|GEEK spelled in British Sign Language.|
People ask me all the time why I do what I do – lately, my answer is to carefully shrug my shoulders whilst trying NOT to reinjure my right elbow or smack my right hand against anything – but the answer, if I’m honest, is language, or languages. I did not go into interpreting because I have a need to help people. I did not go into interpreting out of some need for social justice or a desire to work in a disability-related field. I don’t see Deaf/HOH people as needing help or as a disability community – I see them as a language minority. I went into my current field because it means I get to work in my second language every day – to the point that I think, dream, and even speak verbally in ASL (take a moment and feel sorry for my husband, won’t you?).
Well, today I had a moment when I just got all giddy and, since interpreting tends to be solo work for the most part, I had no one to share it with that would understand it. I was watching some British Sign Language videos on YouTube in the name of professional development and I had just watched a video showing how to sign ‘meeting’ in BSL – and I got it. I don’t mean I could see and understand the sign and then reproduce it. I mean I looked at it and due to my knowledge of ASL, I could understand WHY that was the sign for ‘meeting.’
Last week, hubs and I had a discussion about why it is harder for some people to learn a second (and third and so on) language than it is for others. I likened it to the reason why it is hard, at times, for Deaf/HOH kids in school to learn English without a firm foundation in ASL first. If I had not had such a good education in not only vernacular spoken (American) English, I would not have been able to understand ASL to the point that I could then extrapolate that onto BSL and that video. You cannot learn a second language if your first language isn’t strong enough to form comparisons and, to use my favorite metaphor, hooks. You can’t learn ASL without a strong foundation in English, for example, to hook that new set of grammar rules and vocabulary to what you already know.
For people who say that isn’t true, and that as long as you have a rudimentary understanding of your native or first language you can always learn a second language through study and repetition, sure, you can I suppose. But think of it this way: I never had a good grasp of mathematics. Never. I mean I can’t even do the four basic functions without having to get a calculator to check my answers. I have no confidence in my own ability in that subject. I have no solid foundation in maths, so when I went to hook my new level of maths (Algebra and the like) into what I already knew, the hook fell. The foundation wasn’t solid enough to hold it.
But my borderline obsessive love for learning languages has come from the fact that growing up I not only knew that you say ‘I was going to the store’ but also that it is not acceptable to say ‘I were going to the store’ and why. Miss Pritchett and Madam Gring-Whitley would be proud to know that they were right – I hated those verb conjugation sheets, but they helped me understand why you must change the form of the verb in order for the time component of your message to make sense. It helps me now when I remember to add the sign that indicates when the verb is happening, has happened, or will happen – so that I am clearly understood.
So back to the BSL video – it was because I know the ASL signs/classifiers for a person, the concept of ‘meet’ and ‘meeting’ and because I know what the word meeting can mean in English, that this sign made perfect sense to me:
That is building on your foundation. That is what made my inner language geek so very happy. I love it when I come across things like that and often don’t make that connection until afterward but man. That is why I do what I do. THAT RIGHT THERE.