Normally, I would be announcing which language fell off my list languages in this post. Typically I not only announce which language came off, but why it was even on my list of languages to learn in the first place. Over the last few months, the reasons became more and more personal, until there was only two left: ASL and Samoan.
This post, since it is the last post of these before I announce the final language, I decided to dedicate to just the why’s. I am going to write about why these two languages are the most personal to me to learn and have a strong command of. Both are very important to me, as you will see, and choosing between the two was really difficult.
I, like many toddlers who watched sesame street, was aware of Sign language at an early age. Linda the Librarian helped many people be aware of the Deaf people and that isn’t something to be ashamed of. In Elementary school, for some sort of languages of the world thing, I learned finger spelling in American Sign Language (which I soon forgot). Then, again, I was made aware of it again due to the popularity of the ASL teacher in my high school being a popular teacher. But to be honest, it wasn’t until I went on my mission to Thailand that I really learned to appreciate ASL and the Deaf Community.
For the last 6 month of my missions, I was assigned to the Pitsanulok province of Thailand. Near by, was a local deaf school and families with deaf members of the family tend to grow up near the closest deaf school. While inviting people on the street to hear more about my church, a person became very excited to talk to us, but it became clear very quickly, that she was Deaf. Regrettably, my first instinct was to think, “Too bad we can’t talk to each other.” Luckily, she really wanted to communicate with us and started writing things down on a piece of paper.
I quickly learned her name was Bu and she was a christian (which are rare in Thailand). She asked us to come over talk to her more about our church. Over the next month, we regularly went to the her house and we talked. It was mostly in written form at first, but slowly I learned to signs in Thai Sign language and got a hold of a dictionary as well. By the end of 4 weeks, I was conversational in Thai sign language and I had been accepted into a new world of I didn’t know existed.
I learned that Deaf (notice the Capital “D”) is not considered a disability to this community, just like skin color is not a disability to any other community. Deaf is a culture with its own language, traditions, norms, and taboos. And funny thing is that very few understand this. Many refer to Deaf people as “hearing impaired” or “hard of hearing.” Many also assume that American Sign Language is just a visual representation of English. Both are not true, and a whole community grows up in the same city and neighborhoods as us, but not always in the same community.
This is why I want to learn ASL. I want to bridge that gap from my world to theirs. This culture isn’t far away and “exotic.” It’s right here in my back yard. I want to be apart of the community around the corner. I miss my Deaf friends from Thailand and I want to make many more here in America.
Samoan, just like ASL, is personal to me for a different reason. My wife is from New Zealand, but my Father in Law is from Samoan. In fact, he is the son of a chief and could return to Samoa and claim his title if he chose to. This means that my wife is half Samoan and my children are all one-quarter Samoan.
I still remember when my wife and I first got married. We were in New Zealand and at a family event at her Auntie and Uncles house. The whole family was there and they had heaps of traditional Samoan food. Many of us went in the house, but all the Aunties and Uncles stayed outside to talk. After being bored with the “younger crowd,” I went outside to hang out with the Adults. Unfortunately, since all the “kids” were inside, they were speaking in Samoan. I went back inside, realizing I was not going to break into that conversation very well.
Being apart of conversations is only a small part of it though. My kids, as I have already mentioned, are all one-quarter Samoan. I don’t want that to be lost to them. I want them to have a bit of an understanding of what that means. I want them to be exposed to and love the Samoan culture.
It’s not 2013 yet and It is now a sprint to the finish line. One more month to become as fluent as possible in Spanish. In the mean time, there isn’t any poll for the month of December, but feel free to make your best guesses on which language you think I have chosen, now that you now MY reasons for wanting to learn them.