As we strive for a more inclusive and accessible world, it's crucial to think about how language affects everyone, including people in the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. Many people in these communities use a form of sign language, like American Sign Language (ASL), instead of, or alongside, spoken and written language to communicate with others.
But ASL isn’t a secret code, only available to those with hearing loss. Here’s why you should learn sign language, and how it benefits both you and your community.
Get Your Dream Career
Many companies want to hire multilingual people, and that includes people who know ASL, British Sign Language (BSL), and other regional sign languages. Those who know sign language have more career opportunities. These jobs include licensed interpreter, companies that provide services to the Deaf community, and any customer-facing role that would benefit from multiple language skills. Deaf and hard of hearing people work in all different kinds of industries. If you’re working with a colleague who is Deaf, you won’t have to ask an interpreter to translate for you. You might even gain business based on your ability to communicate with clients in sign language.
Broaden Your Social Circle
Communication and shared experiences are the best ways to make friends. Think about it — if you travel to Japan and you ONLY speak English, that limits communication to people who speak English. If you also know some Japanese, your experience gets exponentially better because of the people you can now communicate with.
The same thing applies to using and learning sign language. Think about what it would be like to live in a world where almost everyone around you doesn’t speak your language. Wouldn’t it be nice to help change that? Even learning how to fingerspell can make a big difference the next time you talk to a person who speaks ASL.
Understand Language Better
When learning more than one spoken language, those experiences will shape your understanding of your native tongue. Language skills are often improved because learners have a better understanding of how spoken language is constructed and influenced by context.
The same is true with sign language. According to an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “bilingual children display better mental flexibility and cognitive control as well as more creative thinking, especially in problem solving.” Sign language benefits both your logical left brain and your creative right brain.
Talk to Babies and Pets
Babies and pets understand visual cues before they know what spoken words mean. American Sign Language University says babies can understand signs as early as six or seven months old. If you have children, start using basic signs like “hungry” and “more” when they are babies.
Learning visual cues also gives your pet another way to understand you. If you teach your dog to sit when he sees a hand gesture as well as when they hear the word “sit,” he’ll learn both. Learning the hand signs will benefit older dogs if they lose their hearing, as well as if you're in a loud or crowded place.
Learning sign language goes far beyond personal benefits. It reaches a community — the customer at your local cafe, the CEO you meet at the conference, the child in your son’s kindergarten class. Knowing it yourself benefits you mentally and socially, and by treating it as the widely spoken language it is, we create a more inclusive and accessible world.