I’m getting better at sign language and much of it has to do with much more than just remembering the signs. One of the main changes that has happened is a boost in confidence, which has been influenced from the ASL study group I have been participating in.
The person leading the study group is also a MATESOL student and invited to me to study with other students from her section at the SF Main Library. During my first time at the study group, two things stuck out to me. First, one of the students, a Chinese ESL student, seemed to have particularly aggressive study skills. I say this in a positive way. She was extremely focused on learning the signs, continually asked questions (for information and confirmation), and was never afraid to make mistakes with her signs. While we all communicated in English, she even asked if I spoke Chinese in order to clarify what “helicopter” meant in English. To be honest, I felt quite intimidated by her language learning approach. Coming to the group as a newcomer, I already felt like I was behind, that I had not practiced my signs as much as they had. At the beginning of the study session, I was not confident enough to sign a sentence without hesitating, had trouble remembering many of the vocabulary words, and had trouble reading other people’s sign. Yet, I realized that the ESL student must have been such an effective language learner because of her experience in learning English as a foreign language. Especially because she was learning English as a mode of survival and serious communication rather than enjoyment, she must have transferred those skill to her language learning approach in ASL. In studying her strategies, I tried to apply some of them to my own learning process, particularly signing without the fear of making mistakes.
The second influence from the study group that has helped my confidence is working with a partner. During my second study session, only one other person, the group coordinator, showed up. It was only the two of us and we spend a good two hours signing questions and answers to each other while incorporating the vocabulary. From the first study session, I noticed that she is much more familiar with ASL than the rest of us. The fact that I was working with her one-one-one made me feel like I had much less to contribute to her than she did to me. Yet, she expressed that I was just as important for her learning as she was with mine because it is hard to practice signing alone. Having another signer receive and respond to your signs and showing the negotiated interaction between the two learners really helped me feel comfortable and more confident in signing. At the end of the study session, I left with much more confidence in signing, especially for conversation based situations (versus signing individual vocabulary words). I believe that having that one-on-one interaction was crucial for me to experience and practice signing as an actual mode of communication rather than just another topic found in the textbook.