First off, I want to clear up a stereotype about ASL. People often believe that American Sign Language is not a real language. That is not the case. According to the book "The Unlearning Curve: Learning American Sign Language" by Rico Peterson, American Sign Language is an actual language because it meets the criteria languages have to have which is grammar, culture and communication. American Sign Language is important to learn because it creates a community between deaf and hearing people. Deaf people struggle to communicate with hearing people because hearing people do not always take the extra time to try and fully communicate with deaf people. Nyle Dimarco, the recent "America's Next Top Model" winner, talked about how he felt dehumanized on the show because his peers did not give him the respect he deserved. It is tiring for deaf people always having to accommodate hearing people's needs by struggling to read lips instead of being able to communicate in their language.
There are also many benefits to taking American Sign Language. Did you know that American Sign Language is the only language that uses both hemispheres of the brain? According to handspeak.com, "bilingualism boosts the brain because it enriches and enhances your cognitive processes through higher abstract and creative thinking, better problem-solving, greater cognitive flexibility, better listening skills, greater academic achievement and more! It also promotes cultural awareness, literacy and other intellectual benefits. It is also using visual- spatial medium, expands your visual-perceptual skills: spatial awareness, mental rotation skill and visual sensitivity.”
Learning American Sign Language, like most other languages, helps open up job opportunities. Employers are more inclined to hire those who are bilingual, especially with sign language where not many hearing people are familiar with the language. According to Sunyocc.com, "Knowing ASL opens opportunities for interesting jobs and promotions such as nurses, doctors, police officers, business, law, technology, government, social service and more!"
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Another benefit to taking American Sign Language is being opened to a whole new community. After my first semester of sign language, I have noticed people signing in my everyday life more often. It is fun to go up and introduce myself to them or even try and figure out what they are saying. Recently, companies have noticed the importance of incorporating sign language into their businesses. For instance, you may have heard that a Starbucks in Florida has a video drive-thru window where deaf people can sign their order and an employee who signs will be there to help. Additionally, a Burger King has also incorporated sign language by having the entire restaurant in sign language from the sign outside, to the menu and even the King himself can sign to the customers.
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If you are curious to learn more about ASL, then here are a few resources that provide information:
Peterson, Rico. The Unlearning Curve: Learning to Learn American Sign Language. Burtonsville, MD: Sign Media, 2009. Print.