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American Sign Language (ASL)

 According to Gary Olsen, former Executive Director of the National Association of the Deaf, interest in American Sign Language has become "an American ground swell." ASL is gaining popularity and is being recognized as an acceptable means of meeting foreign language requirements in high schools and colleges across the country.

What is ASL? How does ASL compare with spoken language?

ASL is a complete, complex language that employs hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It differs from spoken language in that it is based on the idea that sight is the most useful tool a deaf person has to communicate and receive information. In spoken language, the different sounds created by words and tones of voice(intonation) are the most important devices used to communicate. 

Is it really a language?

According to Sherman Wilcox, Ph.D, "it is because of its unique modality -- visual/gestural rather than aural/oral -- many people wrongly assume that ASL is fundamentally different than spoken languages. ASL is a fully developed human language, one of hundreds of naturally occurring signed languages of the world. It is not a derivative of English. It is not a "simplified" language - it contains structures and processes which English lacks (such as ASL's rich verbal aspect and classifier systems). There is abundant linguistics research on ASL demonstrating that the grammar of ASL is radically different from English -- surely as different as any of the more traditional foreign languages taught in school."
Is it appropriate to call ASL a foreign language?

It depends on how you define foreign. If you think of learning ASL as the acquisition of a second language as well as being exposed to another culture than ASL meets these requirements. Signers of ASL do not share just a disability to hear, they share a common language and code of conduct among themselves.

Where can I get more information?

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) maintains a directory of organizations that can answer questions and provide printed or electronic information on ASL. Please click here and use the following keywords to help you search: American Sign Language, Augmentative and alternative communication or Cued speech.
Cited Works:

Wilcox, Sherman, Ph.D, "ASL as a Foreign Language Fact Sheet, http://web.mac.com/swilcox/UNM/facts.html

Belka, Robert W., "Is American Sign Language a "Foreign Language?", http://www2.dickinson.edu/prorg/nectfl/belka.html

America's Teachers on America's Schools
A Project of Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

On March 3, 2010 Scholastic, Inc and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released Primary Sources: America's Teachers on America's Schools. This report presents the results of a national survey where more than 40,000 public school teachers responded. 

In the survey teachers identified five ways that we can address the challenges facing today's schools and ensure that all students achieve at their highest level:

  1. Establish Clear Standards, Common Across States
  2. Use Multiple Measures to Evaluate Student Performances
  3. Innovate to Reach Today's Students 
  4. Accurately Measure Teacher Performance and Provide Non-Monetary Rewards
  5. Bridge School and Home to Raise Student Achievement 
To read the report in its entirety or view the webcast please click here.
Tandberg Educational, inc.

"Students are different learners than they were ten years ago.
Education is what needs to change.
Students today can't learn the same way we did."

--Elementary School Teacher,
Primary Sources: America's Teachers on America's Schools

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