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January 24, 2005

Sign language not part of USC schedule of classes

From: Daily Trojan Online - Jan 24, 2005

Despite a growing trend, USC does not count classes as a foreign language.

By Leslie Jones
Published: Monday, January 24, 2005

The study of American Sign Language in the United States has increased by more than 400 percent over the last four years, making it the fastest growing language studied in the country, according to the Modern Language Association.

But USC does not offer ASL classes for its foreign language requirement and has no plans to do so in the near future, wrote Jane Cody, associate dean of academic programs, in an e-mail.

According to the Los Angeles Times, one analysis showed that in the last year more than 28,000 students took ASL classes in California community colleges. The number of colleges that accept ASL as part of their foreign language requirement is increasing.

The last time USC formally reviewed its stance on ASL in relation to foreign language curriculum was five years ago. USC does not view ASL as a foreign language because ASL does not foster cross-cultural communication.

For example, American Sign Language is different from British Sign Language. Two deaf people from the two countries would have a difficult time communicating.

"Since the goal of the language requirement - in alignment with the mandates of the university and college strategic plans - is to ensure delivery of a global education, the offering of American Sign Language is not in alignment with that goal," Cody wrote.

ASL does have its own grammar, punctuation and sentence structure - all of which are different from spoken English.

The National Association of the Deaf projects that it takes the average student two years of ASL education to be able to communicate functionally.

There is no written equivalent to ASL and it is commonly perceived to be easier to learn because of its relation to English.

Between 500,000 and 1 million people in the United States use ASL as their primary means of communication.

According to the National Virtual Translation Center, approximately 28 million people speak Spanish at home in the United States, 1 million people speak Italian and 1.6 million speak French.

All three languages are taught at USC. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 ensured the deaf the right to interpretative services, which ensures a demand for ASL interpreters.

But the concern at many colleges and universities is that students take ASL simply because they are looking for an easier class than German or French.

"I would have loved to take sign language rather than Spanish, which was just a repeat of things I learned in high school," said Ashley Hicks, a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism.

Students in foreign language classes trying to fill college requirements often fail to see a practical application for their studies.

Most students are not fluent after two or three years of study of a foreign language, and with heavy course loads, many students do not have the time to pursue their foreign language beyond the initial college requirement, Hicks said.

Still, maybe the ASL storm has just passed USC by. The last person to formally request ASL classes at USC was a parent about five years ago, Cody wrote.

USC offers elective credit for ASL classes taken at other universities.

But for now, students who wish to further their understanding of ASL will have to look for classes elsewhere.

© 2005 USC Daily Trojan Online