Learning ASL

“There is no need to shout officers, they cannot hear you, they are deaf!”
An airport ticketing agent

I have always wanted to learn sign language… French… American… It didn’t matter, because it is an awesome way to express oneself, not to mention that it appears to be a collection pretty cool secret codes. It was not until recently that I found myself motivated by what I consider to be the “right” reason to learn ASL.

Inspired by entertaining TV shows such as NCIS (a few Gibbs-Abby scenes) and Switched at Birth, I started familiarizing myself with a few signs here and there, while gathering more learning resources. I eventually managed to learn digits, colours, and some common phrases, in order to describe myself despite the fact I have yet to be given a name. If you are not aware of the “naming” convention, only a deaf person can assign your signed name.

I must admit that signing is a lot more complex than I thought, particularly because it is not the English word-equivalents that are being signed, but the essence of these words. Otherwise, finger-spelling everything would do the trick! For example, to describe my dietary preferences, I have to sign: “I do not eat meat”, since there is neither a word for vegetarian, nor for pescatarian, in ASL.

If you stayed with me this far, then you must be wondering what motivated me to take my ASL apprenticeship more seriously: Sadly, quite an unfortunate event (sorry Lemony Snicket)! While awaiting my connection from the comfort of the airport food court by reading Vincent Van Gogh, The Drawings, a small group of people sat nearby and was quiet enough to attract no attention to themselves. Moments later, the two ladies left the group, headed toward the shopping area – probably for some lèche-vitrine – leaving the men resting next to a baby sleeping in his stroller. This relaxing atmosphere only lasted until the baby woke up, realized that the ladies were gone, and started what babies do best: crying. Attracted by the noise combined with the looks of frustration from other passengers, two security officers approached the men and asked them to calm the baby, which they did promptly without uttering a word. This situation unexpectedly got worse when then officers noticed that there was no travel bag for the baby and started questioning the men regarding this issue. The tone of their voices dramatically increased as the men failed to provide them with an immediate answer, even more so once they realized that both men were replying in sign language.

As soon as it became obvious than the officers’ patience was starting to thin out, other passengers – and a ticketing agent – intervened. We explained to the officers that there was no need to yell, then proceeded to describe the two absent female companions to the best of our abilities. They left. So we thought, until they came back with two more security officers and asked the gentlemen for their identifications and boarding passes. I can still vividly see the looks on their faces: helplessness and frustration, as if their very souls had been wounded. This event also made me realized how poor my ASL vocabulary truly was, as I could barely make out what they were signing in response to my “would you like me to help you with the baby” inquiry. Luckily for everyone, the two ladies came back and helped resolved the issue with the usage of a notepad, despite being scared and confused to see so many people around their husbands and baby. In case you were wondering why the baby had no luggage, it is quite elementary: Only one couple was traveling, whereas the other – the baby’s parents – were seeing them off.

Until the deus ex machina moment symbolized by the ladies’ return, it was heart-breaking to witness such abrasive circumstances, especially when both men were trying their best to communicate the answers to the officers’ questions. This definitely motivated me to double, no, triple my efforts to become fluent in ASL.

About MIrrorIMage

I am a Software Engineer passionate about technology, the arts, and making this world a better place.
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