New American Sign Language course at Iowa State University in high demand

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World Languages and Cultures lecturer Jonathan Webb, right, demonstrates American Sign Language to ISU junior Zachary Gourley before class begins.

AMES, Iowa – A new language course has been added to the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University and the class shows no "signs" of slowing down.

The Introduction to American Sign Language (ASL) course was offered to Iowa State students for the first time in fall 2012.  Although the course was available for registration only four days before the semester began, the 20 available openings filled almost immediately.

The Department of World Languages and Cultures is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University.

Jonathan Webb, the World Languages and Cultures lecturer who teaches the course, said there was student demand for the program.

"We’ve had a lot of people who were not able to access American Sign Language, and a lot of times they are not able to access it fluently in a way that would benefit the Deaf Community," said Webb.

"Anytime we have individuals who are willing to learn a language, just as anyone is willing to learn Spanish or Chinese, that opens up doors for them, and it also opens up doors for that community."

The high demand for the class stems from students having a desire to discover something new and different, according to Webb. He also believes that students enjoy the novelty of using visual articulators such as hand shape, location and movement in order to communicate a meaning.

The course covers the basics of ASL, including vocabulary, grammar and a study of the language’s history. Students began signing during the second week of class. The first week consisted of different exercises and games that allowed students to become familiar with communicating non-verbally and visually.

"Students tend to take signs and relate them to an English grammatical structure," said Webb. "The problem is that English is an auditory, grammatically linear, low-context language, while ASL is a visual, grammatically spatial, high-context language. We attempt to overcome this tendency by spending the first week getting English out of the mindset."

Zachary Gourley, a junior in journalism, enrolled in the course to gain a new experience.

"I wanted to learn something outside the box," said Gourley. "The class has made me think differently about language. When I started ASL, I assumed it was the English language translated into sign, but it is its own language, with its own rules of grammar and syntax."

Gourley also plans to study the language during spring semester in the ASL II course, where students will continue learning about expressive and receptive skills, grammar and vocabulary. -30-

About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University

Contacts: Jonathan Webb, World Languages and Cultures, (515) 294-4046 ( Paige Berg, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461, ( Steve Jones, Liberal Arts & Sciences Communication, (515) 294-0461, (