My Experience Taking ASL Classes – Rob, New York City, NY, USA

I’ve taken ASL lessons for just over a year now, and it has been a humbling experience. For the first time in my life, I am the slowest student in the class. Hunter HS (magnet school in NYC), Cornell undergrad, Carnegie-Mellon masters… slowest student at the Sign Language Center in Manhattan. I’m not quite sure why. It could be that ASL is a visual language and I just have problems with that. It could be that I am not practicing in the best way to target my most glaring weaknesses. It could be that I’m 51.

Learning vocabulary and finger-spelling hasn’t been too difficult. ASL grammar and sentence structures come more slowly. When I prepare, I can use ASL grammar for basic sentences and short stories. When I’m winging it, though, I usually still sign like I speak, i.e. using Signing Exact English (SEE) rather than ASL. And then, wow, I am having a really tough time with understanding when others sign, i.e. with my receptive skills. When I see a sign, I still have to think about what that sign is. Often by then I will have missed the next sign or two and then the whole sentence and then I just give up and go blank and look for another sign that I recognize to try to catch up and figure things out from context.

To work on my primary weakness, I’ve been watching videos in ASL, in particular from The Daily Moth. The subtitling on The Daily Moth videos are a godsend for ASL students such as myself. I do realize, though, that the next step in improving my receptive skills would be immersion in some manner, whether practicing with other students or attending an ASL immersion trip or camp.

I enjoy this challenge, though, as I think many enjoy trying to learn anything new, be it a language or some other skill. It keeps the brain active. And I am grateful to have found a friendly, welcoming environment at the Sign Language Center.