When I first started learning American Sign Language at LaGuardia Community College, I thought my experience would be similar to that of someone acquiring a second (or third) language. As someone who has spent all their life navigating the world between Spanish and English, I thought picking up another language would be a cake walk. I was not aware of the challenges that come with learning ASL.
Learning ASL extends beyond learning grammar and syntax. Despite being the standard language for interpreting in North America, ASL grammar shares no similarities to English grammar. ASL does not use articles or tenses; it is a living, 3-D language. ASL depends on body movement such as pauses and head motions to control the flow of information.
My challenges in learning ASL were not just limited to understanding the concepts. From personal experience, I know that the best way to learn a language is by becoming immersed in it. As soon as I started to master basic concepts in ASL, I started to offer my interpreting services to the deaf community. I still remember the astonishment I felt at realizing I was the only hearing person in a room full of people. As I progressed in my acquisition of ASL, I learned that there was more to interpreting than just mastering skills. To become a mindful and understanding interpreter, I had to gain a greater understanding of Deaf culture and the Deaf community.
Learning and comprehending ASL was not easy, but it has been a very rewarding experience.