Does American Sign Language Count as a Foreign Language?

This article, from yesterday’s Tribune, raised some interesting questions in my allergy afflicted head about the goal and role of second language education in the curriculum.

It would seem that if the goal is exposure to a new culture and fluency in a language other than the one the students originally learned to express themselves in, that A.S.L. ought to count as fulfilling the requirement (so long as we agree that “culture” in the sentence above need not include ideas of ethnicity/nationality, but only of conventionalized practices of some sort–as I think contemporary anthropology defines it. Open to corrections on that, though.)

Yet, some object. From the article:

But the practice of awarding foreign language credit for American Sign Language coursework has been fiercely debated at universities across the country. Some educators argue an indigenous language by definition can’t be considered foreign. Others say a language must have literature for proper study.

Only a year removed from our own CCC Foreign Language Flare-up and amid broader questions of the role of Language study in General Education (see this article published today on some Gen Ed Curriculum revisions at George Washington University). I wonder what y’all think, particularly our ELL/WL faculty.

PS: I’m a big fan of the name change for that department–makes (almost) total sense to me. But why not just World Languages? Isn’t English a World Language? I’d have gone with that. Then I’d have tried to shorten it to WoLa in a year or two. I may try to do it here, actually…

6 thoughts on “Does American Sign Language Count as a Foreign Language?

  1. “I guess it’s how you view the word ‘foreign.’”

    Funny, I read this article yesterday and I immediately focused on this sentence (thanks, PhiloDave).
    The way I sees it, ANY sign language is foreign to me, therefore it belongs in a foreign language program.

    I had the experience of having a student for two semesters in my classroom who spoke, or communicated, via sign language. I saw no difference between ASL or Italian. It was a language that I did not understand.

    Is it English? Interestingly enough, when I sat down to talk with him and the underpaid sign language assistants, he stated that there is no universal sign language spoken across the United States. He said (that’s right, who says you need to use your voice to communicate? We all use body language, right?) that he found it difficult to talk with students from other parts of the country because the language varies. A wrinkle in the argument for ASL.

    Kinda like goin’ south with my hard ChiCAGA accent and hearin’ my fellow Americans askin me and my family “How y’all doin’?” (I really enjoyed the southern hospitality).

    You’ve gots my vote for WoLa.

  2. I still feel the foreign language requirement is inappropriate for the CCC. Instead, the nation ought to do what every other nation in the world is doing: have children begin learning a second language in elementary school. CCC’s forcing a foreign language on adults only lessens their chances of learning, in particular, mathematics and science. So, if community colleges mandate foreign language requirements, there should be little doubt that Sign Language ought to be regarded as fully acceptable.

    • “CCC’s forcing a foreign language on adults only lessens their chances of learning, in particular, mathematics and science.”
      Does this beg a bigger question: Maybe there is too much emphasis on English and Math?

      Students might be better individuals if they were given an opportunity to earn a balanced education. Raise your hand if you speak a second language and believe it has not enriched your life. WoLa students, please put your hands down.

      • I guess Realist didn’t read my entire post. I said Americans should begin learning a second language in elementary school! … Also, … hey, there’s nothing more important than the three Rs. … Also, … raise your hand if you play a musical instrument, excel in some athletic activity, can identify the stars of the night sky, etc., and believe it has not enriched your life. … So, … what’s your point?

        • My point is this:
          There may be more important areas of study than the three R’s for some of our students but we may never know since we create the hoops they have to jump through.
          You state that it’s OK to have them jump through math hoops bu not OK to make them jump through WoLa hoops? I wonder what WoLaArt would say?
          I don’t get it.

          I’m not being argumentative, just digging deeper. I see your point. The students have to meet many requirements and this is one too many. How about we remove some of the existing gen ed requirements to make room for this one?

          • One is reminded of the famous scene from Amadeus: “Well, which notes should I remove?” : )

            A mathematics requirement in gen ed simply DID NOT EXIST until about 8 years ago or so when the ICCB put it in. I think they did that, however, for a good reason. Essentially, folks with college degrees began (ca mid 70s) entering the workforce, only for their employers to discover they couldn’t even add two fractions. (The worst of it, BTW, being that they were becoming Elementary School TEACHERS!!! Aaaaaargh, don’t get me started.)

            I agree, if that’s what’s you’re saying, that the curriculum should be re-examined regularly. However, as I said, the reform that is needed in Foreign Language is that Americans should begin this early in Elementary School just as the rest of the world learns English, no?

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