Life

Sign language opens up communication and careers

Learning sign language to communicate with my sister was surprisingly easy and it has been more useful than I ever expected.

My older sister is deaf and when I was younger, I knew nothing about American Sign Language or what the proper way to communicate with her was. Neither did my mom or dad. I love my sister. She’s very determined and when she wants something badly, she usually gets it. She’s a good role model and is a protective sister. But communicating with her effectively took some learning. She went to Kindergarten and I was in preschool at the time, in Slave Lake, Alberta. From the beginning of the year, her teacher decided that I needed to learn a way to be able to communicate with my sister. The teacher pulled my sister and I out of class and taught us both Exact English. 

Exact English is a system for representing English with hand signs. It isn’t considered a “Sign Language” like American Sign Language (ASL) but just a way to represent a language–English. Unlike ASL, in Exact English, you sign every single word that you would use in spoken or written English. Learning Exact English was really difficult in the beginning. It took a lot of practice to fully remember all the proper signs including the numbers the alphabet and so many words. And our communication didn’t go smoothly at first.

When I walked up to her and tried asking for something or wanted to talk to her, she couldn’t understand. I didn’t know what was wrong or if I was saying something that she hadn’t learned yet. But we kept trying. 

Once we moved from Alberta to BC, we discovered that the schools that were provided for the deaf and hard of hearing were using ASL instead of Exact English, so we learned a new system. It’s been more than more than 10 years since I’ve been using ASL and I find it really cool that I can sign to anyone that can  understand. I have been volunteering at a local coffee house for almost a year now and I’ve found that sign language is very useful and it turns out that I’ve had a number of opportunities to use it to communicate with people. When I’m on a shift and there’s a customer who’s deaf or someone who knows sign language, I can translate what that customer wants to order and have conversations with the person too.

Sign language is a valuable skill, and not only does it look good on a resume, but it can also enable certain careers. I hope to become an interpreter or a counsellor for the deaf or hearing impaired. You could also become a social worker or a Childcare Worker depending on what you want to do.

And it isn’t as hard to learn as you might think. Learning sign language or different types of sign languages usually are going to take about 1-2 months of practice in order to become fluent. For me, it took a couple weeks just to learn the basics.

My sister wants to go back to Alberta after high school, she’s planning on going to a college or university for the deaf and the hard of hearing.

I’m pretty lucky to have her as a big sister, even though we argue about a lot. She’s a friend that I am super close to even after when we drew further away.  Thanks to her, I’ve learnt that anything is possible, to not let others get inside my head and to chase after my dreams and make it mine, and for that, I try to thank her every day for teaching me a lot and for showing the many opportunities and different ways of learning ASL and how it can help me in the future.

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