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    I Tried To Learn American Sign Language In 60 Days For My Son

    Turns out you CAN teach an old mom new tricks.

    Hi. I'm Ali and this is my son, Rafael.

    Ali Velez

    When Rafael was six weeks old, we discovered that he has Profound Unilateral Hearing Loss. He is completely deaf in his right ear and has average/normal hearing in his left ear.

    Ali Velez

    This left us with a lot of question marks. Through online communities I've found via Parent Links, I've talked to parents of unilateral kids all over the country and their experiences vary so greatly. Some kids with one hearing ear do absolutely fine with audial and verbal communication, some rely on American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary form of communication, and some fall somewhere in between.

    Rafael is just over a year old now, and is quite verbal. Even though he can repeat words and sounds — and loves music — it's important to me to give him access to ASL at an early age.

    BuzzFeed Video / Via

    I want my son to be able to have a connection with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. For me, it's as relevant to his culture as his latino roots. I also understand that a lot of kids with unilateral loss suffer from listening fatigue, especially after working so hard to listen all day at school. I want him to be able to have a way of communicating with me, even when he needs some quiet space.

    So, I decided to try to learn as much ASL as I could in 60 days.

    Ali Velez

    Now, I'm not hopelessly naive. I know that ASL is it's own rich, complex language, and that, like any language, it would be impossible to become fluent in 60 days. I wanted to use the time to get as much of a base knowledge as I could to build the foundation for fluency and to begin using signs with my son.

    I started by taking online lessons. I studied and practiced for at least an hour every day.

    Sometimes it was difficult to keep up that commitment with a full-time job and a baby at home, but I really tried to make time every day.

    The online lessons helped me begin to build my vocabulary, but since ASL is such an interactive and interpretive language, I really wanted to work with a tutor, to get that one-on-one language immersion. And that's when I found Loni!

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    Working with Loni that first day, I was really excited, but also nervous! I didn't know very much ASL at that point, and Loni is deaf — but we were still able to communicate. On that first day only, we used paper and pen for some quick, easy communication. After that, if I didn't know how to say something, I would finger spell it and Loni would teach me the sign.

    On occasion, Loni did write out some lessons for me — not as a shortcut to communication, but to introduce me to the difference between spoken/written English and "ASL gloss," a way of writing out the syntax of ASL.

    Ali Velez

    Although I found the use of flash cards and online videos to be really useful, I can't stress enough how helpful it was working face-to-face with a tutor.

    Ali Velez

    Can we stop for a second to acknowledge how cute my dog, Luna is?

    I felt very grateful for the opportunity to have that face-to-face connection and true immersion into the language and Deaf culture. My grammar and expressions were improving and I was finding myself having actual conversations with Loni!

    BuzzFeed Video

    There were definitely times I got frustrated and overwhelmed. But then I would see my son do the sign for "more" and it just kept fueling me forward.

    Ali Velez / BuzzFeed / Via

    I've gotten to a point where I find myself practicing even when I don't realize I'm doing it — like fingerspelling any time I hear a name in a movie. And I'm also consciously finding ways to use signs every day.

    Ali Velez / BuzzFeed

    Over the course of the two months I learned a lot.

    BuzzFeed Video / Via

    While I'm not fluent, learning and practicing every day for 60 days really helped me build a strong vocabulary of signs. I've also started to gain a basic understanding of the grammar and sentence structure of speaking ASL vs. spoken English. I've learned how to effectively teach my son some signs that have made our communication at his young age so joyful! And working with Loni, my awareness of Deaf culture and history has been raised and broadened. I look forward to immersing myself into the language and community a bit more and becoming more confident in my signing.

    Even though I know I have a very long way to go to become fluent, it's important to me and I'm so excited to keep going!

    Ali Velez / BuzzFeed

    Rafael now has a vocabulary of about eight signs (about the same number as his vocabulary of spoken words), and I'm continuing my lessons with Loni.

    You can watch my whole journey (so far) below!

    View this video on YouTube

    If you're looking to learn ASL, here are a couple free online resources:


    ASL Nook

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