Sign Language

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Major in Sign Language

Article by Rachelle Wiggins

“Sign language is the noblest gift God has given to deaf people.” ~George Veditz 

It may surprise you to learn that American Sign Language (ASL) is the 4th most popular language in use today. With hundreds of thousands of signers, it is the visual and motor medium used for communication by the deaf community and is as intricate and varied as any spoken language, possessing its own rules of syntax and grammar. Sign language interpreter, as a career, has a projected increase of 29% (as compared with the average 8% of most professions). This increase makes it the 15th fastest growing profession! An employee fluent in ASL is useful in a wide span of workplaces; job opportunities are plentiful in fields such as education, medicine, government and social work, just to name a few. Sign language, as a major, delves into the scholarly and scientific study of ASL translation, interpretation, linguistics, and the principles and ethics involved in interpretation. It seeks to understand the culture of the deaf community including unique challenges and perspectives. Whether you already communicate with a hearing-impaired friend or loved one, or just want to explore the careers associated with this true and unique language, a major in sign language is sure to open doors in your future.

Beyond a basic interest in sign language, what other skills and traits are helpful in this college major? Patience and perseverance are important when learning any new language, and it is certainly helpful to have strong memory skills. In addition, attentiveness to detail and good eye-hand coordination are helpful for picking up on language nuances and becoming fluent in ASL. It helps to be a bit theatrical and have an expressive countenance. And perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to have good people skills since you will have lots of social exposure and interaction. Being professional, respectful and caring is a necessary asset to a sign language career.

As you start into this major, you can expect to spend time in the classroom, participating in hands-on labs, and possibly completing an internship. You will take varying levels of ASL classes that focus on the theory and practice of sign language as well as on building a solid vocabulary. Some colleges may encourage or even require a double major to help round out your education. Students commonly choose education, audiology, speech therapy, social work or communications, depending on their specific career goals. Some of the classes you might take as a sign language major include:

  • History and culture of the American deaf community
  • Art of Translation: ASL and English
  • Language development
  • Teaching ASL as a 2nd language

The career possibilities with this major are dizzying. You will find options in both the public and private sector and may even find opportunities to travel the world. The most common sign language profession is an interpreter, who works in places like schools, courtrooms or medical facilities. But there are other career outcomes as well:

  • Sign language class instructor (where ASL is taught as a 2nd language)
  • Deaf educator (most often in a private school for the deaf)
  • Residential supervisor (in a home for the deaf)
  • Community advocate (for the hard of hearing)
  • Vocational trainer for deaf individuals

You may not be able to bring healing to deaf ears, but you can certainly bring meaning, substance and feeling into lives that might otherwise be full of silence. If a career working with the deaf population inspires you, maybe it’s time to check out a major in sign language!

 

           

 

 

A future in Sign Language

By Jennifer Bailey

One of the key components of our everyday lives is communication. Whether you’re hollering hello to a neighbor mowing his lawn across the street, smiling at your crush in the hallway as you head to your locker, or halfway listening to your chemistry teacher instruct about the wonders of the periodic table of elements, you’re communicating something either verbally or through your body language.

When it comes to communication—and especially nonverbal communication—our world is chock full of correspondence and discourse, whether we realize it or not. Sign language, especially, is unique because it utilizes body language in its entirety. Its key component is that it allows Deaf people to seamlessly communicate both with one another and with hearing people. Becoming a sign language interpreter is a great way to assist in helping this communication happen! The job duties of sign language interpreters center around converting spoken language into sign language using techniques such as signing, cued speech, lip reading, and body language.

Currently, there’s a shortage of qualified interpreters for the Deaf, so majoring in sign language is a surefire way to land a solid career right out of college. Those who major in the field may have the opportunity to learn about the Deaf community, take classes with language labs, take part in hands-on learning activities (literally!), and even take field trips or participate in internships that help people with hearing difficulties.

As a sign language interpreter, you can work in a variety of settings, including social services, education, government, business, performing arts, hospitals, legal fields, and much, much more. Television and theater productions often need sign language interpreters to translate for viewers. Conferences and other public gatherings also utilize interpreters on a regular basis. Basically, you can take your sign language interpreting skills to whatever field you’re interested in! Other sign language careers with specializations include working as a speech pathologist, psychologist, employment counselor, social worker, childcare worker, or audiologist. There’s also the option to teach sign language to students if passing along skills and helping other people get set up for the career of their dreams sounds like a rewarding vocation to you.

Learning another language can be hard work and doing informal or volunteer work while you’re in school is a great way to get some experience. Many community organizations, hospitals, and even sporting events are regularly looking for sign language volunteers. As with any foreign language, American Sign Language (ASL) has its own vocabulary and grammar. However, Deaf people will often “fingerspell” in exact English as well, which means signing in English word order instead of the unique grammar of ASL. For example, when signing in exact English, someone would sign, “The sunset was beautiful yesterday” and include a sign for each of those words. When signing in ASL, someone would sign, “Yesterday, sunset beautiful,” as that would be the typical phrasing in American Sign Language.

Many of the signs used when signing exact English are the same as ASL but the grammar is often different, which requires the interpreter to transliterate that person’s exact words. Conversationally, it’s typical for Deaf people to switch back and forth between ASL and English, so becoming an interpreter requires you to be a quick thinker and communicator!

If you’re captivated by non-verbal communication, have a speedy mind, and are interested in bridging the gap between Deaf and hearing people, this major might be right for you!