The Importance of the American Sign Language as a Second Language Curriculum
ASL language learning occupies an important place in the building of academic and social foundations for students so that they are equipped to become responsible members of our global society. The knowledge of and skills associated with ASL are an invaluable asset. While such ASL linguistic abilities benefit the individual, Canadian society also stands to gain from developing a multilingual and culturally sensitive workforce. As one scholar sees it, the “teaching and learning of any one language should be seen in conjunction with the overall objective of promoting plurilingualism and linguistic diversity.” Language learning programs provide the “value-added benefit of developing second [or third] language and cross-cultural skills at no cost to other educational goals.”
Experience in an ASL program can play a valuable role in students’ broader education. As students develop and refine different aspects of their ASL language skills, they also develop their creativity, learn about their own identity, learn to express themselves with confidence, develop their ability to solve problems, and gain insights into the world around them. All of these skills together enable students to analyse and use information and to convey and interact effectively in ASL and beyond.
ASL is a fundamental element of ASL culture and identity. As students learn to decipher-deconstruct, analyse, and reflect upon a rich variety of ASL literary works and ASL texts, including ASL media works, they develop a deeper understanding of the ASL community and culture.
The ASL curriculum naturally involves the exploration of a wide variety of topics related to the study of language and the cultures associated with it, including literature, history, geography, business, tourism, social customs, legends, arts, and world issues. Consequently, the curriculum lends itself to an interdisciplinary approach. For example, by studying ASL through a variety of historical, social, and cultural contexts, students can make connections with other languages, cultures, and time periods. This will enhance their learning in other subject areas such as history, career studies, social sciences, and the humanities.
The ASL curriculum is taught through cultural integration. For example, when students examine the relationship between Deaf View/Image Art (De’VIA) works and the history of the ASL community, it helps them to think more deeply about ASL literary works, ASL texts, and ASL culture. Similarly, when they analyse the impact of legislation on ASL language, culture, and community, while studying ASL literary works and ASL texts by ASL people, they enhance their understanding of the ASL community and the world around them.
Language learners are risk-takers – they thrive in an environment where risk-taking is welcome and errors are viewed as part of a natural learning process. ASL as a second language learners gain valuable transferable skills when they’re willing to take risks and use trial-and-error as part of their learning process. In short, the knowledge and skills developed through learning ASL can be applied in many other endeavours and in a wide variety of careers.