By: Mariam Janvelyan
Y -E-S I K-N-O-W S-I-G-N L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E.
S-I-G-N-I-N-G I-S E-A-S-Y.
G-I-V-E M-E A-N-Y W-O-R-D A-N-D I C-A-N F-I-N-G-E-R-S-P-E-L-L-I-T.
E-X-C-E-P-T T-H-E L-O-N-G O-N-E-S.
How many times did you roll your eyes as you read those four sentences? For hearing people, this may seem strange and out of place, but Deaf people are all too familiar with this experience: people who claim they are fluent in sign language.
Saying that being able to fingerspell means you’re fluent in ASL, is like saying you know the Japanese language because someone taught you the alphabet. Claiming you are fluent in sign language when all you can express is your name and favorite color is like saying you’re ready for the Olympics when you just started training for your first marathon. Taking an ASL 1 class does not mean you are ready to interpret for a Deaf person. It does not mean you won’t be overwhelmed when you attend your first Deaf event. It does not mean you can fully comprehend and contribute to a conversation that is going on a mile a minute around you. It especially does NOT entitle you to speak for a Deaf person.
Interest in sign language is great. An academic pursuit of sign language is even better. An abuse of the language for profit or other selfish gain is unacceptable. I, for one, would like to see more individuals take interest in ASL for positive reasons; to explore a beautiful, visual language, to communicate with a variety of incredible people, and to learn something more from the Deaf world. Not just to learn a few bad words and gain 5 minutes of notoriety at a party.
This blog post represents the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views supported by The Deaf Dream.