A language without words


Jennifer Kohl

Soph. Eliyanna Arevalo’s hand movements draw attention from the other members of the classroom,; She is in her own world with her friends, despite the stares, they continue. It’s obvious that they’re communicating but words aren’t escaping their lips. The language was something that they shared, a secret between them, whenever talking wasn’t allowed. The friend closest to Arevalo’s moves her hand’s fingers in quick movements and the group explodes into a chorus of laughter.
Arevalo has been studying the unusual dialect of American Sign Language (ASL) for over two years ; it all started because two people that were special to her heart were hard of hearing. Two of her grandparents had been slowly losing their ability to hear since Arevalo was in eighth grade. It was getting more and more difficult to communicate with them as time progressed. When her grandparents started to lose their hearing they began to learn sign language so communication would be easier. Infused with a desire to be able to communicate with her loved ones again, she started the process of teaching herself ASL, so the lines of transmission between her and her grandparents could open again.
Eliyanna Arevalo’s road to learning sign language started with a TV show. “I began learning it from the show Switched at Birth… So I started studying it a little bit and I actually was studying it off of the show first.” Switched at Birth is a Freeform show that currently in the last season. In the show, two girls get switched at birth and one of them gets sick when she’s young. The sickness causes her to lose her hearing. When the girls finally meet, the other family learns sign language so they can communicate with the daughter that they lost. “Then I was kind of stuck and then I basically installed apps for it and then I started studying off of there, practicing,” Arevalo said. Switched at Birth is a great show, but the signs can be hard to follow. That being said, apps are another a great way of one to learn ASL.
“It’s a 6.5 but it really depends on the person, on how quickly you can memorize it and how quickly you can understand the basics of sign language,” Arevalo said, when describing how hard learning sign language can be, on a one to ten scale. Sign language doesn’t have a separate written language, so while that makes for less work, that doesn’t mean the language is easier to learn. One must have the signs memorized if they were to have an actual conversation with someone that’s deaf. However, that predicament doesn’t render learning sign language to be impossible. “They just got to make sure to read the subtitles if they don’t know what it is. Or they can look it up online and see the way that the hands are in motion of and usually whenever it’s a video of someone signing, their right hand looks like their left in your perspective but you actually have to do it exactly the way that they do it so if they use their right hand, you have to use your right hand for it,” Arevalo said.
With over two years of her life spent learning American Sign Language, Arevalo’s knowledge of the language is extensive, and she’s looking forward to using the language with others. “I want to help people, especially whenever people are hard of hearing or something. I could talk to them regularly and not be able to worry…” Eliyanna said. This young but knowledgeable student has plans to use the signs that she’s permanently added to her memory to help people. Currently, she’s looking for schools with programs in sign language so that she can get certified when the time for her to go to college arrives.