American Sign Language FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions
Ideally, a child who is born deaf has parents who sign to them from the day of their birth. Hearing children learn spoken language from the day they are born; some experts say even earlier, in the mother's womb
Deaf children should have that same opportunity, but many do not.
As a result, many Deaf children begin school at age four or five with little or no language. This puts them at a tremendous disadvantage and is one that is very difficult to overcome.
Many experts recommend infant programs for Deaf children so they can get the stimulation and language exposure they may miss at home.
Deaf children, adolescents, and adults learn the same things in school that hearing people do.
Deaf students are not usually taught sign language in school. Many advocates believe that Deaf students should study sign language in the same way that hearing students in the U.S. study English.
Traditionally, a “deaf school” is thought of as a residential school where deaf children live at the school away from their homes and interact in a signing environment.
In Bakersfield, as in many other communities, there are “mainstreamed” schools that have day programs and mainstreamed classes for Deaf students. These schools employ specially trained teachers of Deaf students and sign language interpreters. Some of these schools include the Richardson Center, Eissler Elementary, Van Horn, OJ Actis, Highland High School, and Bakersfield College.
All languages have slang, which is defined as “very informal language, usually spoken rather than written, used especially by certain groups of people.” ASL, like English, Spanish, French, and many other languages, has slang
If by “fully learn” you mean become fluent, you should continue to learn ASL throughout your lifetime, just as you do with English or Spanish.
We offer four ASL language courses: ASL 1, 2, 3, and 4; however, your best and most authentic learning will result from interacting with native users of ASL, members of the Deaf community. Consider a job in which sign language is used or volunteering at a Deaf social services agency.
The more you use ASL to transact meaning, the more you will learn and grow in this language.
The decision to acquire sign language is usually not made by a Deaf child but by his parents.
Even today, there is much misinformation about deafness and sign language, and there are experts who recommend against learning sign for various reasons.
The overwhelming majority of Deaf people do sign to some degree or another and feel that sign language is an important part of their lives.
Members of the Deaf community consider ASL to be a vital part of the individual and group identity.
Congenital deafness--deafness at birth--can be caused by genetics, heredity, or a birth defect.
Deafness can be inherited; it is carried by a recessive gene, and both parents must be “carriers.” As a result, hereditary deafness is rare.
Deafness resulting from a “birth defect” or anomaly is far more common. It can be caused by a number of factors, including rubella and other diseases.
The advent of antibiotic medications has eradicated many of these causes in the U.S., though many cases still occur in developing countries.
Sign language interpreting is a highly specialized field. It requires a number of years of training in addition to serving in lengthy internships.
Most interpreters go through on-going, continuous education.
Typically, to become an interpreter, one must complete a program in ASL and a separate program in interpreting. After completing both, most students aren't ready to begin interpreting; instead, they serve in internships or mentorships where they get “hands on” training.
Many people don't understand the complexity of the interpreting task and invite ASL students to interpret. Many ASL students are quite flattered to be asked and may try to interpret.
The BC ASL Program strongly opposes this practice and admonishes its students not to interpret until they have completed interpreter training at an accredited institution.
BGLAD, the Bakersfield office of the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness is a wonderful program here in Bakersfield. They offer, through LifeSigns, interpreting services to Deaf people, advocacy support, education programs, and sign language classes for hearing people.
They also have numerous volunteer opportunities. Check them out at 1527 19th St. in Bakersfield, or call (661) 327.3781.
Robert Weitbrecht, a Deaf scientist, invented the TTY. When a Deaf orthodontist from Pasadena sent him a teletype machine and asked him to modify it for Deaf people, Weitbrecht developed an “acoustic coupler” and the TTY was born.
In the beginning, the acoustic coupler was a simple transmitter, housed in a plywood box, that converted electrical signals into audible tones capable of being sent over telephone lines.
Today TTYs are still used and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. More and more Deaf people are using email, internet communication, 2-way pagers, and videophones.
These devices come to us on a path paved by Dr. Weitbrecht and his revolutionary invention, which was patented in 1965. He died in 1983.
It is a commonly held belief that when one loses (or is born without) one of his senses, the others become stronger or more acute; however, there is no scientific evidence to support this.
It is likely that someone who cannot hear relies more heavily on his sight, but his sight is not physically stronger than that of a hearing person.
It's important to realize that Deaf people, like hearing people, are all individuals. If you were to ask 100 Deaf people about cochlear implants, you would probably get as many different opinions.
Today, many Deaf people are more accepting of cochlear implants, although many still oppose them.
The chief objection to cochlear implantation seems to center on the fact that it's done to very young children. The decision to get an implant is made by the child's hearing parents who are not usually well-informed about Deaf culture, sign language, successful Deaf adults, etc.
Many Deaf people report very degrees of resentment at being told by hearing society how to communicate, to wear a hearing aid, where to go to school, etc.
Like all people, Deaf people like to -- and have the right to -- determine these things for themselves.
Sign language predates recorded history.
It is a natural language, and wasn't invented by any one person or committee -- like English, French, or Spanish.
American Sign Language descends from the indigenous signed language of North America and LSF, langue des Signes Francais, or French Sign Language, brought to America by Thomas Gallaudet in the person of Laurent Clerc who helped to found the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut.
Like spoken languages, signed languages predate the age of travel. People were signing before they traveled to other countries. Some experts believe signed languages predate the ability of humans to talk and were probably an important part of our evolution
It may be the case that it would be easier if everyone signed the same language, but the same could be said for spoken languages.
There is a form of sign called gestuno, or international sign language, that people learn in order to be able to communicate easily at international conferences or travel.
The overwhelming majority of Deaf people report a strong preference for signing over lipreading. Many Deaf people were raised orally but turned to sign language sometime in their childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.
Rarely if ever will you see a Deaf person, who was raised signing, turn to lipreading later in life.
One famous British study found that hearing people were more proficient lipreaders than trained Deaf people; furthermore, that study determined that less than 30% of what is spoken is intelligible in the most ideal conditions.
In less-than-ideal conditions, that percentage drops precipitously.
Due to communication barriers and lack of reporting, it is difficult to say exactly how many Deaf people are in Bakersfield, California, or the United States.
BGLAD estimates that there are a few thousand deaf people in Kern County.
How many of them are culturally Deaf is unknown.
There are Deaf people working in every imaginable position today.
One of the pioneers of Deaf people in government positions was Boyce R. Williams.
He is reputed to be the first Deaf person to be employed at the federal level, where he served in the Department of Rehabilitation. When he retired in 1983, his position was Chief, Deafness and Communicative Disorders Branch, Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education.
He was responsible for to the promotion, development and maintenance of services and programs needed by deaf and other “communicatively disabled” adults in their vocational rehabilitation.
For more information about this topic, check the resources available at Deaf and Hard of Hearing People in Government website.
Deaf people are individuals and have individual opinions about ASL students. Many Deaf people appreciate that students are learning ASL and -- in the right situations -- are happy to interact with these students.
Some students, in their enthusiasm, approach Deaf people at inappropriate times or in inconvenient places to sign, and their feelings are hurt when the Deaf person doesn't want to chat.
Like hearing people, Deaf people generally don't want to be interrupted by a stranger to chat about some subject that is of no interest to them.
Always respect a Deaf person's (or anyone's) privacy and respect their desire to be left alone.
Community events, pizza parties, and your classes are safe places where Deaf people are expecting to be approached by students. In these situations, there is rarely a problem.
No. More and more colleges, universities, and even high schools are accepting ASL as a foreign language. Not all schools do, however.
The debate has raged since the 1970s and centers on two things:
- Is ASL a bona fide language?
- Is ASL a language used by a unique culture?
Deaf people and those in the field of deaf studies answer both of these questions with a resounding “yes.” Still, not everyone agrees.
Fingerspelling, contrary to popular belief, is not English on the hands. It is a form of ASL, and comprises about 10% of signed communication.
Most Deaf people would prefer you to “act out” or gesture a concept rather than resort to fingerspelling.
There are a variety of reasons for this: some Deaf people don't have extensive English vocabularies; fingerspelling is difficult to understand when divorced from context; and fingerspelling is governed by complex grammatical rules just like the rest of ASL and other languages.
Deaf people are a group of individuals, and there are many different opinions on this.
Members of American Deaf culture, in large part, don't think of deafness as a disability or an impairment; rather, they consider themselves to be a cultural-linguistic minority.
That is why they refer to themselves as “Deaf” (note the capital D) and not “hearing impaired.”
Author Harlan Lane is quoted as saying that “Deaf people are no more in need of a cure than Haitians or Hispanics.”
Like most hearing people, most Deaf people want their children to be born healthy.
Most hearing people react to the news that their baby is deaf with shock, sadness, and grief, similar to the reaction one goes through at the death of a loved one. Because Deaf people generally react differently, that is not sad and even sometimes glad, hearing people find this unusual or strange.
It is as simple as this: hearing people want to have children who are like them; Deaf people also want children who are like them.
Some Deaf people wish their children to be Deaf. Many others wish their children to be healthy and don't care whether they can hear or not.
Still others want their children to hear.
In some families, Deafness is hereditary, and they have children fully expecting them to be Deaf and are quite surprised to find out when they are not.
In Bakersfield, contact:
- 494 Buckley Way Suite #203
- Bakersfield, CA 93309
- (661) 831-2884 v/tty
Facial expressions are universal; the same facial expression means the same thing in almost all cultures. This question is really asking about "non-manuals," the facial indicators that are the grammar of ASL.
Non-manuals indicate if a question is being asked and what kind of question it is (yes/no, WH, rhetorical).
Non-manuals also indicate distance and other adverbial information. Non-manuals also indicate adjectival information.
Non-manuals can indicate character shifts and a host of other information. Signing in the absence of non-manuals is really not using language to communicate.
Most experts in the field of ASL instruction agree that immersion, using ASL to learn ASL, is the best, quickest, and most efficient way to learn. It is also the best way for the learned information to transfer to your long-term memory.
Experts also agree that while learning ASL, you should avoid speaking and using written English at all costs.
Until very recently, parents usually discovered that their child was deaf when the child was about 18 months old, usually over the concern that the child had yet to start speaking.
Today we have infant hearing screening exams that allow a parent to know if their child is deaf or not before they leave the maternity ward.
Most Deaf children are not raised in a signing environment. This has devastating consequences on their language acquisition, academic achievement, and future employment.
Many experts and almost all Deaf adults agree that Deaf children should be taught signing from the day of their birth and that they should study it in school.
Unfortunately, there is still a dominate train of thought that sees deafness as a pathology to be remediated and not as a cultural phenomenon. As a result, many deaf children spend valuable school hours learning how to pronounce simple words rather than learning age-appropriate academic material.
Rarely should you speak while signing.
If you speak while signing, you will inevitably sign in English word order.
In addition, if you are signing in ASL, your mouth is being used to express various “mouth morphemes,” adjectives and adverbs that are part of ASL grammar.
Sometimes ASL transliterators, for various reasons, will speak and sign simultaneously, but that is not common practice.
Unfortunately, most Deaf people suffer great oppression in our public education system.
They are held to notoriously low expectations and are instructed in inaccessible ways. As a result, the average Deaf high school “leaver” reads and writes at a 3.5 grade level.
This is not true of all Deaf people and this has nothing to do with deafness, per se, but in how educators and parents react to a child's deafness.
ASL Videos (and DVDs and CDs and so on) are available from a number of sources. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few recommended vendors are:
There is also a wealth of information available elsewhere.
Check your community for a Deaf social services agency, like BGLAD, or your local public library.
Yes. Hand dominance is an important factor when signing. Most right-handed people sign right hand dominant, and left-handers left hand dominant.
It doesn't have to follow this way, but it is important that you are consistent in which hand is your dominant hand.
- Don't talk in their presence without signing.
- Don't assume that they are less intelligent or experienced than you are.
- Don't touch them in a familiar way to get their attention; tap them on the shoulder.
- Don't assume that they need your help or that they should be grateful to you for learning ASL or interpreting or whatever you are doing.
Deaf people, statistically, are better drivers than hearing people; that is, they have fewer accidents.
Deaf people can tell when an emergency vehicle is approaching by frequently checking their rear-view mirrors, a standard driving practice that all drivers should follow.
In addition, with modern cars that are insulated against road noise and that have high-powered stereos, most hearing people don't hear emergency vehicle sirens anyway.
There is a great deal of information available on the internet. In addition, most bookstores have a variety of books available on ASL.
The best learning experience, however, is usually in a class. Many community colleges, like Bakersfield College, have ASL Programs.
In addition, Deaf social service agencies also often offer classes.
The most important thing is to seek out a qualified ASL instructor, and when possible, a trained, Deaf instructor who is a native signer of ASL.
Many Deaf people don't go to the movies because movies are not generally accessible to Deaf audiences.
Captioning movies is a relatively simple and inexpensive process, but Hollywood does a poor job of providing captioned movies.
In Bakersfield there is maybe one movie per month -- if that -- available in open-captioned format, showing at limited times during the week.
Most recently, there has been improvement in this area with "rear-window captioning," a small device that broadcasts captions at an individual's seat. Even more recently, our local theaters offer special glasses, similar to Google Glass, that enables an audience member to see captions by wearing a pair of glasses provided by the theater.