The University’s American Sign Language Program offers a five-semester sequence in ASL, from the beginning through the conversational level. Students who successfully complete the fourth semester class, ASL 2020, can use it to satisfy the College’s foreign language requirement. We teach our language classes with a “voice-off” immersion philosophy; signs and gestures are used to communicate. With weekly signing lunches, monthly Charlottesville sign suppers, and a nationally known lecture series that brings scholars, activists, and performers from around the country to U.Va., students have regular opportunities to sign and participate in the community outside of the classroom.
The program is small, close, and rigorous. Unfortunately, due to our limited class sizes, we can only accept a portion of students interested in learning ASL.
We do not currently offer a minor or major. However, each semester we usually offer one or more advanced classes in the history of the American Deaf community, psychology and Deaf people, Deaf people and the law, or similar topics. These classes are often taught in English (with an interpreter if necessary) and cross listed with another appropriate department to reach the most students. Finally, we hope the study of ASL will encourage students to learn about other sign languages and Deaf people abroad.
ASL is the primary language of many Deaf people in the United States and parts of Canada. Linguists recognize ASL as a complex, fully-developed human language, one of over 100 naturally occurring sign languages in the world.
ASL lies at the heart of a unique culture. Deaf people who sign form a close community with distinct social norms, values, and traditions. They have a body of literature, including ASL poetry, stories, folklore, and plays, many of which are now available on video. Deaf people also have a compelling history, a strong visual art tradition, and organizations of their own, such as the National Association of the Deaf.
Students majoring in a variety of fields often find that ASL deepens and enriches their understanding of their own disciplines. By studying ASL and Deaf people, they obtain new perspectives on such basic concepts as language, civil rights, disability, and culture.
In addition, learning ASL has direct practical benefits for students who are themselves deaf or hard of hearing, who have a Deaf relative or friend, or who will work with Deaf people in the future. ASL is not an easy language to learn, but many students find it fun and rewarding to study a language that is in a different modality than spoken languages (visual/gestural rather than aural/oral).