ASL Classes are Beneficial to Both Deaf and Non-Deaf Students
American Sign Language (ASL) is the main form of communication for many deaf Americans. Just as there are different spoken languages in the countries around the world, each country has its own distinct sign language. There are many benefits to children learning sign language at a young age. Recently, many schools have begun offering sign language to children at both the elementary and high school levels. People who teach sign language have been advocating to have it acknowledged as a foreign language, particularly since there is a unique grammar structure involved.
Benefits of Sign Language in Elementary Schools for Deaf Children
The majority of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and these parents want to do everything possible to help their children function in a hearing world. Unfortunately, some parents think they should not enable their child’s deafness by teaching the child sign language until after they have tried extensive speech therapy. However, the majority of a person's language is learned by the time that person is three, which is the age that intensive speech therapy begins to make a difference. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advocates for children to learn both, starting with sign language, so they can learn how to acquire and use language effectively. Tiara V. Mallory also supports the early use of sign language in teaching deaf children, because it helps the language centers of the brain develop. She also advocates for the benefits of hearing children learning sign language at a young age to improve communication skills. There are benefits to learning ASL as a baby and continuing to learn as a child grows older. Many parents choose to learn ASL along with their children, so they can communicate with them. Many deaf children are mainstreamed, or put into classrooms with hearing children instead of attending a residential school for the deaf. Using sign language in the classroom makes it easier for the deaf children to grasp difficult concepts such as math words, or social studies. It prevents them from falling behind while allowing them to develop both their speech and sign.
Benefits of Sign Language in Elementary Schools for Hearing Children
Children can benefit from learning sign language while in elementary school, whether they are deaf or hearing. The sooner you are exposed to a language, the easier it is to learn. Some communities, like Bakersfield, offer ASL programs for mainstreamed deaf children. These schools can benefit from having ASL taught to both the deaf and hearing students because this fosters communication within the schools. The sooner children are exposed to sign language, the more fluent they will become. Many parents teach their infants sign language, and they find they are able to communicate more quickly with their children. Elementary schools that offer a foreign language should consider offering sign language as an option as well. Several states throughout the country have begun to recognize ASL as a foreign language, which makes it easier to justify the teaching of sign language in schools. One school in Milwaukee has created an environment where every child attending the school will take sign language, which makes it easy for the deaf and hearing students to interact with each other.
Benefits of Sign Language in High Schools
High schools can offer more formal language training in sign language to students who are interested in learning it. Starting or continuing the study of sign language prepares students to study it in college and to prepare for a career as a sign language interpreter or as a teacher of the deaf. Some high schools like the ones in Temecula, California have growing sign language programs with up to three years of sign language offered. The classes also teach about deaf culture. This gives the students the opportunity to understand the challenges the deaf community faces, and the opportunity to become advocates in the program. These classes meet the foreign language requirement for both high schools and universities.
Teaching sign language in both elementary and high schools can be beneficial to both hearing and deaf students. It can help to bolster communication between the students, and prevent mainstreamed deaf students from feeling isolated at their schools. It brings awareness to the deaf culture throughout the community. It also helps the students to learn a foreign language, to become bilingual. This can be beneficial when they choose to learn a third language and in high thinking skills. If sign language is not currently available at your school, you can contact your school board to request that sign language be taught as a foreign language. Additionally, you can look into community classes if your child is interested in learning sign language and cannot do it through school at this time.