ASL Lessons | Bookstore | Library | ASL University Main ►
Dr. Bill's Tipping Point Model of ASL Instruction:
A communication network approach to thinking about, "Who should be teaching American Sign Language?"
American Sign Language (ASL) and the community of people who use it can be thought of as a “communication network” that is similar to most other "networks" in that the value of the network goes up when more people join. Businesses set up websites because so many people use the internet. Facebook get’s its value from the fact that so many others are “on” Facebook. English is a useful language to know due to the fact that so many people already know and use it.
“The value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system,” (Metcalfe's Law, Wikipedia, 2018).
Metcalfe's Law could be applied to the teaching of ASL. It is when a language reaches a tipping point (of total users) that the language becomes valuable enough that almost "everyone" wants to learn it.
If we are to ever reach that tipping point with ASL we will need a massive number of teachers teaching a massive number of students. ASL will become MORE valuable and MORE widespread by having MORE teachers (whether Hearing or Deaf). Every Deaf person on the planet should encourage (competent) Hearing teachers of ASL to stay in the profession and get busy teaching more students which would in turn drive the demand for ASL classes higher and higher.
School districts throughout the United States require students to take "English" classes. Why? Because English is the "dominant" language. The more dominant a language is -- the more people want to learn it. If we want ASL to become a dominant language and have "ASL classes" taught in every school district -- we need more people teaching it -- not fewer. At the point where a nation becomes one big "Martha's Vineyard" -- is the point when Deaf people can go out and get the jobs we really want doing what we are interested in (because enough employers and coworkers already know ASL that language is no longer a barrier) -- instead of being pidgin-holed into competing for a few "ASL teaching jobs."
You might want to consider a deep dive into the discussion regarding who should be allowed (perhaps even "encouraged") to teach sign language from the perspective of "network effects," "secondary gain," "tipping points," and "territorialism."
In public forums it comes across as "respectful" and "considerate" to discourage Hearing people from teaching ASL -- however you may wish to ask yourself if such territorialism is a form of short-sighted secondary gain (in the form of being paid to teach ASL) at the expense of the "network effect" that would happen in the lives of ALL Deaf if ASL were to be widely taught and become a dominant language.
Flip the script and ask:
Do you wish all Hearing parents of Deaf children could sign to their children? [Answer tends to be: Yes!]
Do you wish you could go into any business, doctor's office, dental clinic, or other place and the people there would sign to you fluently? [Answer tends to be: Yes!]
Do you wish sign language was taught in every public school? [Answer tends to be: Yes!]
Do you wish all Hearing people could sign fluently? [Answer tends to be: Yes!]
Would the above scenarios seem like a dream come true? [Answer tends to be: Yes!]
To make such a dream happen we would need to have a massive number of people teaching ASL.
Consider for a moment how many people are teaching English. According to the International EFL Academy, "An estimated 250,000 native English speakers work as English teachers abroad in more than 40,000 schools and language institutes around the world."(1). That doesn't include the number of English teachers in the United States. According to "thoughco (dot) com," "an estimated 1.5 billion people are studying [English] worldwide." (2)
When a language becomes popular enough it reaches a tipping point wherein more and more people want to learn that language in order to enjoy the increasing benefits of a wider and wider range of people with whom to do business, socialize, and otherwise interact.
If the majority of people around you were to know and use sign language – you can pretty much bet that you would be interested in taking a class yourself. It is a matter of network effects. The more people that know sign language – the more people that want to know sign language – the more valuable the language becomes and the more opportunities there will be to teach the language in an increasing virtuous circle spiraling upward.
That is very "big picture" thinking.
Most individuals however are not thinking of the big picture. Instead we are thinking of how to make the rent payment and put food on the table – which is a secondary gain of removing competition for the (relatively) low number of existing ASL instruction jobs.
Caution: The above line of thinking will not make you popular at Deaf events or ASL socials. [Think big at your own risk.]
Regardless of your popularity the hard questions remain:
Question: From whom do almost all very young Hearing children learn their native language? [Answer: Their parents.]
Question: From whom do almost all Deaf children learn their native language? [Answer: Well, uh, actually almost all Deaf children spend their early years pretty much language deprived except for the relatively very small number of Deaf children who have Deaf parents.]
Question: Hundreds of thousands of language deprived children. That's a problem yes? [Answer: Duh.]
Question: Language deprivation of Deaf children could be reduced if their Hearing parents could teach and model sign language to them from birth onward. Would you agree with that statement? [Answer: Um…yes, sure.]
Question: I want to make sure this is absolutely established so I'm going to ask again: If all Hearing parents of Deaf children were to teach and model ASL to their Deaf child would that help reduce language deprivation among Deaf children? [Answer: Yes.]
Question: Every Deaf child, gee, that would be a lot of Hearing parents (who happen to be Hearing people) doing a lot of teaching and modeling of sign language. You'd be okay with Hearing people teaching and modeling sign language to help reduce language deprivation in Deaf children? Or would you rather hundreds of thousands of Deaf kids just remain language deprived? [Answer: Um…wait a minute. Dang. Um.]
My point here is that the solution to achieving the "dream" of reducing language deprivation of Deaf children and of gaining full (or at least "very broad) access to public accommodations (jobs, services, etc.) while respecting, preserving, and fostering cultural authenticity isn't territorialism but rather is training, mentoring, standards, certification, and continuing education for a massive number of sign language teachers.
Tags and/or key search phrases: “The value of a network,” “ASL Tipping Point,” “one fax machine,” “Hearing people teaching ASL,” “Secondary Gain,” “Metcalfe's Law.”
At one point this article was named: How is teaching sign language like a "fax machine?" Time moves on and these days many people have no idea what a fax machine is or how they were used.
* Want to help support ASL University? It's easy: DONATE (Thanks!)
* Another way to help is to buy something from Dr. Bill's "Bookstore."
* Want even more ASL resources? Visit the "ASL Training Center!" (Subscription Extension of ASLU)
* Also check out Dr. Bill's channel: www.youtube.com/billvicars
You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
ASL resources by Lifeprint.com © Dr. William Vicars