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What I Learned From Taking a Sign Language Class

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Learning sign language has always been a goal of mine, but it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I had the opportunity to learn sign through a communications and sciences disorder class. Being a political science and economics major, I was one of the few people in the class who wasn’t a CS&D major, but I was still able to learn skills that I will be able to use far beyond the language.

I learned how to truly focus on my conversations with people. I often multi-task when speaking in conversation with others, but learning sign language has made me a more attentive conversationalist. Signing with others takes intense concentration, but it has helped make my conversations meaningful. Giving my full attention to those that I am listening to has allowed me to form stronger connections and show to those speaking/signing that I am listening to what they are telling me. 

I learned that it’s okay to not know everything. I am still a beginner in a complex language, so many signs are lost in translation. However, I learned that I can still make sense of things even if I am only able to pick up a few signs in the sentence. I am a perfectionist by heart, so this was very difficult for me to do at first. Over time though, I learned to let go of what I didn’t know or missed and focus on what I did know.

I learned how to ask for help. See above! There are many things that I don’t know the sign for, and sometimes I feel stupid for forgetting a basic word. When that happens I remind myself that it’s okay to forget and to ask others for help. Learning sign language has allowed me to form connections and friendships with those around me because we are a learning community! We practice, study, and ask each other questions to make ourselves better signers. Learning how to ask for help has allowed me to learn more signs and make lifelong friendships.

I learned how to become more inclusive. I’ve been asked why I am not taking Spanish or Chinese or another language that a large percentage of the world speaks, but learning sign language is a way for me to communicate with a population that is less represented in society. The World Health Organization estimates that only about 5% of the world’s population has hearing loss while about 20% of the world’s population speaks Chinese as their first native language. While the deaf community is a smaller group than those who communicate in various other languages, every person deserves to be heard. Choosing to learn a language is a way to connect with people of different backgrounds and has made me a more inclusive individual.           Learning a language is definitely a challenge, but there are so many rewarding aspects! I have learned how to communicate basic conversations in sign language, but I also was able to gain an understanding of how to accept myself and appreciate others. While learning sign language has been a difficult task, I learned more in the process than I thought I ever would!  

Rachel Hietpas

Wisconsin '20

Rachel is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is double majoring in political science and economics, and hopes to attend law school after her bachelors degree. Her passions include reading, drinking coffee, and dog-watching!
I am a senior at the greatest university— the University of Wisconsin. I am in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, double tracking in reporting and strategic communications and earning a certificate in and Digital Studies. I am a lover of dance, hiking, writing for Her Campus, the Badgers and strawberry acais. I am also a president of Her Campus Wisconsin.