Speaking without speaking


Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons acquired through Creative Commons

Aafreen Ali, Staff Writer


The library computer lab is filled with people waving their hands energetically. No one is speaking, but everyone is communicating, using the signs they had just learned to ask each other how their day was. To outsiders, American Sign Language (ASL) may not look like any language at all. To members of the ASL club, though, these simple gestures carry much more meaning.

The ASL club began in 2010, with Mr. Potoker as the first sponsor. However, it did not have many members until the year Josh Chung became president. Chung, a member of the Class of 2015, is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA). Because of his firsthand experience with members of the Deaf community in his everyday life, Chung was able to attract more people to the club using his knowledge of ASL’s real-life application. The participation for ASL club’s iNite act, in which the members sign along to popular songs (for example, this year’s act includes “Natural” by Imagine Dragons and “Happier” by Bastille and Marshmello), also skyrocketed. With the addition of Chung, an ASL expert, the club became less of a place where students tried to mimic ASL and more of an environment where students could learn ASL properly and understand its significance to the Deaf community.

“Other people found [ASL Club] cool, because it’s a whole different method of communication that most people aren’t familiar with. There’s the appeal of learning a different language, but this is so much more different than regular foreign languages because it’s just so much more tactile and visual,” senior Eli Kaufman, president of the ASL club, said.

Past experiences with ASL, such as learning to fingerspell the alphabet or even using baby sign language as a child, motivated students to join the club and delve deeper into the language.

“In elementary and middle school, one of my friends was really into ASL. She taught me some of the greetings and the alphabet and just little things, and when I came here, I noticed they had an ASL club and I decided to join so that I could learn more,” freshman Abena Kyereme-Tuah said.

Learning ASL also exposes students to aspects of the Deaf community that they normally would have overlooked, and gives them the skill set they need if they do wish to become part of the Deaf community.

“Deaf culture has sprung up and become its own thing. You can think of Gallaudet University [in Washington D.C.]… it’s a deaf university, where many people who aren’t like the rest of the world come together to form their own understanding of what it means to be deaf and to be part of the community,” Kaufman said.

Members of the ASL club find use for their ASL skills in daily interactions. Some members teach friends signs they can use every day, such as “yes” and “no.” Others find use communicating with some Deaf people in their communities, like at church. These experiences helped members apply their newfound skills to real-life situations.

“With ASL club, we try and hope that by understanding how the language works, we can show people that there is a real community that uses this and that it is not just people who are deaf who join,” Kaufman said.

Normally, the club teaches members simple, themed signs, such as family (brother, sister, father, mother, etc), school (biology, chemistry, physics, schedule), and holiday-themed activities. Halloween signs included “bat,” “pumpkin,” and “scary” in their vocabularies, which members applied while learning to sign along to the song, “Spooky Scary Skeletons.” Thanksgiving signs included “pie,” “thanks,” and “meat,” among others. ASL club’s latest activities are preparations for this year’s iNite performance.

“You’re trying to sign to a song that a lot of people know, saying the same thing with your hands instead for your words. Learning to say the same thing two ways… [it’s] a really interesting experience,” Kyereme-Tuah said.

Learning ASL creates a path of communication that does not rely on words to convey meanings of all kinds.

“[Deaf people are] able to communicate with just their motion and expression and not have the need to speak to get everything they’re trying to say across,” Kyereme-Tuah said. Sometimes, you can say a lot more with your body than with your actual words, which is one of the most amazing parts of ASL.”