November 27, 2013

Learning ASL

I believe the first time I saw ASL (American Sign Language) in action, I was at the mall with my mom.  I was probably about 12 years old.  I remember sitting on the edge of a plant garden and watching these two women communicate with one another.  Sure, I knew what ASL was before then.  But this was the first time I had ever really seen it.

Without realizing how rude it was to stare, I sat there watching them.  I was completely taken in by what I was seeing.  At the time, I had absolutely no idea what they were saying to one another.  All I knew was that it was beautiful, and I couldn't take my eyes off of them.

That's when I knew.  I just knew that I wanted to be able to communicate with my hands as well.  I wanted to be able to join them in conversation.

I forgot all about it not too long after that.  It's not as though ASL was offered in school, and I didn't know anybody who knew it.  Yet occasionally, I would still pass by two people talking.  Or there would be a show on television that featured deaf people.  And when there was, I would sit and watch.

The time came that I graduated from high school.  I went on to our local community college and started flipping through the course catalog to determine which classes I was going to take.  On the first page of the catalog there it was, course listings for ASL.  This just had to be my "foreign" language.  I signed up for the beginning class just knowing that I would be in attendance for all 4 of the classes they offered over the next couple of years.

I absolutely loved these classes.  I would bring home what I had learned and teach it to Cody, who was still a baby at that time.  This turned out to be a huge blessing for me.  Cody knew about 200 signs before he was 2 years old.  I was always able to communicate with him.  He might not have been able to speak what he wanted, but he could sign it to me.  Thanks to this, he didn't have meltdowns or tantrums.  He simply signed to me what he wanted.  It was also fabulous in public places as well because I was able to speak to him in ASL when he was misbehaving, without the attention of the public turning towards us.

I was sold.  I wanted to become an ASL interpreter.  I was going to eventually transfer to Western Oregon University for their interpreting program.  This never actually happened, as I started dating an adorably funny guy while attending NAU.  We got married and never left the city.  Still, I knew I wanted to sign.

Over the years I have continued to teach myself what I could.  I have purchased books and DVD's to help me learn. I have learned a bit.  What I am lacking is the actual experience of talking with others using ASL.

Earlier this year a door opened for me.  I met a fabulous deaf couple and have been given the opportunity to learn more and begin to help interpret for them.  I was so excited to finally have the chance!  I met with them and a couple of other very talented ladies that know ASL.  That's when discouragement set in.

They know so much more than I do.  We would have conversations and I felt totally lost and confused.  Words were coming easily to them and I had no idea what was being said.  I felt that every other sign was unfamiliar.  Granted, many of these signs were religious in nature.  It's not like religious signs were taught in the classes I took.  And the last class I took was back in 2001.  I had a lot of studying to do.

I started writing down every word I didn't know the sign for that came up in our conversations.  I started watching religious DVD's to learn these signs I was unfamiliar with.  I was literally spending a couple of hours a day trying to improve my ASL.

And now I have been offered several opportunities to help interpret for this couple.  But I'm terrified to do it!  There are still so many words I don't know signs for.  And there are so many other people around who like to watch the language being used, much like I did 20 years ago.  I just know I'm going to get stuck, fall behind, and make a fool of myself in front of everybody.

There have been a few times that I have interpreted church hymns.  But those are different.  I spend hours a week practicing for Sunday.  I watch DVD's and write down every sign I see and don't know.  I spend more time figuring out why that particular sign was used and not another.  And then I spend even more time memorizing these songs, as I know I will get lost and confuse myself with the words in the book (as ASL doesn't follow the English order of words).

I've been blessed with this opportunity to learn, grow, and develop.  Yet I keep holding myself back due to fear.  It is so hard for me to put myself in front of other people.  I'm the same way with talking, or playing the violin or piano, or just about everything that would be in front of others.  I don't even practice these things when Josh is home because I feel so uncomfortable.  I'm lame.  I know.

I feel ashamed for being so scared, so reserved.  I realize I just need to jump in and do it.  That is the only way to overcome my fears and to grow and develop.  I know nobody is going to make fun of me for giving it my best and trying.  I just need to put myself out there and do it.  How am I ever going to become fluent in a language that I don't use with others, and sit back and observe instead.

Ugh.  Any suggestions or recommendations for overcoming irrational fears?  Really.  They would be appreciated.

1 comments from people we love:

Karen Rowley said...

Chrystal , you know the answer. You just have to jump in and give it a try. Again and again. You can also try interpreting tv shows and commercials. For church, watch conference talks in ASL and copy them and do it yourself. I love watching the different interpreters. It helps me know what I like.