ASL: Learning a Unique Language Over 200 Years Old
SAN ANGELO, TX – As Americans we tend to think of Spanish or French when someone talks about a foreign language, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that, in the United States, the third most used language is not one of words, but rather symbols and signs. American Sign Language, or ASL, is one of the most important skills a deaf person can learn in his or her life, and, thanks to West Texas Interpreting Network and Angelo State University, it's a skill others can learn as well.
ASL is a unique language that has allowed the deaf community to form their own culture and communicate with one another for over 200 years. Even though it is the third most common language in the country, there are many people who have no idea what the language or signing really entails; but, just like any other language, practice is the key. Even learning basic signs and gestures can greatly improve communication with someone who belongs to the deaf community and help bridge that gap.
“By providing a basic sign language class, it opens the door to communication between the two communities,” said Dana Felps, owner and Certified Interpreter of West Texas Interpreting Network.
When Felps realized there was a real need to educate the community about ASL, she reached out to the Disability Services office at ASU to help co-host a free Sign Language Classes for Beginners for anyone who was interested in learning about sign language. Thus, a community class was created and students meet every Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. in the Houston Harte University Center.
In San Angelo the availability of places that offer sign language classes is very limited and almost non-existent, but this is one of the reason’s Felps decided to create a free community event that would allow people of all ages to learn the basics of a very important language. The classes will feature sessions in which participants learn to sign basic words, about the deaf community and the customs and traditions. The class is also open to anyone who has any questions about signing in general and how they can be more involved in that community. Those interested can attend classes every Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. until April 22.
The facilitator of the event is also a very special person in the ASU community, Mathew Shroyer. Shroyer is a deaf student currently working on his master’s in education and plans to teach ASL to others. Having the opportunity to learn from someone who has used ASL his entire life and considers it his first language is an incredible opportunity for anyone who attends, said Felps.
However, a common misconception is that ASL is a lot like English, when, in fact, it has its own rhythm, vocabulary and symbolic meaning for those who express themselves with it. Felps noted that learning about the culture and language will help the hearing and deaf community come closer, even in a place in where sign language classes are not so prevalent.
She also said last week’s class was very successful with over 100 participants. Classes will be held at the University Center for several more weeks and is open to anyone in the public.
Joining the class and learning not only what it means to communicate in another language, but also how people can help ensure that the deaf community in San Angelo no longer feels isolated, Felps said.
“Sign language is so beautiful, and it is wonderful for everyone to have access to it!” she exclaimed.
For those people interested in becoming a sign language interpreter, please contact Dana Felps at (830) 505-0110.