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November 17, 2003

Signing off

From: The California Aggie Online - Nov 17, 2003


Nov. 17, 2003 — It lurks within the shadows waiting to strike you down; it is the cross to bear, and the dark cloud looming over you and your degree.

The language requirement.

Needed to graduate, one must display adequate proficiency in a foreign language and an understanding of the culture that the language envelops.

I was absolutely terrified at first, fearing I would have to resuscitate my Spanish skills which hadn't been used since a grammar final in high school.

Then I found American Sign Language.

When I first signed up for it at Sacramento Community College, I thought I was in for an easy ride and a straight translation of English. But I was introduced to a language with its own syntax, grammatical structure, diction – I could understand why it was being accepted as a foreign language!

Random ADD Moment: If you have ADD, I highly suggest taking ASL at SCC for your foreign language. Being so kinesthetic, the use of moving pictures and symbols and translating those into words makes it much easier than learning other auditory languages.

Soon, my friend Dayna (whom I forced to sign up with me) and I were flying through our class, even getting ahead of the schedule just so we could expand our vocabulary. We held extra study groups, practiced our fingerspelling and held conversations to try to learn the language and become more at ease with it.

Then there was the immersion into deaf culture. You will never go to anything louder or more crowded than a deaf ice–cream social. My God, I had never seen anything so packed! The people there were friendly and kind in understanding my slow reaction and nervousness when I talked to them, the most useful words being "slow," "again," and "confused."

I soon started to learn more about the deaf culture and community, such as the use of TTY – a phone system in which you talk through an operator with a keyboard in order to call someone who is deaf – and the history of deaf people in the U.S.

I have also learned the struggles that deaf and hard–of–hearing people have faced. One such example is that Gallaudet University, the only deaf university in the U.S., had only hearing people in charge of all aspects of campus until 1990. And for a while many educators thought that using sign language was simply a crutch that should be thrown away. Many students caught signing in school had their hands beaten with rulers to "encourage" them to learn to lip–read and attempt to mimic vocal speech.

Even today the deaf community faces many challenges. One is the need for more interpreters so that one can move forward with education and in the business world. However, even with interpreters, there's almost always a glass ceiling.

There is also the public opinion that deaf parents should not be allowed to be parents, or that their children should be given cochlear implants so they can hear. However, when given these implants, children are not encouraged to sign, giving them no way to communicate with their parents. Sign language would be a crutch to learning auditory language. Many think the children are better off this way – with no knowledge of their own culture, or even their heritage, should the parents be deaf.

I encourage people to go and learn ASL, or even just fingerspelling for a number of reasons:

n Learn about a new language and culture.

n You can talk in class and not make a sound. Just hide your hands under your desk.

n Swearing and talking dirty with your hands is just more fun and far more expressive.

I also encourage people to push UC Davis to bring back ASL. Once part of the curriculum, it was abandoned because of a lack of resources. If enough people begin to show an interest, it may be brought back.

So take a fun language and learn something new and interesting, or maybe even become an interpreter.

And one more word of advice: know your signs. If someone asks you if you got a haircut, avoid replying with "I live naked."

GARRETT MCCORD likes to sing "Stop! In the Name of Love" in sign to kill time and wonders why people still eat Necco Wafers. E–mail questions or comments to

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