American Sign Language and Interpreting Program seeks to connect with deaf community
- American Sign Language and Interpreting Program began in 2012 and has graduated two classes and inducted students into the National American Sign Language Honor Society.
- Program seeks to connect with the hearing impaired and share the Gospel with them.
Language is the deepest and most fundamental form of communication between human beings.
For sophomore Julie Kasten, this connection through language is why she is passionate about her major of American Sign Language and Interpreting, a growing degree program at Liberty University.
“I just fell in love with the culture and the language and wanted to do something with that,” Kasten said. “I knew I wanted to be a nationally certified interpreter one day. The desire just came naturally to me.”
Kasten said one of the reasons that she is passionate about American Sign Language and Interpreting is that her grandfather learned ASL.
“My grandfather worked at a post office and had a heart for people with special needs and other groups of people who have been oppressed. He learned American Sign Language to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing at the post office,” Kasten said. “Even though my grandfather passed away before I was born, I feel like knowing sign language is a way to connect with him and be a part of his life.”
Kasten also said she has a heart for reaching the deaf people group with the Gospel.
The International Mission Board reports on their website that most of the 35 million people who claim sign language as their first language have never seen Jesus’ name signed in their own language.
“Deaf people are one of the most unreached people groups, and I would love to serve them by being in a deaf church one day,” Kasten said.
Professor Nicole Thorn, director of the American Sign Language and Interpreting Program at Liberty, said that the degree program officially started in 2012 at Liberty and has since had two graduating classes.
Liberty inducted 21 students into their chapter of the National American Sign Language Honor Society for the first time in a ceremony Thursday, Oct. 12.
Thorn said the timing and the circumstances of the beginning of the program indicate that God’s hand was clearly in everything.
“God decided that the program needed to be here,” Thorn said. “This wasn’t something that I had ever set out to do in a million years, but God knitted the program together and each faculty member has an amazing God story as to why they ended up here and each one’s presence here fits a specific need in the program.”
Thorn said that in 2012 Registering Interpreters for the Deaf, or RID, mandated that in order to sit for the test to become a nationally certified interpreter, you have to have a bachelor’s degree. This was the same year that the degree program was established at Liberty.
“We couldn’t have predicted that, and we didn’t know that was going to happen when starting the planning to start the program,” Thorn said. “That is just the way God planned it out.”
By completing the degree program at Liberty, students will be qualified to interpret in Virginia and will have completed an internship related to interpreting before graduation.
Thorn said that students who go through the program not only learn American Sign Language, but are trained in interpreting as well.
“The major has two components to it that almost make it like a double major: there is first the language learning component that the students learn with classes such as ASL 101, and then there is the interpreting skill set that they learn after they learn the language,” Thorn said. “Anyone can learn sign language but not everyone can be an interpreter. I think the hardest part is putting it all together. There is a lot to learn in four years of school, but I think our students have done great with the program.”
Kasten said that she was a little intimated about learning a completely new language, but the professors created an easy and comfortable environment for learning.
“It was intimidating walking into a class where we were not allowed to speak and could only use sign language,” Kasten said. “We all sit in a semi-circle where the professor and the students can see each other signing with no spoken English allowed. It is challenging, but the professors are very understanding and loving to us.”
Thorn said the faculty tries to teach the students more than just the practical skills necessary for both American Sign Language and Interpreting.
“A misconception about ASL is that the interpreting process is just taking a word from one language and making a sign of it in a different language,” Thorn said. “But we teach our students that there is also culture bridging that takes place between deaf and hearing communities.”
Thorn went on to describe the mission of ASL to ultimately provide a connection between people.
“I believe that God hard-wired us for language so that we can connect with other people,” Thorn said. “We are not designed to be isolated, and one of the ways that we connect with people is through communication. Even though they are learning how to communicate between languages, they are really learning how to connect people.”