10 Ways to Pick Up American Sign Language Quickly - dummies

10 Ways to Pick Up American Sign Language Quickly

By Adan R. Penilla, Angela Lee Taylor

Signing with your friends has never been easier. You have natural signs and gestures to make your point. This article gives you great ideas for some of the things you can do if you want to pick up American Sign Language a little more quickly.

Volunteer at a Residential School for the Deaf

One way to immerse yourself in the Deaf world is to volunteer at a residential school for the Deaf. Deaf culture is the way of life at these schools, and by being exposed to the culture, you become intimately familiar with Sign. You can volunteer for after-school recreation programs or special-event preparations. Schools can never have too many volunteers to act as scorekeepers, coaches, assistants, ticket sellers, and other positions. By interacting with Deaf students, teachers, and parents, you’ll measurably improve both your expressive (signing to others) and receptive (reading others’ signs) signing.

Know that Deaf residential schools are a culture within the Deaf culture. There are name signs known to people who work there and every day name signs for happenings in their daily lives, this information is known to them. If you are there but a couple of days a week, it will be added information to learn. However, to immerse into the Deaf world and Deaf culture, a residential school is a perfect place to volunteer. Be patient with yourself and be open to learning; they would love to have you.

Volunteer at Local Deaf Clubs

Many Deaf people tend to congregate at their own clubs for a variety of reasons. They socialize, play pool, go on trips, and watch TV, just to name a few activities. Many Deaf people bring their hearing children to these clubs so they can practice their signing and learn the ways of the Deaf culture. Some clubs even have photo albums of past members and guests. Deaf clubs also have fundraising events fairly often. Volunteering at one of these fundraisers is a great opportunity to practice signing while helping others. Volunteers are always needed to sell raffle tickets, take tickets during an event, keep score at games, or simply serve refreshments.

Attend Deaf Social Functions

Social functions are becoming more common since more Deaf people have started specialized organizations. These events vary from sports activities to Deaf camp-outs to raffles. People interested in helping with flyers and tickets are always welcome. You can find out about functions in your community by checking the community pages in the phone book, searching the Internet, or calling the local residential school for the Deaf, if your community has one.

Although it is appropriate to be invited by a Deaf person first, social functions are a great place to make friends. Mix and mingle, let people know who invited you and that you’re interested in ASL. For the beginner, common topics can be Gallaudet University, ASL, the local Deaf club, and Deaf people who are on reality shows. Don’t be surprised if some Deaf people at these functions know Deaf television personalities, it is a small, tight community.

It’s customary to have a Deaf friend accompany you to one of these events, so that he or she can introduce you to Deaf people for the first time. Take advantage of this and branch out, soon enough these very people will be inviting you.

Make Deaf Friends

Having Deaf friends is really no different from having hearing friends. Many Deaf people enjoy watching and playing sports, going shopping, and surfing the Internet. A Deaf friend can help you a lot with ASL. Just think carefully about your friendship, though. Deaf people are sharing a language and culture with you that they hold in high regard; please try to do the same.

Assist Deaf Ministries

Attending Deaf churches and Deaf ministries is a sure way to meet Deaf people. Watching religious interpreters in these settings keeps you on the cutting edge of Sign vocabulary. Some churches that have large Deaf ministries have programs set up for members of their congregation who want to interpret for the Deaf. Church activities, such as picnics and Deaf Bible study groups, are enjoyable activities where you can offer your assistance or simply watch the preaching in Sign. Helping the interpreters is always a kind gesture, often getting water for the working interpreters, helping them look up key words as they prepare for the sermon, and greeting the Deaf as they arrive will be a sure way to show you care. Watch the interpreters as they work, take notes, they may even mentor you!

Attend Conferences for Interpreters

Sign language interpreting conferences are held every year in each state. These conferences feature workshops and breakout sessions on various topics, incorporating the latest research on interpreting, ASL, and more. The conferences also usually have evening entertainment performances by Deaf people and hearing people alike. Attending one of these conferences is an excellent way to pick up information about interpreting, sharpen your ASL skills, and meet other people who are learning Sign. You’ll also find booths with work opportunities, silent auctions, and mentoring opportunities by professional interpreters.

Work at Camps for the Deaf

Working at a Deaf camp gives the novice signer a relaxed atmosphere in which to work with Deaf children. Deaf camps are filled with fun activities such as games and hiking. You have ample opportunity to interact with Deaf people from different areas and to encounter a variety of signing styles and jargon. You may even get the opportunity to see both adults and children perform stories in Sign. Who knows, during a week of camp you may even form new friendships that last long after camp has ended.

Attend Silent Weekends

Silent weekends aren’t as lengthy as Deaf camps. Beginning signers who can’t miss time from work may find these weekends a perfect opportunity to mix with the Deaf community. These weekends vary as to how they’re run. Some furnish cabins that allow people to talk in the evenings, usually after 4 or 6 p.m., while others allow no talking at all. In fact, you may even be fined — 10 or 25 cents per infraction — if you’re caught talking! Entertainment is on hand, and an array of ASL teachers and interpreters are available to ensure that the weekend is filled with accurate signing. There are local and national speakers who attend these events, and audience participants come from all over the country. This is a good way to see a variety of signs, watch talented speakers who are well versed in ASL, and practice what you are learning.

You can obtain information about these silent weekends by going to the Internet and look for your state’s interpreter association. Each state has a chapter of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Click your state’s link for information.

Go to Deaf Workshops and Deaf Conferences

Many Deaf organizations exist, and one in particular is the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Workshops and conferences take place through these organizations and offer a myriad of subjects — something to interest everyone. One popular subject is Sign itself. Many educators and veteran interpreters regularly present poetry in Sign or give in-depth analyses of particular properties of Sign. Attending one of these workshops may give you new insights into Deaf culture.

Like Silent Weekends, conferences and workshops are a great place to practice your signing, although you are allowed to speak at these events. You will find much socializing at these events and many gifted presenters will be present. Some may use interpreters who voice what they are signing. Take advantage of this! Watch the presenters and listen to the interpreters. You will understand more clearly how professional interpreters read Deaf signers and how they process information. Do not be discouraged if you cannot keep up with their skill. They are voicing for the Deaf speakers because they are professionally trained so take what you can and pat yourself on the back for doing your best. Trying is a requirement to success.

Watch Sign Language Videos

Videos are a sure way to improve your signing. Many companies specialize in ASL materials and are happy to send you their catalogs. Get together with a Deaf friend, grab a catalog, and let your friend help you decide which videos would be good to learn from based on your particular level of ability. The best way to find sources of these types of videos is to surf the Internet. Just enter the words “sign language” into your search engine and watch how many sites come up. Your local library is also a good source for videos. Although books are a big help, videos have the capacity to demonstrate three-dimensional signing, and you can also rewind them and view them in slow motion for easier learning. Besides, viewing one of these videos with a friend can be a lot of fun.