American Sign Language as foreign language credit

When most students think about foreign language courses, they think about Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and maybe even Mandarin. What few students here at Georgia State know however, is that American Sign Language (ASL) courses can also be taken to fulfill foreign language credit.

Since Spring semester 2013, ASL courses have been available for students as a foreign language credit – probably the best-kept secret on campus since its inception.

This semester, two courses and a total of seven sections are offered at Georgia State to teach students ASL at the undergraduate level. These classes – known as Beginning American Sign Language I & II (EXC 1001 & 1002) – will also be offered in the upcoming semester, along with an intermediate course (EXC 2001).

Dr. Susan Easterbrooks and her staff at the College of Education have been working on making this possible ever since 2003. It wasn’t until 2011 that members of the college were able to begin the process of submitting a proposal to the state Board of Regents to accept ASL as a foreign language for Area C credits. Finally, in July 2012, the proposal was approved, and thus the classes were created for spring 2013.

Why did it take so long for American Sign Language to be offered as a foreign credit?

“There’s been a lot of resistance to ASL because people have the misconception that it’s not a verified, bona fide language, when in fact it is,” Easterbrooks said.

“It meets all the criteria that one expects of a language. It’s passed down from generation to generation. It has its own grammar and its own idiomatic expressions. And, in fact, worldwide sign language is just like spoken language. It’s different in each country you go to, so just because you know sign here doesn’t mean you know it in France or any other place.”

Each course on the learning track teaches the art of signing at increasing levels of difficulty and immersion, similar to other foreign language classes.

Dr. Judith Emerson, one of the handful of instructors teaching the ASL courses, described the course as a learning environment nearly identical to that of any other foreign language course.

“Well you have to start with vocabulary to give them a base,” Emerson said, “…lots of vocabulary, like with any language. And at this point in the class, by the midterm, I can pretty much sign to my students without speaking.”

Easterbrooks added on to Emerson’s comments, saying that by the third course in the sequence, students do not even use English to communicate with their instructor. Rather, they use the language they have been studying for the two semesters prior. This is the case in most foreign language courses–students are expected to have enough knowledge of the language to communicate without almost any use of written/spoken English.

“It’s been a long time and a lot of paperwork,” Easterbrooks said, “and now it’s time to get the word out to our students and advisors about these classes.”