Don’t Talk with Your Hands Full   14 comments

What language have you always wanted to learn? Do you think you will try?

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My primary language is English, which makes sense since I was raised in America by American parents. BUT ….

Amercian Sign Language

I can speak a smattering of languages – my dad grew up speaking Swedish, my mother’s tribal language died out when I was a kid, but some words are still used … I grew up in an extremely diverse state where two Native American languages are spoken in a variety of dialects … I used to attend a church with a sizeable Korean congregation, so I know a few words (mostly to hear, not say) … I took Spanish in high school. I’m not conversationally proficient in any of them because you have to have people to practice with to get good at speaking a second language. At one time, I navigated a South American country and Mexico with my Spanish, but it was mostly that I understood what they were saying and could ask basic questions in Spanish. If you can speak relatively good Spanish, you can also cipher out Italian and Portuguese, so it’s actually a really versatile language.

In college, I needed a foreign language, but I couldn’t get into Spanish, so I took an American Sign Language course. I have cousins who are deaf and I always wanted to learn the language, but I wasn’t around them enough to get very good at it. It was apparently a language I was meant to learn because I picked it up really quickly. I am conversationally proficient and have managed to hang onto my vocabulary even during times when I didn’t have much practice.  There are times when Deaf prefer Hearing not to know what they’re talking about and then they sign really fast and in short-hand – like some rare dialect of Hungarian. I can’t go there, but otherwise, I do pretty well. I’m “on the continuum” of signers in that I can comprehend most ASL, even in full ASL grammar, but I tend to sign in the telegraphic Pidgeon Signed English. The Deaf are generally okay with that and it is still understandable communication.

American Sign Language is beautiful and adaptable and I taught my children and husband so we could say things in public without being overheard. Even our dogs learned some signs because dogs respond well to hand signals and they have the comprehension skills of about a three-year-old child. Again, in a community with a diverse population, I have a fair opportunity to practice my second language. While ASL is not a universal language (sign languages differ from country to country), it does help its speakers to learn how to communicate non-orally, which I have found very useful when dealing in languages I don’t speak. I’ve used it in combination with a smattering of phrases while traveling in Germany and South America (there I did have Spanish, but the sign was very helpful) and fellowshipping with many other-language speakers in church communities.

I would really like to refresh my Spanish and learn more Swedish. I would need to concentrate a lot of attention on that, so I probably won’t actually accomplish those goals. But I plan to continue speaking ASL for the rest of my life. That is probably why I included a family of Deaf in Transformation Project and so there are many signers in Emmaus and I try to mirror the grammar to the best of my ability.


14 responses to “Don’t Talk with Your Hands Full

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  1. My husband and I took the first stage of the British Sign Language course a few years back and passed, but found it too hard to progress beyond the basics. We couldn’t even begin to understand proficient signers. We do use it to communicate across a crowded music venue though if he’s at the bar and wants to know what I want to drink!


    • My husband signs at about that level too. I found ASL to be incredibly easier to learn than other languages. American Deaf are comfortable with what’s called Pidgin Signed English — meaning ASL signs signed in English word order — which is often on a continuum. That adaptability worked really well for me, unlike with Spanish where they expect you to conjugate verbs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    Re-blogging a fellow blog-hopper’s post here as I found it interesting because I also studied sign language – the British version. I wonder how the two vary? Do Americans sign ‘tom-a-to’ instead of ‘tom-r-to (lol)?


    • Thanks for the reblog. I met an English Deaf couple in Germany years ago and we couldn’t communicate in sign. English fingerspelling is two-handed, American fingerspelling is one-handed. So even the basic rudimentary sign that a lot of Hearing Americans learned in school was not available to us. I only had the one day on the train, so I didn’t really learn any English sign. We just passed a notebook back and forth to “talk” in written English.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I learned using two hands. There’s also something called a timeline, which is when it started to get harder.


      • Timeline? Quick research explained it to me. Looks a lot like how the Spanish conjugate verbs, which was my downfall. ASL simply states past and future by a single sign at the beginning of the sentence. Otherwise all signs are in present tense … thankfully.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Perhaps I should have learned your version!


      • I don’t know. When Gallaudet was looking for some to help him start deaf education in America, he tried England first, thinking the native sign he’d observed in America might come from there (which he was right). But the English rebuffed him because they were focused on teaching deaf children to talk and read speech and written English. So he went to France and that’s why about 40% of ASL is based on French Sign Language.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting. Something else I’ve learned today!


  3. How neat! I love that you were around so many languages. I love watching ASL. It’s gorgeous. And I was just thinking the same thing about our kids. We need something now that they can spell.


    • Deaf children with Deaf parents learn to sign before they can spell. Fingerspelling is a fall-back position used mainly with the Hearing. But the language is really wonderful, beautiful and adaptable.


  4. I have a friend who taught her family ASL so she could tell them things in public. LOL



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