American Sign Language as a second language Essay Example

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American Sign Language as a second language Essay Example

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American Sign Language as a second language Essay – Part 2

It’s hard to admit when you accepted an old cliché as truth and let it color the way you reacted to people – American Sign Language as a second language Essay introduction. But the truth is that I was one of those who people who had never interacted with the deaf before taking this class. My perceptions of the deaf were completely biased. I did not see them as individuals or as a subculture. I simply accepted the concept of “deaf and dumb”.

After beginning the process of learning American Sign Language as a second language, I was shocked and then ashamed at the way that I had been thinking. I supposed I really never thought about what it would be like to not be able to hear.  It is very easy to take for granted your ability to hear if you are never without it. So, when I began reading about the things that the deaf have to do in order to adapt to a hearing world, I was shocked to learn that these people whom I had considered “dumb” were in fact innovative and creative people, coming up with interesting solutions to help them adapt in the hearing society. For example, I was surprised to learn that smoke alarms could be purchased that create a bright light, designed to awaken sleeping people who cannot hear the annoying, ear-splitting beep alerting them to danger.

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I was also surprised to find that many things we take for granted have been adapted to be more available for the deaf. I could not imagine, for instance, talking on the phone with a deaf person and had never considered what they might need to do to communicate with a loved one who was out of the area or to call 911 in an emergency. It also never occurred to me how difficult it might be to use closed captioning until I turned off the sound on the television and turned on closed captioning and tried to watch the evening news. Reading fast enough to understand what was being said was difficult and because I had to spend so much time concentrating on the words, I was almost completely unable to watch the video shown to accompany the news stories.

I thought at first that this problem was only because of the speed with which the news is delivered, so I continued my experiment and tried to watch an episode of “The Simpsons”.  I had seen the episode before, so the action was a bit easier to follow, but I could imagine what it would be like to have never seen the show and to try to follow the action on screen and read along as well. It’s a bit like watching a movie with subtitles; not something I like to do. Then, I laughed a bit, because most people tend to think of people who watch movies with subtitles as geeky, nerdy and smart.  So, after all this time of thinking as deaf people as dumb, I was finding that they do something every day that “smart” people do once in a while: read subtitles.

I was surprised to see the grammar was not perfect in the closed captioning and wondered if this might make it more difficult for the deaf when they are learning to read and write English. And, if part of the reason we as people get confused about homonyms is that they sound alike, is it that much more confusing to people who don’t know that they sound alike?  If you have never heard the word their and there, but know what they mean, does it make you even more confused about why someone would type that people got in “there car” when it should have been “their car”?  I wondered in if there was a way to explain that heir and air are pronounced the same to someone who has never heard the pronunciation of either.  And, does it get confusing when someone types hour and mean our?  With two completely different words and the slip of the typists’ fingers, the entire meaning of a sentence can be changed and yet closed captioning typists are not perfect. I’ve seen these mistakes made. So, does that contribute to the difficulty the deaf have in learning that language and then therefore contribute to society’s perception of the deaf as dumb?

Sadly, I then wondered if ASL does not also contribute to the problems some deaf people have in expressing themselves in the written word. With no articles used, few pronouns and a lack of verb tense in ASL, can it be any wonder that some deaf persons might have difficulty translating their native tongue (ASL) in written English?  I supposed before beginning this class, I assumed that ASL was not a separate language so much as it was a different way of using English. People who could sign were, I thought, simply replacing the mechanism of speaking with the mechanism of the sign. Now, I see that this is not the truth. ASL is a language unto itself. Sentence construction is different, much like other languages. For example, to indicate that something happened in the past in ASL, I would not use a past tense, but would add the modifier at the end of the sentence or at the beginning of the sentence. It reminds me of a friend who grew up with an Asian immigrant next door. The woman had not learned sufficient English to say that something cost one dollar and thirty-five cents. She would simply say, “one dollar more.” She understood the concept, but not the exact words. So maybe we are doing the deaf a disservice when we expect them to “speak” ASL and write in English.

Once I began to come to these realizations, I was horribly ashamed of my previous thought patterns. I was embarrassed to learn that “deaf and dumb” had actually meant “deaf and does not speak.” I was surprised to learn that deaf people cannot be lumped into one category of intelligence anymore than all Americans, all Mexicans or all Europeans. Before the class, if I had been asked, I would have said that of course I am not prejudiced, but I would have been wrong. I find that embarrassing and more than a little sad.  While I can forgive myself, knowing that I had not been greatly exposed to deaf persons, I also wonder why that is?  We strive for multi-racial, multi-ethnic television, attempting to break down stereotypes in movies and television, and in some cases to poke fun at them as a way to break them down, but I cannot think of a single television show that features a deaf person in a positive light.  Since I began the class, I have seen a rebroadcast of a Law & Order: SVU in which the deaf community was portrayed as insular and afraid of those who could hear. In that episode, a doctor who could cure hearing loss through cochlear implants was murdered and his patients were seen as betraying the community. That is not what I would consider portraying the deaf in a positive light. And, nothing that I have read watched or studied for this class has indicated that this is a common or even uncommon feeling within the deaf community. While I am sure that like all individuals, there are some individuals who are deaf who resent their condition, I find that society appears to be much more understanding and less prejudicial against the blind. This leads me to wonder why it is that we treat the loss of one sense in one manner and the loss of another completely differently. I cannot understand why we assume that a person who cannot see could be and is equally as intelligent as a seeing person, but treat someone who is deaf as though their intelligence is substandard.

And I do not buy into the concept that this is solely because traditional teaching methods have involved a teacher at the front of the classroom speaking and students learning via listening. We know very well that immense amounts of learning come from books. It is why we place such a high priority on reading. And, quite honestly, it appears to me that it is much easier to adapt to a deaf person in a classroom than to a blind person.  Adding a single interpreter can open an entire class or performance to the deaf, but for each blind person in a classroom, a Braille book or books on tape must be made available. Each individual requires their own adaptive equipment. So shouldn’t it be easier for society to adapt to the needs of the deaf than the needs of the blind?  Why then do we have such negative stereotypes of one and not the other?

This realization made me rather angry. I am angry for all the deaf people who have been shunned or mistreated by people like me who did not know any better. I am angry about people who society taught that is was okay to stereotype a person based on their ability to hear. After taking this class and reading the book, I am sorry for the way I used to think and angry that so many others still think that way.


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