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Growing up, we hear so many different languages and dialects throughout our lives. The array of accents, slangs, and words are fascinating. What about the visual style, sign language? I have been fascinated with sign language since I was little; the beautiful movements and happy faces of those speaking with their hands. I can’t even express all the words in spoken form and wondered how they were able to convey such complex thoughts and feelings with their hands.
I began my education in sign language during my college years. I will admit, I was somewhat naïve and felt it would be a straightforward course because how much could one say with their hands? What a reality check I was in for! The first day, my instructor played a monologue from Shakespeare, Mercutio’s speech from “Romeo and Juliet”, and signed along with it in perfect cadence. I was so inspired and moved, that I cried in wonder and shame. Wonder because I never knew the complexity of sign language, and shame because of my narrow-minded thinking.
Renewed intrigue and motivation inspired me to insert myself deep in the deaf world and learn everything. Not being hearing impaired myself, it was a cultural shock and quite unsettling at first. I had to sign “how do you say” and use my fingers to spell out the words. I was embarrassed at first because it was new, and I was the outsider. Instead, I was met with excitement and warmth. My teachers became my friends, and I was reveling in my newfound language. I picked up the language quickly and became adept at not only conversing but also giving speeches, acting and interpreting for my friends.
As my language skill increased, my hands became instruments of wonder to me. I would often look at my hands, and remember the days when I thought so crudely of the people I had seen conversing. Now I knew better and began to teach my hearing friends and family. It helped me in my own life when I couldn’t understand someone; I had a friend who could help translate for me.
Sign language opened so many doors for me personally, and professionally. I couldn’t get enough of it. My aversion to public speaking disappeared having to give a speech with my hands instead, and I was able to act out scenes in my drama class. I passed with flying colors. I was able to help so many people around me, and my friends affectionately called me a “hybrid” by having one foot in the deaf world and the other in the hearing world. I also began to help interpret for production studios and small shows for my friends and colleagues.
Learning sign language has continued to benefit my later years with being able to communicate with patients and their families who are deaf. Sign language is beautiful, sophisticated and graceful. I am able to convey more feelings and emotions with sign language instead of the spoken word.