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Question: A student writes: "Do you have Deaf students who take sign language classes?"
Answer: Yes. In my day job as a full-time, tenured professor of American Sign Language at California State University (Sacramento) it is fairly common to have a Deaf student in class. Usually I don't sense that they are there for an easy "A" but rather most of them are majoring in Deaf Studies with an intent to work in a Deaf-related occupation. When a Deaf student fills out and submits a declaration of major form and comes to me for advising on what courses to take I generally suggest to them the idea of formally participating in "ASL 4" and "ASL 5" as a "regular" student. Then I point out that even though they do not "need" ASL 1 through 3 for skill building purposes -- they still need the credit toward the total number of units needed for the degree. I suggest to them that they go ahead and register for ASL 1, 2, & 3 and work out an agreement with the instructors to serve as an "informal" teacher's aide / classroom assistant, and course tutor. That way the Deaf student will get credit on their transcript, be exposed to an ASL curriculum containing versions of signs that may be slightly different (but still "right"), develop a relationship with a variety of instructors, become familiar with different teaching styles, get some preliminary "work" experience, and start becoming comfortable with a leadership role. Perhaps even more important—by registering for and attending those classes the Deaf student will meet another 75 to 100 students with whom he or she can make friends and contacts. To me "making contacts" is one of the most valuable aspects of "going" to college and the main benefit of attending a brick-and-mortar university rather than an online school.
Quite a few Deaf students and students who are children of Deaf parents (CODAs) don't actually sign "ASL." Many Deaf grow up in mixed environments where they are exposed to a hodgepodge of invented signs (called "homesigns" because they are typically made up and used around the home by their poorly signing "Hearing" parents) and Signed English (from well-meaning interpreters or educators at local schools into which the Deaf student has been mainstreamed). Sitting in on and/or taking ASL classes is often the first exposure many Deaf have to signing on the "strong ASL" side of the signing spectrum.
Another aspect of "Deaf taking ASL classes" is not about "sign language" but rather about learning the "English terminology" for ASL-related concepts. Sure, native ASL Deaf signers know the signs but if they are going to work in the field it is going to be extremely helpful for them to become familiar with the terms, labels, phrases, symbols, glosses, and other English-based terminology and conventions that appear in college-level ASL textbooks. So, sometimes I assign Deaf students to go through an ASL text and develop a list of terminology, learn the definition or meaning of that terminology, and be able to provide me an ASL example. That way later when they become an instructor and one of their students comes up to them and asks "What does 'lexicalization' mean?" – the new ASL instructor will be able to respond appropriately and accurately (and provide examples).
William G. Vicars, EdD
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