Learning Sign Language- Four Ideas to Motivate and Engage Family Members

Author: Nora Maldonado

Oftentimes, when a child is diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing, there is an initial outpouring of enthusiasm from friends and relatives who want to learn ASL. It is novel, and people genuinely feel motivated to help by learning some sign. This can make new parents of a deaf or hard of hearing child feel elated, and excited; however, sometimes, when the proverbial dust settles, many people (however well intentioned) may not follow through with initial plans to learn. Life is busy, and learning a new language is no easy feat.

When our daughter was identified as deaf, we immediately started trying to forge connections with other deaf and hard of hearing individuals, and families. Inevitably this meant that our path diverged from the paths we had been sharing with other friends. However, we gained new friends, made new connections within the Deaf community, and we were lucky enough to have three or four family members who stuck with it, learned some ASL, and continue to do so. If you are lucky enough to have even one person in your life who is committed to learning ASL, the following are some ideas to help keep them motivated:

  1. Easy access to learning – in our case, it was our daughter’s grandparents and aunt that were committed to learning ASL. Initially, instead of just sending them the link to a class, we signed them up ourselves, and set them up with the Zoom calls every week. This made it easy for them to participate. This was much more forward than I would usually be, but in our case, this initial push was well worth it, as it got my daughter’s grandparents and aunt started – which can sometimes be the hardest part!
  2. Praise – we recognize that learning a second (or third!) language is very difficult. We make a special effort to recognize and praise their efforts, always stopping to remind them how much this opens up our daughter’s world, and how much it impacts their ability to have a relationship with her. 
  3. Reinforcement – before long, our daughter was understanding and responding to their signs. This was great reinforcement for them, as they could feel the progress they were making. We made a point of highlighting how our daughter was understanding them and this helped them come full circle, and understand the impact of learning ASL.
  4. Community events – from early on, we made the effort to invite our daughter’s grandparents to Deaf and Hard of Hearing community events. They were able to meet other families, and other grandparents that were also learning ASL. It made them feel included, and part of something larger than just the ASL classes. I think it was also important to our daughter to see her grandparents signing and interacting with her peers and their families. 

We can all appreciate the difficulty in learning a new language. Hopefully these tips will help you keep family and friends motivated and engaged if they have decided to learn ASL. 

 

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