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Learning My ABCs: American Sign Language

Posted by on Thursday, January 22, 2015 in Blair School of Music.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I hug a pole. Not just because I love poles, but I also lock my bike around that pole before heading up to the eighth floor of the Bill Wilkerson Center.  Friends, if you are going to take a language here at Vandy, take American Sign Language. ASL has probably been one of my favorite classes here at Vandy.

Our professor, Lynn Hayes, is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. She’ll casually mention that she’s interpreted practically everywhere, like observatories in Europe or conferences in Australia and travelled to a middle-of-nowhere Honduras village to hand out hearing aids to kids. A vivacious, energetic teacher, she is our class’s entryway to deaf culture.

Fun fact: She has never worn the same outfit twice.

You might think my choice in taking a class to learn the language those with hearing loss slightly ironic because of my music major, but I have learned an exceeding amount about the importance of communication. Your body language communicates so much and there is an incredible amount of relevancy between the way you sign a word with your hands and the emotional content of your face. For instance, if you say you are thrilled but your face is blank as you sign the word “thrilled,” you would be a very confusing (and confused) person. To carry over that concept over to music, if I perform a light-hearted sonata and have a furrowed brow, that is probably perplexing to the audience. We musicians tend for forget to smile while we perform.

Fond memories of this building and its inevitably occupied elevators.

This language is fun fun fun. My friends Money, S’mores, and RayBol all took this class with me,  and one of our favorite assignments was learning to sign a song. Moreover, it was really exciting (and slightly annoying to other people) to have a secret language that no one else in our friend circle understood. (To be fair, we did teach them what we were saying and other fun words. Most of the time.) We love learning this language which is actually semi-intuitive and usually makes sense. For instance, the word for “learn” is like drawing up information from a book to your brain.

Can’t even tell I ‘shopped in S’mores.

ASL challenges me. Fingerspelling, which is motioning out each letter, among the deaf is unbelievably fast. Think of it this way: when you are a child, you learn to read through the phonics of the individual letter. But now as an adult, as you read this sentence, you are no longer spelling out e-a-c-h l-e-t-t-e-r, but reading each word as a single unit. I am a child when it comes to finger-spelling.

Also, I am going to make a sweeping generalization and say that all children who sign are incredibly cute. Even babies are trying to sign like their daddies and mommies. So, in sum, ASL is one of the most beautiful languages ever and I love it!

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