ASL - sign language - April 2022

Two Ways You Can Learn ASL This Summer

June 23, 2022
Julie Damdar

“I wish I could learn some sign language!” 

I hear that often from fellow Browncrofters who see me on our church’s ASL interpreting team on Sundays, and I love that desire. After all, we have the privilege of living in a community that is not monolingual. Rochester has a larger Deaf population per capita than anywhere else in the country! And to truly be “in community” requires us to take steps towards each other.

We’ve all experienced a time we wanted to talk to someone, but we just didn’t know how.  Perhaps it was an age gap, a cultural barrier, or the ever-large chasm of a different language.  Sometimes our lack of tools limit us from reaching out and showing that we do in fact even see that person.  

Imagine you are on a trip and you haven’t heard English, your mother tongue, for a few weeks.  As you travel, you meet a fellow traveler from Italy who doesn’t speak a word of English, but you keep bumping into each other at the main tourist sites.  Then, one day, this traveler pulls out his English dictionary and — with a heavy accent and in broken English — says, “Nice….to….meet….you….What……..your….name?”

What would go through your mind? 

Perhaps you would be touched that he was willing to take the risk of sounding foolish just to get to know you better.  Maybe that would empower you to be brave and take a step by reaching back in your memory to that high school Italian class you took two decades ago to reciprocate.  Then the two of you might pull out Google Translate on your phones, and you would learn about his other travels, his hobbies, his family, and even get a glimpse of his heart, his hopes, and dreams. 

I would dare to guarantee that in your mind you would not be concerned with correcting this fellow traveler’s accent, grammar, or any verbal mistakes he made.  You would never dream of criticizing him because you would just be so touched that he was willing to put himself out there in an effort to communicate with you!

May I challenge you that you have this opportunity with the Deaf community every week at Browncroft — and every day as you travel around Rochester? And we want to give you some basic tools to get conversations and potentially life-changing relationships going.

Here are two opportunities for you to consider:

First, this summer Rob and Marta Tawney, two of our top Deaf leaders at Browncroft, are offering a summer group studying Sign Language For Everyone by Dr. Cathy Rice. This 5-week class starting July 3 is a perfect initial step to cross the language barrier and move toward friends in the Deaf community. 

Second, even if you can’t commit to the class, keep your eyes open in the Browncroft Cafe between worship services on Sundays. We have a new ASL table set up as an opportunity for individuals in Browncroft’s Deaf and hearing communities to meet and have conversations.  Of course no one is expecting perfection or fluency, but these are opportunities to really see and take steps towards getting to know each other.

Whether you’re able join the summer group or visit between services (or both!), I hope you’ll grab your coffee and join the table!

About The Author

Julie Damdar

Julie is a professional sign language interpreter who serves with Browncroft’s ASL ministry that provides Sunday morning interpretation services on site and online. She and her husband, Sherwin, have been active at Browncroft since their days studying at Rochester Institute of Technology. Their family has a heart for outreach to the Deaf community and international students, as well as numerous other ministries at Browncroft.

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