I took Spanish for three years in high school and I feel like I should be fluent in it for having taken it for as long as I did. I did well in class too. I made good grades and did well on the tests and all that jazz. But I’m not fluent in it. I can understand some of it (I get the general idea about what is being said) but it’s possible that this is a result of being around my mom and her side of the family (all of whom fluently speak Spanish). So. Three years later (full years, not just semesters) and I feel like I am still at about the same level that I was. Maybe a little higher but not by much.
This summer when I registered for classes, the advisor told me I need to have two years of a foreign language. She rattled off the list and Spanish was there along with a bunch of other random languages (I think Chinese was one…or Japanese. Something like that.) that have little real-world applications, unless you plan to live in a country where that is the spoken language. And they offer American Sign Language. That is what I decided to take. It’s different and can be used a little more frequently than say…German.
It is a really interesting class. My teacher is Deaf and he’s doing a really good job. It’s a very different experience. We only had an interpreter on the first day of class and the TA was in there for the first couple of weeks, but now even he isn’t there. On the first day, I was very overwhelmed. Actually, I was super scared.
It took me a good two or three weeks to get accustomed to the intense quiet that we had in class. See, we aren’t allowed to talk in class because our teacher won’t understand us very well anyway. (It’s considered impolite to speak English in front of Deaf people without a translation because they can’t understand you.) Plus, he told us on the first day that it isn’t as common as we think for Deaf people to read lips.
We have to be creative when we need to ask questions. We sometimes write our questions down. Sometimes we can get away with finger-spelling a few words. Mostly we just point and looks confused. He usually figures out what is being asked. My teacher has figured out what “confused” looks like because when he sees it, he writes the word he is signing on the board. Then we copy him a few times. And answers pretty well.
At this point, eight weeks in, I can sign the whole alphabet, count up to 99, introduce myself and some other random stuff. In addition, I know I bunch of random facts about Deaf culture (bet you didn’t know Deaf and deaf are two different things, did you? Deaf -capital D- refers to someone who is part of the culture while deaf – lower case d- refers to someone who cannot hear. Boom. Just taught you something today. :)).
My recommendation to anyone who wants to learn another language: Sign Language. Granted, you need a good teacher and all that but it’s very different from spoken languages. You use a different part of your brain. It stretches your concept of a language. It’s pretty cool.