This is usually a nerve-wracking part of learning ASL, meeting and introducing yourself to Deaf people.
Here are a couple of pointers:
* You’re not going to be the first ASL Student, nor will be the last one, that most Deaf people have encountered, so just relax, remember your vocabulary and go with the flow.
* Remember that not all Deaf people know sign language and that not all ASL users are Deaf. So, if you see a Deaf person or a signer, instead of asking “You Deaf?” ask “You know Sign?”. This cuts down on the awkwardness of them having to explain why or why not.
* Don’t be hurt or angry if some Deaf don’t want to meet and chat, like at a Deaf Coffee, or Silent Dinner. Some don’t get a chance to get out often and just want to chat with friends without “newbies” interrupting. It’s not you, it’s them. The majority of the community – Deaf, Interpreters, other ASL students are more than happy to welcome you to the group.
* About “eavesdropping” a signing conversation – most Deaf know there’s no real privacy while “chatting” in public places.
– Avoid staring too long
– If they notice you watching, Sign an apology and let them know you’re learning ASL.
– if you realize it’s a private matter, look away.
* Be flexible in signs and remember there are variations, if a Deaf person informs you a sign is “done this way”, then adapt it and use it. Do not be adamant that you learned it “this way”, that rubs the Deaf community the wrong way. You can say something along the lines of “Oh, I learned it this way, why is it different?”
* Do not invent a “name sign” for yourself. The unwritten rule in the Deaf community is that a Deaf person allocates a name sign to hearing people and only when they’ve known you for a while. This has several advantages – there may already be someone with that name sign taken (there have been stories of Deaf people moving to a new community and had to change name signs because someone else established in the community already had that sign). Secondly, just learning sign you may not know that your name sign is actually inappropriate (a swear word, body part, etc.).
So, let’s practice some introductions:
– Hi, my name (FS name).
– I’m learning ASL. (You can add what level you’re on).
– I’m taking classes at (College/University).
– I’m Hearing/Hard of Hearing/Deaf.
– How are you?
– Nice to meet you.
– Your name what?
– Where are you from?
– What do you do/work?
Now how about some “Survival signs”
– Again please?
– Sorry, slow please.
– (copy sign) What? (if you don’t understand a sign)
– How sign (FS word)?
– (shake head no) understand. (“Don’t Understand”)