It was less than a year ago when I discovered the mesmerizing art of American Sign Language. One day, at 15 years old, I made the decision that I would become fluent in ASL. It's hard to pinpoint the origin of this idea, but when I feel the urge to accomplish something, I wholeheartedly set my mind to it- and that's just what I did.
Photo: Jo Hilton on Unsplash
I started with the basics, twisting and turning my confused hands along with the 'alphabet' YouTube tutorial. Soon, my phone became clogged up with a myriad of ASL apps. Through these digital resources, I quickly acquired the basic knowledge of simple word groups; animals and food were among the first. In no time, I had learned a copious amount of words and short phrases. I watched as the running list of words I kept(and still keep) in my phone flourished into one that required some good scrolling just to type in my latest addition at the bottom. Shortly after, I began attending weekly classes at a local school for the deaf. This group setting advanced my skills tremendously; for two hours a week, I was given the opportunity to experience a completely silent conversation, a wonder that continues to intrigue me. Through my constant persistence, I watched myself improve by the day; my determination was paying off.
As I continue to work on my ever growing list of words, I can reflect on the efforts I have put in. Not only am I proud of myself with regards to the amount that I have learned, but I feel so grateful to have discovered such a beautiful thing. ASL is something that I have very quickly developed a passion for, a love for, and an excitement for. The greatest feeling washes over me every time I get the chance to sign with someone. Seeing the graceful gestures, and knowing that those movements are forming words, is a truly magical sight. When I learn a new word, I immediately try to figure out how to use it in sentence with words that I already know. As crazy as it may sound, ASL has truly changed me.
A huge misconception about this incredible language is that it is solely geared towards the deaf community. Although ASL is crucial to those who cannot hear, they are not the only population that benefits from this mode of communication. For individuals who are unable to converse verbally as a result of a disability, such as autism and Cerebral palsy, ASL often becomes their greatest gift- the gift of being able to voice your needs and your opinions. More times than not, sign language is their only way to be heard. Additionally, research has found that babies are able to maneuver their hands prior to developing the ability to verbalize. For babies who are introduced to ASL early, they will be able to show their caretakers what they need, resulting in fewer tantrums, and hence, less irritation for both the baby and the parents. Eventually, signing will allow you to connect with your baby on a deeper, more personal level, as a lack of communication will no longer serve as a hinderance in your relationship.
Imagine how frustrating it would be to feel extremely isolated from the world that envelops you. Whether it be due to hearing impairment or a disability, if you had no way to communicate with those around you, loneliness would become your reality. Learning American Sign Language has provided me with the comfort level needed to branch out and talk to individuals who I may have previously ignored. Just a few months ago, I had an encounter with a man at a bagel shop. He had two dogs with him, so I thought I'd go over to pet them. It became immediately obvious that he was deaf, but I didn't let that stop me from talking to him. At first, His reserved manner told me that he was hesitant to have a conversation, not knowing that I could sign, but he clearly warmed up to me when he realized that I knew his language. This experience is one that I will forever be grateful to have had. I gave him someone to talk to; I uprooted him from his silent bubble. As much as hoped I had made his day, he had made mine.
I encourage you to go online, type in 'ASL for beginners' in the YouTube search bar, and just start from there. See where it takes you. Learning ASL will not only grant our community with a more inclusive environment, it will give you that immense satisfaction derived from the knowledge that you are making a difference in the lives of so many.
Sixteen year old Leslie Marsh is a junior in high school. She enjoys theatre, art, and cooking. She loves to spend time with her family, and she has a twin brother. Leslie hopes to double major in phsycology and special education, and she is already eager to go to college.