Deaf-Centered Topics

You’re probably not going to learn ASL unless you interact with us

JOIN OUR TABLE
Person with Binoculars image from Pixabay.com

Excuse me. Someone said you’re all learning ASL?

Hi. Nice to meet you. Yes, I AM deaf.

I just wanted to come over here and introduce myself, because you’ve all been sitting over here in this corner chatting in voices with each other instead of coming over to meet us. It’s okay, I understand. It’s not easy. It’s downright scary, sometimes, thinking you’re going to be judged. But, if you really want to learn ASL, you’ve just gotta do it. Come on, come over to our table. Yes, you too. No one gets left behind.

At just about every deaf social event I go to, there are ASL students. I am one of many deaf community members that really welcome ASL students to our events. I wanted to write this post as an encouraging one for these students.

I see most of you sitting on the sidelines. Perhaps it is shyness, perhaps it is fear. Probably it’s that and more, that keep you lurking on the edges of the tables and in the corners, away from the deaf community you came to interact with.

Your coming to the events are a fantastic step. I have a few suggestions for taking this a little bit further. If you truly want to be able to have a deep conversation unlimited by your skills, then taking such steps will get you there faster. While the speed at which you learn ASL is not the most important aspect, if you find your progress slow, then you’re more likely to give it up.

I don’t want you to be one of the countless people that tell me, “oh I forgot everything I learned.”

Here’s my recommendations:

1) Don’t sit with each other. Sit with deaf signers. Immerse yourself in the environment. Your fellow ASL students, while great for giving social support, can be a hindrance. When I see ASL students sitting together, I see chatting with voices and little to no sign language. That’s not the best way to build on your skills.

2) Be willing to ask questions of deaf attendees. If you get an attitude from the ones that don’t want to spend time talking to beginning ASL students, then either persevere or find someone kinder.

3) Share information about yourself. Your interests, your passions, your dreams. We can be as curious about you as you are about us.

4) Take notes of new signs that you learn and practice them at home. Come back next time with a larger vocabulary.

5) Avoid using your voice, if it’s not needed. Especially with each other.

6) Don’t pretend to understand something. If I ask a question, and you don’t understand, then tell me that. I’ll gladly repeat it.

7) Show up more often. Going to one event once in a while just to satisfy your requirement for ASL class is not going to be as beneficial as grabbing every opportunity you have to attend these deaf events and grow in your ASL skills.

8) Find a buddy to practice with outside of these events. Bring your buddy with you. Compare notes after.

9) Don’t stay in the same seat all night. Move around and meet a variety of deaf attendees. We don’t all sign the same.

10) Ask for help. If you feel like a wallflower and you want someone to help by introducing you, for example, then ask someone. Some of us would be glad to give you a few quick introductions, and then you can take it from there.

11) Make deaf friends. Include these deaf friends in your other socials. If you’re having a board game night, for example, you can invite a deaf friend to join. You could teach your hearing friends basic signs that they can use in the game. In this way, you’re being inclusive, and you are connecting with the deaf community on a deeper level.

You started taking ASL for a reason. Maybe it’s just for fun, or maybe you want to know ASL for a career choice. Either way, if you’re going to learn the language, then you’re going to want to use it with the people that are fluent.

We’re glad you’re taking ASL. We want everyone to know ASL, at least in America. We don’t want you to forget what you learned or give up after a semester or two because you don’t have anyone to practice with. Make friends with the community, only this will generate the spontaneous events that will mark you more deeply than an event full of deaf folk. Say for example that I call on you to help me get my E1111 in a time of need, surely you will remember that more than the “normal” stuff at an event. We especially don’t want you to finish 4 years of ASL to become a good signer, only to gradually forget most of it over the next decade because of a perceived lack of opportunity to practice. The opportunities are there, you only need to take them.


An earlier version of this article was published on this site quite some time ago, but I’ve updated it. If anyone has more ideas for ASL Students, please share them.

WANT TO READ MORE? Here’s another popular recent post, called I’m afraid deaf education has fallen apart.

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J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

39 Comments

  • Martha

    As an ASL student who absolutely struggles with social anxiety in Deaf settings, I really appreciate this post! Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I will be more social in ASL this semester!

  • Ashley

    Great article! I am hoping you might be able to help me. I’m trying to understand why some deaf people would be uncomfortable with or resistant to sign with hearing people or specifically an ASL student.

    • J. Parrish

      Just like there are impatient hearing people, there are impatient deaf people. This is one reason. But there are others, so it really depends on the person. In some cases, you might be catching two old friends trying to catch up on old times. They might rather be chatting with each other than having a slower conversation where they are essentially in a teacher role. It’s hard to know unless you ask. I’d suggest finding someone sitting alone or at least not engaged in a conversation.

  • Mibo

    Good tips… perhaps add a line that Deaf people don’t have the same convenience of using their ears and voices when meeting someone who doesn’t know ASL. Not falling back on voice and ears is good way to learn to rely on improving your ASL skills.

  • Sandyi

    This post is wonderful !
    It touched my heart . Thank you for sharing . I live in Charleston SC and would love to find some new friends to use my ASL with . I might not be that good at signing but I am good at being a friend and thstbisbwhatbit is about . Hugs ❤️

  • Erin

    I’m currently taking ASL 2. I’ve always loved the language, and I’m looking forward to earning my certificate so I can interpret for Deaf school children. I guess my fear is that I’m a slow learner and a slow signer, even though I practice every day. I’m afraid that if I ask a Deaf person to repeat themselves and slow down (I may have to ask more than once) if I don’t understand, then they’ll get frustrated with me.

    • J. Parrish

      Just keep practicing. Your speed will probably improve. Just don’t sacrifice clarity for speed. I get the fear, and there will be some who are frustrated, but you can’t let that stop you. If you truly want to be an interpreter, you have to interact as much as you can.

  • Pnina

    Thank you so much for this post!! I am an ASL student, and every time I try to speak to a deaf person I am ashamed of my poor vocabulary, I am afraid that this person will be bored or loose patience….I caught myself signing with my lips moving (so the person can understand my signs better, I thought my signs are not professional) and I immediately stopped, thinking that I am offending them by using my lips….It’s not easy at all to be an ASL student. It’s not that we are afraid of deaf people, we are afraid of our own inability to sign well.

    • J. Parrish

      I always tell people not to be ashamed, not to apologize, not to feel bad in any way. We know so many people in our lives who never even both to learn 1 word. Many, or most of us, have family members that don’t sign at all. So why feel bad? Why put pressure on yourself in any way? You are awesome already because you are learning.

  • Karen

    I am a teacher of children with special needs. I am also person who wants to communicate and overcome the barriers of communication I cannot afford to go to classes so I joined this club online. And I am grateful for. I listen to know if I take that back I watch videos on your side I’m here to learn I am very thankful for them the distance And time prevent me from attending your get-togethers not to mention that my answer vocabulary is extremely limited. I live by philosophy in the poem by Edwin Markham called ” outwitted”
    You drew a circle that checked me out — heretic rebel a thing to flout, but Love and I had to wit to win, we drew a circle that took him in Thank you!

  • Stephanie

    Great encouraging post! To add, if a hearing person encounters an unwelcoming Deaf social, to try another one or go to a different one. Thank you for your thorough perspective to encourage those who are trying to learn to keep persevering.

  • DeAndra

    Great article to encourage people to learn ASL! I am hard of hearing, I mostly look like I’m full deaf. I have a lot of deaf friends. It great that hearing people are willing to take the sign language class.

  • Leah

    This article is awesome and the posts shared afterward are even better! They really tugged on my heart. I just started taking ASL I and am very new to the Deaf Culture. The article and the posts really help to dispel all the fears that are going on in my mind. I am feel a bit more empowered to be confident in getting out there and immersing myself in ASL.

    • J. Parrish

      That’s awesome! Exactly what I was hoping to do with the post. Keep at it. One day you can be fluent and then perhaps you’ll bump into me at a major deaf event and tell me all about your journey. I wish you success!

  • Paolo

    This is wonderful. It could feel intimidating to learn the language and it cold also feel challenging but it is such an amazing way to reach out and meet new people and make friends through ASL.

  • Ashley

    How amazing and yet motivating! It made me think of how I’ve kept myself in a shell but reading this post made me want to keep learning and interacting with everyone who are members of the deaf community. I’ve overcome the fear of meeting new people, as well came out of my comfort zone of being able to speak with whom surround me, so hopefully I continue getting out of my comfort zone and learn more ASL, as well make new friends. Absolutely love this article!

  • Maria Holguin

    Thank you for such a great and encouraging post! I am definitely going to seek out Deaf events to attend and learn from. Your recommendations are both simple and common sense suggestions.

  • Pa

    I am a new ASL student taking ASL 101. I am greatly terrified of going to Deaf events because of my inability to learn and retain knowledge quickly. I am afraid I am going to end up just literally writing back and forth which I’m sure many deaf will probably find uninteresting. I’ve only started going for 3 weeks with one class per week. Would I be rushing myself to attending a Deaf event in the upcoming week?

  • Laura

    For me, I wouldn’t sign because I didn’t have enough vocabulary to do anything with it! I knew all signs for different family members, and some basic foods, and some colors. But how many people want to sit there and be asked if you like red apples and if your sister has a baby? I think our limited vocabulary scares us because we know we are bored with those stilted conversations so we only imagine a native signer is even more bored by it (and they aren’t getting anything out of it like we are!).

    I think it is good to come prepared with a few basic phrases and questions prepared. Maybe you will ask them about where they went to school and follow up questions about extracurriculars. What is their job and what is a day like for them? If they have children, how are the kids personalities different? What would be their dream vacation and what would they do on it? These tend to be things people like talking about and are more story-telling in nature. That makes it easier for the newbie to follow along even with unfamiliar signs. You are also more likely to learn signs that are applicable for future conversations than if you just start asking people to list the number of family members they have and what their favorite food is. Having a few conversation starters also makes it easier for you to learn signs in advance to share information.

    By signing yourself, you give others the opportunity to correct you in a safe environment. So you don’t accidentally tell someone you are horny went you just meant you are VERY hungry or that you have a snake bite on your head instead of a cochlear implant (both of which I have done). Being able to laugh at the process of learning helps form bonds of camaraderie.

  • Gabby

    My school doesn’t offer asl classes, but I’m learning. I’m starting a sign language club next year so I can teach others PSE. Do you have any advice? How do I find asl socials? Where can I meet deaf people besides by chance while out and about?

    • J. Parrish Lewis

      Why teach PSE instead of ASL? I don’t personally have a problem with PSE and sometimes I use it, but if I were teaching sign language, I’d try to teach ASL phrases. The reason is that it would be more accessible for those that are culturally deaf and use ASL as their primary language.

      For finding socials, go to google and type the name of your city and the word “deaf” and you should have some kind of results. If that doesn’t work, try the closest larger city. I can usually find a deaf services agency this way, and they often list events.

  • Pnina

    I have been reading this thread with a big curiosity, and there is something i would like to understand- you say : “come , join us”, which is such a great invitation for me , an ASL student, but on the other hand I can’t stop thinking about the situation that a person , who happens to be deaf, goes to a bar or a coffee shop just to hang out, have fun, and suddenly he is surrounded by ASL students , and this person finds himself teaching instead of just having fun…. I myself wouldn’t do that to a local person in order to improve my english. What do you think about this conflict? I hope I expressed my self well…I would be so happy to chat in ASL with someone, i am just not so sure everyone has the patience to struggle through a conversation with a level 2 ASL student…would like to hear your opinion, thanks 🙂

    • J. Parrish Lewis

      Not everyone will, which is why you should be open and honest about it with whoever you’re talking with. Follow their body language cues and expressions to get a sense of whether they might have had enough of teaching and directly ask. Meet various people so that you’re not spending the entire time with one person. You could even limit it to learning a phrase per person.

      At the same time, it’s not like a classroom when the person’s got to prepare a lesson and spend an hour teaching you all kinds of phrases. Just a little. And if you’re meeting someone like me, then that person knows the value of that time invested in teaching you a little. Think mini conversation. 5 minutes with each person that seems receptive, then next week 7 minutes, and so on.

      If you hang in there, those same people will one day be having a conversation with a fully fluent you and saying, “I remember when you were just starting! You improved so much!”

  • Kirsten

    I enjoyed reading this it made me even more ready to start school in the fall to become a teacher for the deaf. My only problem though is that I don’t really know where to begin. I know the alphabet and a few signs but I’d really like to find a buddy, as you stated would be helpfull, but I don’t know where to begin.

    • J. Parrish Lewis

      Start going to YouTube and looking up more ASL phrases to practice in the meantime. I recommend Bill Vicars’s channel.

      https://www.youtube.com/user/billvicars

      As for finding deaf socials, go to Google and do a search for the name of your city or the closest big city and the word deaf. If nothing comes up, add deaf services. Usually I can find a deaf services organization this way, and they often either list events on their website or will direct you to the right place. Then just go to the events and keep learning! 🙂

      • Kirsten

        Wow that video on YouTube is awesome! I love it and thank you, you are the first person that I’ve reached out to that has given me a solid place to start.

  • jennasthilaire

    Thank you for this. It gave me the courage to go to an ASL/Deaf social last night, and to walk right up to the table and meet people. They welcomed me warmly and were patient with my newbie status. I had a lovely time, and will be going back. 🙂

  • Beth

    Thanks for this post, it was very encouraging! I’ve been trying to work up the nerve to attend a deaf social, but am reluctant because of my sign language skills. I took an ASL class about ten years ago, but the school I work at uses signed English, so that’s what I am most familiar with. I wouldn’t say I’m a beginner, but I am nowhere near fluent and my receptive skills are very poor. Should I work on my ASL skills before attending an event or just jump in? Would I be welcomed and understood with signed English (which also isn’t that great). I’d love to go and improve my skills, but also want to make new friends and enjoy an evening socializing. Honestly, the thought of attending a deaf event makes me want to throw up because of my ASL skills. Will anyone even want to bother with me?

  • Jay

    I just wanted to say that this is so on-target. I read this last year when it was first published and I come back to it time and again. I hope to use this as a discussion prompt with my ASL students in all of my classes! Thanks!

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