Who Are the New Signers?

Welcome to Gallaudet University, the place for everyone to feel at home! The majority of the students choose to attend Gallaudet University because it provides the education that best fits them. Also, the majority of the students from Gallaudet University grew up attending schools for the deaf, and many are hard-of-hearing. Have you ever came across someone struggling to understand ASL? Well, this article is just for you!

As a new signer personally, coming to Gallaudet was a whole new world for me. I had never experienced so much of a change, specifically the environment. I would go walking around campus, noticing that everyone is only signing, not voicing, challenging what I was used to–hearing mumbled voices and random sounds everywhere. This was a real game changer, coming to Gallaudet. When I first came, I was always curious about what everyone would be talking about, piqued by the blurring motions of signing hands, or I was always desperately trying to understand what someone was trying to say to me. This was a real struggle for me in the beginning of my journey here at Gallaudet. I felt as I was in a rush to learn and become fluent in a language I have never had the opportunity to comprehend before. But I also felt determined to learn the language as quickly as I can, so I could communicate with the Deaf community and new potential friends. I wanted to be involved.

Freshman year at Gallaudet certainly wasn’t the easiest which I had expected before I enrolled at Gallaudet University. Growing up at a mainstream school, I would always miss what the teacher was saying or what was happening in class. At Gallaudet, I would experience the same thing, something I was already used to because this was my life as a mainstreamed student–missing out.  When it came to communicating with friends, I would continue to miss the majority of what was happening in the conversation. I wanted to ask for clarification so I could understand what was being signed to me, but the little voice in the back of my head was afraid. I was afraid of being judged because of being unable to keep up, over and over again. These are just a few challenges I experienced and faced as a new signer.

Nonetheless, I had friends who were native signers help me out as much as they could when it came to communication. Understanding lectures and being able to do homework was another struggle as everything was taught in sign. Talk about tired eyes galore! These friends helped me understand the lectures, homework involving ASL videos, and understanding people, and this required a lot of patience from them. I can’t even begin to thank some of the people at Gallaudet enough for their patience with me in helping me improve my ASL, improving my communication.

You are probably thinking ‘How do I interact with a new signer?’ Here is what I wish some people knew when interacting with me when I was a newbie at signing: acknowledgment is the key. It is always important to first acknowledge that the new signer is no different from you, me, your friends, simply put, all of us.  When someone is new to signing and the deaf culture that comes with signing, it is always important to be patient.. Patience is the key to making new signers feel welcome to Gallaudet University, and with patience, this helps them learn how to be involved, learn sign, and how to dive into deaf culture. New signers feel a lot more motivated to learn ASL when encouraged to learn by those who are fluent in ASL. It makes them want to learn to be able to have a conversation and interact with everyone that signs, regardless of signing competence. With patience, interacting with potential friends allow these new signers to feel comfortable in a new and overwhelming community which they most likely never experienced before. Imagine being in a new place, learning a new language, not being able to understand completely, and feeling a huge shock to what you know about life.

Indeed, communicating with a new signer is tough, frustrating even. Yes, I know, the pace of the conversation will be slow, and it will become exasperating at times causing you look at the time every two seconds.  BUT, please, be patient. It might make the difference in the world for this person. Don’t forget to engage in the conversation, slowly fingerspell words, sign words clearly, repeat signs they do not know. Pay attention to the new signer’s expression as this will tell you if they recognize the signs you are signing or if they are simply not understanding you. If this is the case, SLOW DOWN AND REPEAT. When my friends, who were native signers, used non-manual markers like lip movements and expressions, I understood what was being signed to me a lot better. I strongly suggest you use your expressions to your benefit! One more thing I need to mention is CORRECT THE SIGNER when they do not sign the word correctly. Do not be afraid because this correction helps them, and prevents future embarrassment and defeat.

There are so many ways to approach a new signer to make them feel welcomed here at Gallaudet. Building a bond and friendships has always been cherished and encouraged here at Gallaudet University, but oftentimes, new signers are forgotten in these friendships simply because of signing skills. New signers want to create memories just like you and I, but if they are being ignored or pushed aside, memories are thwarted. Maybe new signers will give you a perspective you never thought about before. Try practicing ASL with them, inviting them out to coffee, tutoring the new signer in ASL, and the possibilities are endless. Nothing will ever feel better than knowing that your positive actions like a simple ‘Hello, how are you?’ in ASL, has had an impact on someone else. Treat the new signers the way you would want to be treated in a new culture. New signers come to Gallaudet for accessibility just like you, so take the first step, and welcome the new signers to Gallaudet. Because I was welcomed my first year as a new signer, I am now semi-fluent in ASL, loving Gallaudet, and ambitious to tackle my goals in life. Gallaudet University is the place for everyone to be comfortable with who they are and it should be a place like home for EVERYONE.

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