Friday, December 2, 2011

The Frustration with Sign

My son has been learning ASL or rather Signed English (which is different than ASL).   He's been learning it since birth and so will my other son.  We enjoy teaching him the language and it is it's own language because there's no confusion as to what his needs are.  But it has it's draw backs.

Let me "back up" as Hubby likes to say.  I once dated a guy from Colombia (the country not the university).  He had a younger brother who about six years old at the time.  He told me that his brother was learning his colors in English.  You see in other countries learning another language in school along with your native language is normal.  And it's better this way because children who learn a language before the age of 12 retain that language for the rest of their life.  In the United State public school system, we don't begin to teach our children another language until about the age of 12.  It's counter intuitive because for the most part the vast majority of Americans don't remember a thing.  My husband, for example, took Spanish in highschool.  I've never had any formal Spanish, but whenever there's something basic that needs to be translated (because we lived in Tucson), I translated it.  I took French.  People have told me (well, my German teacher) that I tend to pick up language quickly.  Maybe it's because music notation is said to use the same part of your brain as language acquisition.  Maybe it's a natural talent of mine.  Needless to say Americans, for the most part, only speak English and only care to.

My son doesn't just speak English.  He signs.  And I'm glad for it.  Even if he chooses never to pursue any studies in ASL, his brain is now wired for languages beyond spoken English.

The draw back is that not very many people have any basic understanding of ASL.  Not even remotely.  And English gestures do not correspond with ASL. 

For example, never use the "OK" sign with a deaf person.  They will think that you are calling them an A**hole.  You want to tell them "yes" either nod your head or nod your fist.

Saying "hello" in ASL is a salute.  We've had to eliminate that and go Hawaiian by using the same sign for bye and hello.  It's not squeezing your fist either.  That means "milk."  So all those strangers who think my son was saying bye and oh how cute.  Nope, you've just confused him because he's asking for milk.

And I hate to tell all my lovely relatives this, but HB doesn't blow kisses at you either.  He's saying "thank you."  Yes, it looks the same, but it's not.  And what's more is because they ask him to blow kisses, he's getting confused because we also ask him to say "thank you."  If you want the sign for kiss, form your hand like you would when talking about a duck and touch your cheek.  That means kiss your cheek.  I've tried to tell Hubby to talk to his family about this, but he's stubbornly refusing.  So I suppose I'm going to have to be the one to break the news.

Needless to say, I hope that more people will realize that gestured English is a far cry from ASL or signed English and to watch what they "say".  Most deaf people realize this and just deal with it even though it annoys them.  Unfortunately, it's just confusing the heck out of my child who is trying to learn two languages in a largely spoken English-only world.

1 comment:

  1. I stopped doing the ok sign when I was overseas... it was a bit harsher there than in ASL even. Thankfully it stuck because its an issue here too depending on who we're around.

    Sorry about the confusion yall are dealing with!


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