Whether it be the high demand or the desire to expand one’s communication skills, people may want to learn American Sign Language for different reasons.
As one is learning this skill, there may be certain benefits.
There is a high demand for American Sign Language interpreters, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and demand will continue to grow by 19 percent from 2018 to 2028.
John Hill, a deaf ASL instructor at Texas Tech, said ASL interpreters are needed.
“There’s a high demand for fluent ASL interpreters,” he said. “For my doctorate, I am currently working on my dissertation, which focuses on the high demand of interpreters and how qualified interpreters impact deaf children in K-12 settings.”
Students in Hill’s class are exposed to the language 90 percent of the class, and 10 percent of the class consists of using written English, he said. ASL classes are different than other classes because ASL is a visual language.
“There are a lot of perks that come with a person who is fluent in ASL. In the 1970's, a linguist name William Stokoe recognized that ASL contained many linguistic properties and decided to study further whether ASL is a language,” he said. “Through intensive research, he discovered ASL contains all the properties in language, and since then, ASL was recognized as a language.”
ASL is a very complex language, Hill said. It takes a lot of studying to understand the grammar and linguistics of ASL.
“As a person who received a bachelor's and master’s degree in ASL, this makes me a much better communicator because I am able to provide the necessary tools it takes to learn such a complex language,” Hill said. “In my five years of study, I've been able to gather many ASL resources and receive the proper training in how to teach the language.”
Being deaf, Hill said he can provide students an authentic cultural experience, as students will be able to learn from a person who has first-hand experience with ASL as their first language. He said the oppression deaf people face on a daily basis cannot be learned from second language learners.
On average, to become fluent in ASL, around five to seven years of study is required, Hill said. If a student wants to become fluent or become a sign language interpreter, he said it is recommended to take ASL classes 1 through 5 in addition to culture and interpreting classes.
These classes will allow the signer or interpreter to become an effective language user and use the proper etiquette required within the deaf culture, Hill said.
Nina Stewart, vice president of Tech Deaf Culture Alliance, said there is a large deaf or hard of hearing community in Lubbock.
“ASL can help improve body and emotion language,” she said. “This means when signing, you’re not just using your hands, you’re also using body and facial expressions to show how you’re feeling.”
To join the organization, it is not mandatory to be or have experience in the deaf community or ASL, Stewart said. Joining is an easy way to learn the basics of the language.
“We do a lot of events, such as potlucks, Trunk or Treat and Friendsgiving, where there’s a variety of students and people from the Lubbock community, both hearing and deaf,” she said. “There’s an assumption that there’ll be a communication barrier at these events, but everyone I’ve met at these events want to talk to you and help.”
As a deaf college student, Stewart said she wanted to learn ASL, but there were not ASL classes at her high school. She said she is grateful to go to school at Tech, where she has opportunities to interact with deaf people and take ASL classes.
“Don’t be afraid to ask any questions about the deaf culture and the community here” Stewart said. “As humans, we all want to understand other people and see what they’re experiencing.”
Melissa Given, a senior restaurant, hotel and institutional management major from Bedford, took ASL in high school and finds the language extremely useful.
It is easy to meet deaf people anywhere one goes, and ASL is a base to begin communicating with them, Given said.
“Due to the high demand of interpreters and the qualifications and resources we provide here at Texas Tech University, prospective students can know that their time in learning ASL and becoming a fluent signer will be put to great use,” Hill said. “They will be able to make a profound positive impact for deaf children who are in great need of qualified fluent ASL users and interpreters.”