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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

More universities are recognizing sign language as a foreign language

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. _ She is talking a mile a minute, but no words come out of her mouth.
She’s giving a report on Beethoven, yet the entire classroom is silent.Jessica House is a junior at South Plantation High in the midst of earning an important grade for her American Sign Language class. Her hands turn, flip, brush, slap and point as she makes her meaning known, eyebrows arching. She is one of a growing number of students who are choosing to learn the language of the deaf instead of more traditional foreign-language options such as Spanish and French.
“I get really into it. I disappear into another world when I sign,” House says, explaining why she and other hearing students are drawn to the class. “It’s like dancing with your hands.”
In 1977, South Plantation was the first Broward public high school to offer American Sign Language, but it wasn’t recognized as a foreign-language alternative until 1990. Now 11 high schools in the area have ASL classes.
Six public high schools offer ASL in Palm Beach County, where enrollment has more than doubled in the past six years. In Miami-Dade, 14 schools offer ASL to about 1,680 students, although only four of those schools cater to hearing pupils.
Nationwide, ASL is also the fastest-growing foreign-language offering at U.S. colleges and universities. Since 1998, 186 new institutions have started offering ASL _ for a total of 234 higher-learning establishments serving 60,000 students, according to a 2002 survey by the Modern Language Association of America.
Jennifer McGonigle-Collins, 31, was exposed to South Plantation High’s program as a student, went on to study the language in college, and now is the school’s only ASL teacher. To meet the high demand for classes, she teaches seven periods straight with no planning break. She’s often on campus from 6:30 a.m. until 5:30 at night and was recently selected as a finalist for the district’s Teacher of the Year.
“I feel like I’m giving back what was given to me,” she says. “To see (students) get to a Level 2 or 3 and want to be an interpreter or a deaf teacher, that is so amazing because what you’ve done in such a short amount of time is change their life.”
Many of McGonigle-Collins’ students admit they initially took ASL because they’ve heard the class was a simple way to satisfy the foreign-language requirements needed to get into many colleges. Although some universities still don’t recognize ASL as a foreign language, the number that do is growing.
“I’m Italian and we always talk with our hands, so I thought it would be easy,” jokes Cassie Rampone, 14.
But in McGonigle-Collins’ class, they quickly learn ASL involves a lot more than memorizing signs. ASL has its own grammar that shuffles word order and omits or “glosses over” certain words such as “and” or “is.” For example, you wouldn’t say, “I’m a junior at South Plantation High,” you’d say, “Junior, where?, South Plantation High.”

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