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American Sign Language Gains Popularity as a Foreign Language

A survey of state education departments by the Teachers College of Columbia University showed at least 701 public high schools offering sign language classes in 2004, up from 456 in 2000 and 185 in 1995. The silent form of communication primarily used by the deaf and hard of hearing has become one of the most popular foreign languages taught to the hearing at high schools and universities around the country booming in about the last five years.

Some educators and language experts say the growth was sparked partly by sign language's increased visibility in movies, TV series and commercials, and at public events such as conferences, political speeches and church services.

At least 35 states now recognize ASL as a language for public schools and well over 100 four-year universities accept it for foreign language requirements. Experts say the number of two-year colleges that offer it is even greater.

While some linguists have questioned ASL's classification as a foreign language, its growing acceptance at schools around the country has diluted opposition. The linguists argued that ASL is not a foreign language, even though it isn't based on English, because it is primarily used in the United States and Canada and differs from sign languages of other countries. ASL proponents respond that a language's place of origin has little to do with its status as a foreign language at most universities.

ASL proponents say the lack of enough teachers seems to be the only limitation on its growth. "If we are going to have all of these new courses, more colleges and universities have to get going with training programs or there won't be anyone to teach them," said Diane Griffith, an ASL instructor at Shasta High School in Redding, Calif.

\This article, written by Lisa Cornwell, appeared in the November 7th, 2005 publication of The Associated Press.

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