A few observations from studying American Sign Language (ASL) with a study group.
First session: Working in a group of 4. We met a deaf person at the library, who was more than happy to help us review the signs. He told us he used to teach ASL, which is interesting because the way he signed is very different from the way my current professor signs. For example, he cannot speak/sound the words out as well as my current professor, which forces us to concentrate more on his signs without using a crutch. He also signed faster than our professor and used many signs that we had not learned yet, making it much more of a challenge to understand him.
In our group, there is someone who is an ESL student. In other words, English is her second language and ASL would be her third. What I found fascinating while studying with her is her approach to learning the language. She tackles language learning very aggressively, without any shyness or fear of making mistakes. She is very focused in her language study, using the our study group time to its fullest. She actively asks questions, asks for elaboration, and communicates using sign even if she does not know all the words she is trying to express. Her approach felt like that of a social survivor, one who could very well survive if plopped into a foreign environment. I imagine that she used those strategies to learn English as an ESL student as well.
Second session: Working with a partner. At first, I felt like I had much less to offer in terms of helping her than she did for me. I was unfamiliar with much of the ASL vocabulary and had not practiced much. Yet, signing to each other rather, it was much easier and effective to study ASL (and any language I would assume) in an interaction/communication based system, rather than just memorizing or practicing it on your own.