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African American Deaf Man

In honor of National Deaf History Month, which began March 15 and runs through April 15, we’d like to take some time to talk a bit about American Sign Language (ASL) and its growing popularity, even among people who are not hearing impaired.

Did you know, for example, that ASL is the third most-studied modern/foreign language at colleges and universities in the U.S., after Spanish and French? Or that it meets the foreign language requirement at 197 American universities and colleges? Dr. Sherman Wilcox from the University of New Mexico began tracking this trend around 2009, and eventually shared his live list online. It’s worth checking from time to time, as Dr. Wilcox adds to it when he learns of a college or university offering ASL.

No doubt you knew that Beethoven was completely deaf during his later years and was never able to hear for himself the heartbreaking beauty of his Symphony No. 9. Did you also know that a number of today’s famous performers are deaf in at least one ear, among them Rob Lowe, Holly Hunter and Steven Colbert? And, of course, the incomparable actress Marlee Matlin is completely deaf. And finally, there’s a whole world of performance art out there that comes alive through the creative beauty of ASL.

You may be wondering why in the world we’re bringing this up. It’s simple, really. If you’ve ever considered learning a foreign language, but don’t have an “ear” for spoken word like some people do, there’s ASL. Learning ASL can prove as beneficial as learning a traditional foreign language because becoming bilingual in any two languages — signed or spoken — can only enhance your brain and your abilities. Here are a few points to consider:

1. You’ll inevitably become better at lots of things. When you are bilingual, you enjoy enhanced cognitive processes and are better at abstract and creative thinking. You become a better problem solver, listener, and overall better person because you become culturally aware.

2. You’ll feel empowered when you learn to maneuver your hands and fingers into modes of communication.

3. You’ll get to practice your spelling! Remember how taking notes and writing out flash cards helped you to study and memorize new concepts? The same thing happens when you use your fingers to spell.

4. ASL helps people communicate with each other when absolute quiet is essential. Think of police officers or members of the military, who may sometimes need to communicate in silence so as not to tip off the bad players.

Learning a foreign language does require time, patience and determination, but successfully doing so brings with it a level of accomplishment and pride that’s, simply, unmatched.

Good luck!

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