5 Strategies For Learning American Sign Language

To increase your language learning in the classroom, develop the following habits:

1. Build a language community.
Try not to miss class, especially at the beginning. Your class strives to form a language community: the cohesiveness of the group influences how rich the language exchange is in the classroom. Missing class makes it difficult to achieve this interactive environment. Maintain a signing environment in the classroom. During class breaks, before class begins, and whenever deaf people are present.

2. Minimize reliance on English as you listen or converse in ASL.
Leave English (and your voice) outside the door. Try not to translate in your head as you watch someone sign. At first, this will be difficult to do, but as you become more fluent, the temptation should lessen. Do not worry about taking notes during class. Instead use class time to immerse yourself in the language by interacting with the teacher and other students using ASL. The student DVD and workbook will help you retain the language introduced in class.

3. Focus on meaning rather than individual signs.
When your teacher tells a story, gives instructions, or explains a concept, try not to worry about a sign you missed or don’t know. Instead, focus on the meaning of what’s being said. If a particular sign is repeated over and over, and you still can’t figure out its meaning, then ask the teacher. Try to avoid asking your classmates for an English translation. You would lose out on valuable communication experiences needed to strengthen your comprehension skills.

4. Focus on the signer’s face, not on the hands for two very important reasons:
First, a lot of grammar is in the facial expression, so to really know what is said, you must see both the facial expression and what is signed; secondly, it is considered rude to look away from the signer’s face while they are signing to you.

5. Show you understand the signer.
Nod to show you are following along; give a puzzled look when you are not. Develop active listening behaviors like nodding, responding with the signs “huh?” “wow” or “really?” Listeners have very active roles in signed conversations. Actively listening increases your comprehension skills and optimizes your learning. Participate as much as possible by adding comments, agreeing or disagreeing, etc. Follow all conversations whether they are between teacher and class, teacher and student, or student and student. The more you participate, the more you will retain what you learn.

Natasha M. McKnight

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