Sign language making big impact

Summarized by Rachel Cain, staff writer

According to some estimates, American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most common language in the United States of America. This language developed in the 19th century in the United States.

ASL, contrary to various misperceptions, is not exactly like spoken English. ASL “has its own syntax, its own grammar,” said Sherry Cook, the regional director of Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, at John A. Logan College.

ASL is also a very expressive language. Meaning and emotion are conveyed not only through signs, but through body language and facial expressions as well. Cook advised ASL students who are perhaps a little uncomfortable with being physically expressive in front of others to enroll in drama classes to help them gain confidence in “performing” in front of others.

Some people advise those who are deaf or hard of hearing to become fluent in ASL as well as English. Not only does being bilingual boost academic scores and help people learn additional languages (signed or spoken) more easily, but some children respond much better to ASL at young ages.

Zoe Jagla, a profoundly deaf infant, used to throw tantrums when she couldn’t communicate what she wanted. When she started learning ASL at age two, the tantrums stopped and she became a noticeably calmer and happier child.

“It has made such a huge impact,” Ashley Jagla, Zoe’s mother, said. “It’s hard to even put into words how different her life is now with sign language.” Although Zoe now has cochlear implants, her parents hope to continue to make ASL part of her everyday life.

“Absolutely look into ASL,” Ashley Jagla advises other parents of deaf/hard of hearing children. “It is so easy that even infants can learn it. It’s amazing the kind of conversations with a one or two-year old you can have—conversations you couldn’t even have with a hearing child (without ASL).”

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