If you’re going to teach a language, make it sign language
By Jessica Berget, Opinions Editor
If you went to school in Canada, chances are you had to take a French class, or even went to a French immersion school. French is the second official language in Canada, so there is a huge emphasis on learning the language because, as some teachers claim, “It will be helpful in the future.”
Plot twist: I’ve never had to speak a word of French to anyone since learning it in the eighth grade, and have forgotten most it except for the initial greetings because of how little I’ve had to use it. However, there have been plenty of times that I’ve interacted with a deaf or hard of hearing person, and could not understand what they were communicating to me. Because of this, I believe that ASL or American Sign Language should be taught in schools alongside or instead of French, or any other language for that matter.
The Canadian Association of the Deaf concludes that there are about 357,000 profoundly deaf Canadians and about 3.21 million who are hard of hearing. Additionally, as reported by Census Canada 2016, there are about 7.2 million Canadians—20.6 per cent of the Canadian population—whose mother tongue is French. However, most of them live in Quebec, where French is the majority spoken language. Living on the other side of the country in BC, where fluent French speakers are few and far between, and deaf or hard of hearing people being all over the world, I don’t see any reason why teaching French in public schools is considered more useful than sign language.
Forget about how many people speak it, let’s talk about the accessibility of language. French speakers have the ability to learn English or to navigate their way in English speaking countries using dictionaries or some language learning resources. The deaf and hard of hearing community however, have no such luck. They certainly can’t learn to hear, and there are limited resources that help them communicate with hearing people. This is part of why I believe teaching sign language in schools is so important.
Teaching ASL in schools provides a lot of benefits for not only deaf people. It creates a much friendlier community within public schools by bridging the gap between hearing and non-hearing people at a younger age. Deaf kids who become alienated from their peers because they can’t verbally communicate with them will have the opportunity to get to know their fellow classmates by teaching them sign language. It will also help people understand deafness and the deaf community on a more personal level. Teaching sign language to younger children also helps them develop fine motor skills, encourages healthy communication, makes them better spellers, and increases their vocabulary according to a study by Marilyn Daniels, Professor in the Department of Communication in Penn State University.
With all the benefits that come from teaching and learning sign language, it is a wonder that it is still not being taught in schools. Hopefully it is only a matter of time that school systems begin incorporating it into their curriculum. The sooner we can facilitate communication between the hearing and deaf community, the better.