Why Learn Sign Language?

There are several benefits in learning sign language. I'm currently picking up SEE2, which uses borrows signs from ASL but conforms to English in all other aspects.

1) You train your hand-eye coordination.

Communicating with Deaf people forces one to pick up signs and gestures on the fly, especially if you are surrounded by them. It makes one more alert, and no doubt the area of the brain responsible for this will develop further. This prevents one from getting dull-minded prematurely.

2) You train your arm muscles.

One of my teachers attested that signing prevented the flabby arm syndrome, in which arm muscles lose their tension and become flaccid and lifeless.

It must be pointed out that one cannot expect to sign the whole day long; even the Deaf get tired arms, and this is perfectly normal. Do allow your arms and fingers some time to get accustomed to signing.

3) It improves your language skills.

This is true for myself when I learn SEE2, even though I already know English well. I can really gush over the perfect-ness of a sign language that distinguishes between "your" and "you're"; "than" and "then"; "there", "they're" and "their". All these words have different signs, but they sound alike in English. Many English-speaking hearing people have difficulty getting these words down on paper correctly in the appropriate context, but the Deaf have no problem.

Naturally, language skills would also be honed when one picks up a language which has a different syntax than one's own mother tongue. It facilitates one in picking up other languages. It's similar to how learning Japanese is easier after learning Chinese. Learning to translate between sign and speech is always great fun, and as pointed out previously, will lead to a more active mind.

4) It improves your body language skills.

Basically, when you sign, your body language has to conform to what you're signing. One cannot nod one's head while signing "no": this leads to confusion. When signing about being happy, one's countenance should show it. As SEE2 seldom includes question marks or exclamation marks, this had to be incorporated into the way I expressed myself, such as frowning when asking a question, or looking extremely surprised. Regardless of whether question marks, etc. are used, Deaf people often use body language to convey what they feel or think. This will be useful even when communicating with other hearing people, who will pick up on body language subconsciously anyway.

5) You get to make more friends.

Naturally the first group of people you get to know much more intimately are the Deaf people you come into contact with. It's interesting to note that they do not consider themselves handicapped; indeed, they see themselves as another group of normal people who just happen to have another language. Much like the Hispanics in America, or Japanese/Koreans in Singapore.

The other group of people would be your classmates in your sign-language class. A great deal of bonding happens when you're laughing over some mis-signed phrase, correcting one another's mistakes and musing over how sign language seems to so difficult to pick up. (It isn't; it just requires more practice.)

The third group would be normal hearies. When I reveal that I know sign language, many hearies perk up and start asking questions. Occasionally I have met people who also know how to sign. This is a great ice-breaker and a good conversational topic.

There are probably more benefits which I'll come across later, since I've only learnt how to sign for two months. But this list is enough to assure me that I've invested my time well.