My Fascination with Sign Language

When I was a little kid, I was fascinated with sign language. I remember finding a pamphlet with all the letters in ASL (American Sign Language) on it and practicing until I learned the alphabet. I would have loved to have practiced with someone, but I never interacted with a deaf person before. Except for seeing it in the movie with Marlee Matlin aslin “Children of a Lesser God,” I had so little experience with the culture and it wasn’t until I was in college in a sign language class, that I actually met my first deaf person. He was my professor, Larry Forrestal, and he was just awesome.

Professor Forrestal was deaf and didn’t speak. The entire class was conducted in sign language and whatever he felt like writing on the black board. I remember only hearing him speak once. It was later in the year and he called out someone’s name when they were walking away from him and he couldn’t get their attention. Dumbfounded, we all stared at him and signed, “You Can Speak?” He shook his head no, but gave a sly grin. I bet he could speak, but he chose not too.

Another funny story: One day, we met in the evening for a study group and we were walking with our professor through the Student Union to our meeting area. There was a huge party going on and the music was so loud, “I couldn’t hear myself think.” I saw Professor Forrestal “dancing and moving” along to the music and I signed to him “How are you dancing? You hear it?” He rolled his eyes, grabbed my hand and another girl’s hand and pushed us both to the floor. Here were the three of us, our professor and two of his students, sitting on the floor in the middle of this very active building and he’d pressed our hands to the floor so we could feel the pulsations from the bass from the music “loud and clear.” He also pointed to his chest and told us to just “feel it” and of course we could. We sat there for a while, just “listening” with him along to the music. It was a very big wake up call for me.

flying montageSign Language and the deaf culture has fascinated me ever since and when I was writing a YA series, I decided to make my main character deaf. FLYING TO THE LIGHT is about a young deaf boy who knows about the afterlife and now people are after him for the answer. FLYING TO THE FIRE continues the tale seven years later and my main character’s life is suddenly turned upside down yet again. What I think has really appealed to people is that my character’s family primarily uses sign language to communicate with him and at no time is his deafness a disability. It is simply a part of who he is.

I just love that my interest as a little girl morphed into something so amazing and brought me to this spot. Have you had experiences with the culture? I’d love to hear. Please drop me a note on my website and join my e-newsletter. Just click for newsletter updates here and then click “Contact Me.”

18 thoughts on “My Fascination with Sign Language

  1. I, too, am fascinated with ASL. My ass’t Scoutmaster was the child of deaf parents and what I thought interesting was his first memories of a light that would come on when he cried. He taught the Scouts the alphabet and some words. I started to interact w/ the deaf commuters on the train to work. I was no way what one would call proficient but I was learning. I was able to help a salesperson at Sears one day by using sign to relay the information back and forth. The sales person didn’t even think to use paper and pen which would have made it easier. The deaf gentleman kept attempting to sign pen and paper, but to no avail. I’ve been away from any close contact w/ the deaf but from time to time I will attempt to go through the ASL alphabet or sign a word I remember. Like my Russian, Chinese, Spanish and French, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

  2. I’ve got a lot of friends who have learned sign language – and this post is a good reminder of how fortunate we are, and how much of a difference we can make. Thanks.

  3. Love your stories! In junior high, my friends and I learned the alphabet so we could “talk” during class. LOL

    • I had a boyfriend in college that took ASL with me – we’d “chat” across a conference hall if we for some reason weren’t sitting next to each other and I remember flirty with him in restaurants and no one knew what we were saying!

  4. Sign language awakens a part of us that sleeps. I am a firm believer of this. I taught my infant son (the younger one) to sign from the age of 4 months. He was able to tell me when he wanted something to drink or eat, if he wanted more, etc. He knew how to say please, etc. Consequently he was the most articulate 18 month old his babysitters and child care givers had ever seen. I love it!

  5. Oops – hit return too soon… He was extremely articulate at 18 months (for his age, because he was speaking full sentences of five to seven words), after signing since 4 months old…

  6. We use sign language in our family with my grandkids to help with language development, they learn it quickly and it facilitates communication. Great post!

  7. I too have this fascination with sign language, and the deaf culture. I am just now taking my first ASK class and I’m looking for friends to sign with over Skype once or twice a week. Do you have any resources on where I could find someone to do this with, or maybe even know someone?

    • I would definitely check the local schools to see if they have meet up groups and also see if there are any deaf schools in the area that have deaf events. All over the country different groups will have special parties, meet ups – movie reviews – I would start there. Congrats and thank you so much for reading!

  8. I am a bit different than all the people who replied here. I am Deaf myself. I am so appreciative when people learn our language, culture and such. It makes the world a better work if we can work together as a team! I am a firm believer that we should work together (hearing and deaf). I enjoyed your story!

  9. Reblogged this on Deaf NWA and commented:
    I like reading about other peoples first encounters with ASL. It reminds me of the first time I saw someone signing and how it is still such a big part of my life.

    • Me too – I was fascinated with it and the idea that we can talk with our hands and emotions. I especially love it that my kids can take it in high school as one of their language requirements.

  10. I was struck by your comment that being deaf was not a disability for your character, but simply part of who he is. The main character in my first novel also has a disability that he doesn’t really recognize, and in many ways, what other see as a disability is to him a strength. I think, when dealing with people with different abilities than are stereotypical, it’s important to remember that they may view the world and their abilities from a very different perspective, as well.

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