You might be surprised to learn that according to the Modern Language Association, American Sign Language is the fourth most popular language among college students.
In the past three years, enrollment in American Sign Language has increased by 16%. According to American Sign Language professors, there are a number of reasons for the jump in enrollment.
More and more colleges are allowing American Sign Language to satisfy students’ language requirement in lieu of more traditional foreign languages like Spanish and French. Besides looking good on a resume, sign language (like many other languages) is an increasingly functional language, useful for psychologists, interpreters, teachers, nurses, doctors and countless other professions.
I use American Sign Language to communicate with friends at a loud party, on the soccer field where I work with kids with special needs or out at dinner when I want to talk with my mouth full.
In addition, American Sign Languge is recommended for people with language-based learning disabilities like dyslexia. Since it is a hands-on language and it doesn’t requre learning to write or read another language, it is an ideal foreign language for those who struggle with their native tongue.
One professor suggested that negative experiences studying a foreign language in high school led students to seek out American Sign Language as an alternative language in college.
As Professor Amy Ruth McGraw of the University of Iowa pointed out in a recent New York Times article, American Sign Language removes any issue students may have had with accent or auditory difficulties since American Sign Language has neither of those components. But, she is quick to note that “if [their problem] was memorizing vocabulary and grammar, this isn’t going to be any better.”
As more and more colleges waive foreign language requirements, American Sign Language still appears to be a good use of time.
Director of the ASL program at Northwestern University, Dennis Cokely, told The Times “The demand for nationally certified A.S.L. interpreters is huge, and as a freelance interpreter, you can make $40 to $60 an hour.” This seems to be a draw for students in a time of economic turmoil.
Sign language has become more and more popular in the past few years. Stephen Torrence’s ASL intrepretations of pop songs like Miley Cyrus’ “Party In The U.S.A.” and other songs have been viewed over 3 million times on YouTube. You can view Torrence’s performance of “Party In The U.S.A.” below.
Sign language interpreters are available for Broadway Shows. Most notably Alan Champion, who is lauded for his ability to bring the stories of the theater to deaf patrons.
So what exactly is the draw of learning American Sign Language? Just ask Emily Brown, a Wesleyan University ASL student. Says Emily, “It feels more poetic than other languages. It’s such a great way to express things you can’t quite express verbally.”
Photo thanks to Cindy