Sign language classes gain popularity

By Bella McEnroe, '24 Media and Communication major

Professor Josh Matula teaching his Sign Language I Course. (Photo by Bella McEnroe)

By Bella McEnroe, ’24 Media and Communication major

St. John Fisher College is one of the hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States offering American Sign Language classes and some on the campus argue that students should use this to their advantage.

”We’re in one of the biggest deaf communities in the world, Rochester is huge,” Sign Language Professor Josh Matula said. Matula has made it easy to teach ASL while still following the school’s COVID guidelines. The class is socially distanced and students were given two clear masks that they bring to class.  The masks help students learn during the “emotions” unit and allow them to see each other’s facial expressions.

One of the most interesting things to Matula when teaching is, “the amount of acceptance that you start to see from the students. Both for me as a professor but also for ASL as a language.” 

Joy Breeden, the Student Accessibility Services Coordinator at Fisher, noted things that Fisher has done to accommodate students with certain hearing disabilities. “I think it’s important for us to learn to communicate with other people,” Breeden said.

Interacting with others is Matula’s main goal for his class, centering most of class time around group and partner activities. He says, “I have never seen groups of students more engaged in partner work than I do in ASL.”  

“It’s a language that’s with your body, it’s with your hands, it’s a very visual language. It’s totally different from the auditory language that we’re used to learning,” Matula said. Despite this difference in teaching, it still holds just as much value and should be equally considered when deciding whether or not to learn a second language.

When asked about Fisher’s support for students who need certain accommodations Breeden responded, “we would do whatever we needed to make sure that what they need is put in place for them.”

“Going into the medical field, I think it will help me communicate with patients better if I need to instead of having them take the time to write it out. Probably just have a better understanding about what people who are deaf go through,” said Will Edwards, a current student enrolled in Elementary Sign Language I at Fisher. 

Even without going into the medical field, Matula says, “if you’re doing anything with people basically, people are seeing more and more that they wished they took ASL over other languages. They’re interacting more with people who are deaf rather than someone who is an English second language speaker.”

One of Matula’s goals is to get the word around about his class. “I don’t think that there’s a lot of support being generated or knowledge about it that’s pushing people to take it.”

Edwards thinks this might not be because it’s ASL, but “because most of the classes aren’t really advertised, there is not a very easy-to-read course catalog so you can see all the classes.” He had his advisor put him in the class after hearing about it from a friend, which is exactly how Matula wants to spread knowledge of the class.

Although learning a new language can be intimidating at first, Matula encourages kids to take it. “I focus very hard on the first couple of days to joke around and have fun to make people understand that this isn’t like a scary place.” 

2 Comments

  1. Excellent article! It’s great to see a well-written article about the increased number of sign language courses being offered in college. Several higher education programs have been curated to invest in the growing need for us to communicate with each other in various means. Kudos!

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