American sign language (ASL) might seem easy to pick up—but the grammar of ASL actually has more in common with Chinese than it does with the English language. Though it’s challenging to learn—more so than most people think— learning to sign is a valuable skill, even if you’re a hearing person. Here’s a look at the benefits of learning sign language.
You Become Part of a Whole New Community
The spectrum of hearing loss encompasses a wide range, from profoundly deaf to a little hard of hearing. Depending upon how much of that spectrum you include, about 15% of the United States population has difficulty with hearing. When you include their families and friends, that becomes a pretty large group. The deaf community is a very tight knit, passionate one; while not everyone uses ASL, it is the main language for much of that community. Unfortunately, it isn’t popular among a significant portion of hearing people—which can make it difficult for those who use ASL as their primary form of communication at school, at work, in emergency situations, and even just buying groceries. Learning ASL gives you access to that community and the ability to help break barriers in the aforementioned situations.
Sign Language is Good for Adult Brains
Sign language is not only socially, but cognitively beneficial. Learning a second language (and make no mistake—sign language is a second language) benefits the memory and can act as a preventative measure against diseases like Alzheimer's. Furthermore, when you learn sign language, you’re using more than the language parts of your brain. It helps improve the dexterity required for small motor skills and improves coordination.
And for Kid Brains
Infants can use sign language much earlier than spoken language. Even just a few words (like “milk,” “hungry,” and “tired”) can help babies make their needs known as young as 6 months—which can be a big help for parents. Older kids tend to behave better (or at least stay quieter) in classrooms. Signs requesting help during quiet periods can be less interruptive to other students. What’s more, just learning the alphabet in sign language can improve spelling. Learning words in tandem with spelling words out with your fingers roots the correct letters to muscle memory.
Sign Language can Improve Overall Communication
If you’re hearing, you rely on your conversational partner’s tone of voice to give context to their words. Much of sign language is body language and facial cues. Studies show that signers are better at reading body language. Learning sign language and the communication of movement that comes with it can help you understand things that aren’t being said. Additionally, since the structure is so different from spoken English, you have to learn to restructure your sentences and become a more precise “speaker.” You also have to pay more attention to the person you are talking to. Looking away means you miss key components of what they are saying. Sign language can make you a better speaker and a better listener.