Language-Learning Lessons In learning sign language, an SLP comes face-to-face with the struggles of her middle school students. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   November 01, 2016
Language-Learning Lessons
Author Notes
  • Elizabeth Bellis, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician with Bergen County Special Services at Union Street School for the Deaf in Hackensack, New Jersey. A certified Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Auditory-Verbal Educator (LSLS Cert AVEd), she works with students in preschool through high school in a total communication environment. She completed the interpreter training program at Union County College and volunteers as an interpreter in the community. ejbellis@hotmail.com
    Elizabeth Bellis, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician with Bergen County Special Services at Union Street School for the Deaf in Hackensack, New Jersey. A certified Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Auditory-Verbal Educator (LSLS Cert AVEd), she works with students in preschool through high school in a total communication environment. She completed the interpreter training program at Union County College and volunteers as an interpreter in the community. ejbellis@hotmail.com×
Article Information
Development / Audiologic / Aural Rehabilitation / Augmentative & Alternative Communication / School-Based Settings / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   November 01, 2016
Language-Learning Lessons
The ASHA Leader, November 2016, Vol. 21, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21112016.88
The ASHA Leader, November 2016, Vol. 21, 88. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21112016.88
After several years as a speech-language pathologist, I decided to take on a new challenge—to become a sign language interpreter. This was a lifelong dream of mine, one that seemed to fit nicely with my job as an SLP. Interpreters and SLPs both help people to communicate—I could do this!
I thought that my skills as an SLP would help me as an interpreter, but I never thought that my experiences in the interpreter training program would make me a better SLP.
First, obviously, I had to learn American Sign Language. I had a full-time job in a public middle school and attended classes at night. Over the three years I was in school, I came to appreciate how my experiences in ASL classes mirrored the struggles of my students with language impairments, including auditory processing disorder, memory issues and difficulty with higher-order thinking skills. We all learned in graduate school about the challenges our clients face, but they became very real when I experienced them firsthand. For example:

I had the option of quitting the classes and returning to my successful career—but my students do not have this choice as they struggle to master the languages of their families and schools.

Fatigue. I quickly found that learning a language is exhausting. After a few hours of watching a teacher sign while mentally composing the answers I needed to give, I became physically and mentally drained. After class, I often went right to bed or could barely tell anyone my name (in English) if asked. I thought of the students who came to me after an entire school day who probably felt exactly the same way.
Distraction. One night I was at a Deaf social event having a nice chat with a Deaf man. My friend standing next to me opened a video on her phone. I glanced at it for a second and then turned back to my conversation only to find that I now had no idea what this man was talking about. In that short time, I had lost the train of the story and was now completely out of the conversation. Again I thought of my students, who look into the hall in response to a noise of some sort and then look back at me, totally lost.
Discouragement. Some nights I left class feeling that I would never learn this wonderful language. I would kick rocks and pout my way to my car. I had the option of quitting the classes and returning to my successful career—but my students do not have this choice as they struggle to master the languages of their families and schools.
I completed the interpreter training program in January 2016. I am most grateful for the insights this experience has given me into the career that I love. I never intended to quit my day job, and I hope I can continue to help people communicate while learning and growing from both of these wonderful professions.
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November 2016
Volume 21, Issue 11