A look at MTSU’s first-ever American Sign Language class

Photo by Enrique Geronimo / MTSU Sidelines

Story by Tayla Courage / Contributing Writer 

An American Sign Language course, the first ever offered on Middle Tennessee State University’s campus, is winding down with 20 students. In fact, it’s been so popular that another session was scheduled to begin after students return from fall break.

When the class was opened for registration on Aug. 13 via an email to students and faculty, organizers were pleasantly surprised when all the class slots were filled in two days.

“Everybody wanted it, and I think there’s like 40 people on the waiting list,” said Shelley Thomas, the founder and director of the Center for Accelerated Language Acquisition, a nonprofit language institution that focuses on teaching new languages “quickly and fun” through song, games and physical activities. Thomas is also a professor in MTSU’s Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

The second session began Oct. 17 and continues meeting weekly until Nov. 21.

The course meets on Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Honors College. The class is led by Haley Jensen, a CALA instructor, who got her start last year teaching sign language to students from her home.

Jensen explained that her typical method for teaching ASL spans an entire school year, but the decision to teach the classes in an abbreviated format allows for an introduction to the language that isn’t “too much for people to commit to.”

Those enrolled will learn the ASL alphabet and number signs along with several other “high-frequency” words and phrases, including body parts, colors and greetings that will allow students to engage in basic communication.

“I would say this is so much easier than learning a foreign language because you don’t have the reading, the writing or the listening. You just have the seeing,” said Thomas.

Jensen emphasized the level of concentration that is required to receive instructions while learning a highly visual language like ASL.

“I think the main difficulty is having to stay focused. I mean people, you know, naturally look down at what they’re doing or whatever, and then they’ve missed like half of what I’ve done,” Jensen said.

She added that the language forces learners to become more aware of facial expressions and emotions because of the lack of vocal inflection that the hearing would normally rely upon.

“You can do the exact same signs, but your face tells you whether it is a statement, a question or exclamation,” she said.

Games are used to ensure that students are actively engaged with the new signs being taught, and the feedback on previous classes that students submit at the beginning of each class suggests they are an enjoyable way to learn and retain new vocabulary.

“Great lesson! Loved the hangman game and chocolate,” one student wrote, “This is definitely the funnest way to learn a language.”

Thomas acknowledged that the majority enrolled in the class doesn’t have regular interactions with the deaf or hard of hearing community, but they’re highly motivated to learn the language.

There is a fee charged for the program. MTSU students pay $95, faculty and staff pay $110 and the general public is charged $125.

More information can be found at http://www.mtsu.edu/cala/classes.php.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Sydney Wagner, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more updates, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Life.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    November 16, 2018

    I think it’s amazing that this is an actual course now. Many of my friends had talked about wanting to learn it, and a few were in a club that did. Even in my high school, there was an after-school club that learned it. It warms my heart to see that it has such a great reaction and amount of people signing up for it. A class on campus sounds convenient and if students are wanting to work with people with disabilities, this class would surely help them get a head start of learning how to communicate with more people in that area. There at least one million deaf people in America, so these classes will better develop awareness and visibility of the deaf community. Other than that, using another language has proven to increase your brain size and to better your memory. There’s an endless list of reasons this can be amazing and improve each student’s experiences. The article talks about the class being interactive and fun, but it doesn’t go into any other detail. It would be interesting to read more about the activities done, even if it was just one example. I’m glad to see it’s starting off well though.

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