficult in both languages.

White gave a comment for students who want to take the ASL course. “They shouldn't come in expecting it to be easy. To be honest, that's how I came in viewing it. It's actually very hard and takes a lot of practice,” White said. Even though the ASL course doesn’t seem to be easy, students who take this course describe it positively. Elrod said “I learned a lot. At first I knew the alphabet when I went to the class. By the end of the class, I could have full conversation with someone who is deaf. I would suggest you to take it. It’s a lot of fun.”

Photo courtesy of
The American manual alphabet

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Very interesting article! I've always been interested in ASL and it sounds like this class is the way to go.