Sign Language

Immersion in the ASL Classroom, Part 2

Immersion in the ASL Classroom, Part 2

Immersion: The #1 Tool for ASL Educators

Like teachers of any subject, great ASL teachers are always looking for ways to improve their instruction. Some implement new technology, while others flip the classroom. But finding the right way to improve your class can be difficult—there are a lot of tips and tricks out there for teaching ASL.

As an ASL educator at Brigham Young University and member of the GoReact ASL team, I recently shared my #1 tip for teaching ASL in a blog post.

From Part 1 of this series: “Every semester, the first week of classes always provides me a scenic view of unblinking red eyes staring at me. Those red-eyed students are afraid to miss anything, so their eyes are glued on me, hawking down every sign I make. I have learned through experience that it is always better to not use my voice when I teach ASL. And though the red-eyes might tell me otherwise, I know that after a few weeks, those eyes will start adjusting and will know when to look and when to take a break.”

Immersion is difficult in the beginning but worth it. I compare learning ASL to working out a muscle—with consistent effort, the muscle grows and becomes toned.

In 2010, the America Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages approved a short position paper regarding the use of the target language in the classroom. (ASLTA reposted the paper here.) The paper suggests that students develop language better when they are provided with “significant levels of meaningful communication and interactive feedback in the target language.”

But how do you communicate the meaning of a sign in ASL when students aren’t fluent in ASL? It seems so easy to just say “pencil” when your students don’t understand the sign.

It might be easier, but it’s also less effective. Using English to teach ASL changes a student’s learning perspective from one of language acquisition to one of translation—rather than learning to use ASL as a complete and unique language, students begin to use ASL more like signed English.

Through my experience as an educator, I’ve learned that ASL instruction must be by immersion, and by using only ASL. The ACTFL position paper “recommends that language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction.”

Instead of saying the English equivalent or writing it on the board, try showing a picture of what you mean. Those kinds of visual examples have improved my students’ ability to remember the sign.

The ACTFL position paper provides eight other tips for increasing comprehension while maximizing the use of ASL in the classroom.

A few of those tips are:

  • “Make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support.”
  • “Elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time.”
  • “Encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language.”
  • “Teach students strategies for requesting clarification and assistance.”

As you prepare your next class, consider how you approach teaching your ASL courses. If you use English, see how your class changes as you promote more ASL immersion. If you already sign everything in your class, consider ways to make your immersive classroom more interactive.