Sign Language

ASL (American Sign Language) is the native language for most deaf and hard-of-hearing people in North America. It is a complete language in its own right, with a grammar and structure distinct from English and other phonetic languages. With about 1% of the population using ASL, it is the fourth most prevalent language in the United States.

Sign Language

Sign Language

Unlike English, ASL is visual and spatial. A sign language interpreter must be able to think in both the phonetic language of English and the visual language of ASL. This is one of the reasons why communication between deaf and hearing people may be difficult. Learning to use both types of language is easier when it starts early. Adults trying to learn to use both language systems are likely to have a difficult time, but with persistence and practice, the language barrier can be overcome.

Translation and interpretation are two different aspects of communication in two languages. Usually, translation refers to written language, while interpretation refers to spoken language. One might translate court or medical documents to the visual/spatial language of ASL for complete understanding by the client. Then one could interpret the conversation between an attorney or a doctor and the deaf or hard-or-hearing client. Or the interpreter could work with a deaf or hard-of-hearing professional who is dealing with a hearing population.

With the growing awareness of the capabilities of deaf people, many opportunities are now available for learning sign language. Local colleges may offer courses, and some online classes in sign language are now available. This creates an opportunity for an interested individual who wants to become a licensed interpreter for a deaf population.

Public schools, medical practices, courts, and other services require interpreters when hearing individuals who do not know sign language work with deaf or hard-of-hearing clients. Since it is becoming more common for students with disabilities to be main-streamed and learn alongside other students, this increases the number of interpreter jobs available. Happily, it also increases the opportunity for both hearing and deaf students to communicate with and learn from one another.

As more and more deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals mingle with the hearing population, the two groups are more likely to learn about one another. Myths surrounding deafness will be challenged, and friendships and comfortable working relationships are more likely to become the norm. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals have talents and abilities which will increasingly earn them professional positions and well-deserved respect.

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