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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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