The official blog of Safari Bill (Dr. William Vicars)-- Lexicographer, protologism developer, enchiridion author, ASL evangelist, and immersion excursion guide.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The "right" way to learn ASL?

In a message dated 12/6/2008 1:10:46 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, writes:
Hello Dr.Bill~is there any danger of 'hard-wiring' my brain if using
Contact Signing/Simulaneous Communiciation, that this would prevent me
from acquiring proper ASL usage and syntax recognition? Thank
you~Michelle Kern~A very impressed ASL student from central Minnesota~

No. There is absolutely no danger of hard-wiring your brain via SimCom.
We are at least 20 years away technologically before we can hardwire people's brains and even then it will be done via surgery -- not SimCom.
This is an "old" argument: Will learning one thing interfere with learning another thing.
To answer it I'd need to know things like: How old are you? How smart are you? How rigid is your thinking? When did you learn the first thing? How many things do you "know?"
I once read some research that indicated if a Hearing person were to learn ASL first and Signed English later that he/she would be more successful in acquiring "both" skill sets.
Yada yada, -- they used to say "eggs" were bad for you and now they say a couple eggs in the morning will help you lose weight and stay healthy.
Research is only as good as the researcher, the methods, and the sample size.
If you want to acquire proper ASL usage and syntax recognition then you've got to be EXPOSED to proper ASL usage and syntax recognition. Your neural networks are similar to a footpath.
If you've got two paths in your brain and one is narrow and overgrown with weeds while the other path is wide, comfortable, well-used, and accessible -- your brain will tend to use the wide, comfortable, accessible path.
If you invest the time and effort to expand the smaller neural network path in your brain so that is just as wide, comfortable, well-used, and accessible as the other path then your thoughts will be able to go down either path with ease.
Your question has to do with the idea of "which path should I build first?" If I build one path will it make it harder to build the second path?
To answer those questions you need to understand "horizontal skill transference." Certain skills can be transferred to other activities. If you become good at skateboarding you will probably pick up surfing much faster than you would if you never learned to skateboard.
Similarly, if you learn a bunch of ASL vocabulary while using SimCom it is conceivable that you would be able to transfer the knowledge of those signs to help you learn ASL more quickly. To the extent that your SimCom neural network is "larger and more convenient" than your ASL processing network you will tend to "slip" back into SimCom. So there are positives and negatives and so there is not a "yes" or "no" answer to your question.
If you are young and you learn one language and then get old it is harder to learn another language because your network is more solidified.
If you are intelligent and learn new things easily then it will be easier to pick up a second sign language or signing system.
But what it really comes down to is that if some idiot teacher somewhere tells a student "no," "stop that" and "you are doing it wrong" -- sure enough the student will "stop" doing it wrong. In fact, the student will often "stop" doing it altogether. He or she will stop learning sign language and leave the field. We will have lost a potential interpreter or advocate because some "expert" heard or read some silly statement from some other "expert" and felt the need to squash a student's passion into a little box.
Ah yes, that is the real issue: Passion.
If you are passionate about SimCom and you are excited about it then GO FOR IT. Have a ball and do good with your skills. Then to the extent that you are passionate about ASL go for that too!!! Because a passionate person doing something at 50% efficiency will beat a boxed person's "right way" every time.
The person with passion doesn't quit. They persist until they succeed. They reach their destination using the small path overgrown with weeds because they chose the path. It is their path. They love the path with its views, smells, ups, downs, and turns. And so what if it took them longer to get to the destination? The journey is the thing.
Dr. Bill