Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Cornell Computer Science/Linguistics Major Mixing ASL with Innovation
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Lucia—a sophomore Computer Science and Linguistics double major at Cornell University.
1. When did you start learning American Sign Language—what inspired you and how did you get started?
My parents used some baby sign language with my sister and I when we were young because my sister can’t talk. Since then, I’ve been interested in accessibility and non-verbal forms of communication, and I decided to join my high school’s American Sign Language club as a freshman. A big component of this club was learning translations of popular songs in ASL, which I thought was a great way to learn vocabulary! I started translating songs on my own and coordinating performances for the club, and I continue to do so in The Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project (CUDAP).
I’m also interested in ASL as a Linguistics major, because signed languages are just as legitimate as spoken languages. Most textbooks and lectures often focus on spoken languages, and only mention signed languages as a footnote.
2. Why do you think it’s important for young adults to learn American Sign Language?
Learning ASL is the best way to be able to interact with the Deaf community! ASL is a beautiful language with a unique history that most people don’t know about, and the first step to solving that problem is learning ASL.
Also, it’s important to make events inclusive and accessible, and in order to do that you need to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing individuals to address their needs.
3. The Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project (CUDAP) just successfully advocated for the implementation of ASL courses to Cornell University’s curriculum. For other aspiring language advocates, what was your first step in accomplishing this? How has your involvement with CUDAP shaped your understanding of the Deaf Community?
CUDAP began advocating for ASL courses at Cornell before I arrived on campus, but the first steps were to gauge student interest and meet with language professors and administrators to discuss the feasibility of getting a class. In those meetings, we learned that there was a lot of support for our cause, but that finding a department to house the program would be difficult since they would have to make room in their budget.
My high school ASL club didn’t teach its members much about the Deaf community, but I’ve learned a lot since joining CUDAP!
We have a list of accessibility issues that we want to address on campus, and before joining CUDAP, I didn’t know that a lot of these problems existed. Last semester, we helped other Cornell students acknowledge these issues by holding a panel discussion on accommodations for the d/Deaf and h/Hard of hearing, and I think the audience members learned a lot.
4. What advice do you have for students who are learning American Sign Language? Are there any practice tips you can share?
Learning ASL is just like learning any other language—you have to practice a lot! For me, learning translations of songs was a fun way to get comfortable with signing and learn a lot of vocabulary.
5. Can you share your favorite experience using ASL with others?
During winter break, I visited the Signing Starbucks near Gallaudet University in D.C. with another CUDAP board member. All of the employees are d/Deaf, and it was a fun experience to order a drink in ASL and see how the space was designed to cater to signers and the Deaf community. I also learned the sign for “frappuccino,” which is an important life skill.
BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite ASL sign?
My favorite sign is “mosquito” because I can’t sign it without laughing—see the second version given on this website!
What’s next for Lucia?
Her ASL journey is far from over:
“I’ve been interested in translating ASL with motion-capture software and machine learning for a few years now, and I hope to work on it more in the future. Tools like Google Translate exist for other languages, but currently the only way to translate ASL is with a human interpreter, who are in high demand.”
Interested in exploring language scholarships, university programs, or student testimonials? Visit our Lead with ASL page to learn more. And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!