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Ask Away: 5 Questions for an International Student New to ASL


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Jasmine—an international student and Physics major at Cornell University. 

"Ask Away: 5 Questions" banner with portrait of Jasmine in cap and gown

1. When did you start learning American Sign Language (ASL)—what inspired you and how did you get started?

I have only been studying ASL since last fall during club time, but this semester Cornell University is going to provide ASL curriculum on campus which I am super excited about.

Part of the reason why I started to learn ASL is that I think ASL is an extremely beautiful and unique language expressed through hands and facial expression.

Also as an international student, sometimes I find it hard to verbally articulate myself in a different language. Such an experience makes me wonder about the feeling of being a hard-of-hearing person and motivates me to learn ASL for communication and to better understand such an interesting community.

2.Why do you think it’s important for young adults to learn ASL?

I believe it is important for young adults to learn ASL, because learning a new language is often the first step to get to know about a community and their culture.

Through communication, we are no longer isolated within our own world, which can not only broaden our mind but also urge us to start caring about people, who are—though sometimes missing in our confined social group—definitely equally important in this world.

3. How has your involvement with Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project (CUDAP) shaped your—and/or others—understanding of the Deaf community? 

I just joined the club last year. My involvement with CUDAP really broadens my mind and my knowledge about the Deaf community. While I knew some trivial facts about this community, I was not aware of any elements of Deaf culture or the diversity characterizing it before attending Cornell.

It is only after entering CUDAP that the image of the Deaf community started to become more vivid and rich to my eyes, instead of a plain name or a homogeneous identity.

The more history and culture I get to know, the more I realize that deafness is only a difference, which under no circumstances would diminish one’s experience in life.

4.What do you enjoy most about being a part of CUDAP?

The part of CUDAP I enjoy most is the Sign Choir activity, in which we learn how to sign a song in ASL. During Sign Choir, we also learn useful phrases and vocabulary. It is really fun to sign a song in ASL, because ASL is such a physical language that I often feel more emotions conveyed when I sign.

5.What advice do you have for other students who are learning ASL? Are there any practice tips you can share?  

For students who are learning ASL, I would suggest that it is really important to remember that ASL is its own language with its unique grammar structure. The first step of learning a language is to respect it as an independent entity.

To practice ASL, students can always try to sign with each other, even outside of class, to achieve better fluency. For me, I like to watch online ASL lessons on taught by Bill Vicars.

BONUS QUESTION: Can you share your favorite experience using ASL with others?

My favorite ASL experience is signing now that I’ve learnt some ASL finger fumblers. It amazes me how some people can sign similar signs in sequence with extremely fast speed.

It also makes me realize that ASL is truly an independent language, and there is so much diversity in it.

What’s Next: Does ASL play a role in your future?

“ASL has really enriched me as a person. Despite not having hard-of-hearing friends right now, learning ASL gives me the possibility to meet and communicate with them in the future, and to build connections with an amazing community which I would otherwise walk by.”

Inspired by Jasmine and her fellow members of CUDAP (we sure are!)? Visit our Lead with ASL page to explore language scholarships, university programs, student testimonials, and more.

And, as always, don’t forget to share your language learning story @LeadWLanguages on social media!