Readers’ Forum: Why BYU should offer language certificates for American Sign Language

Students practice sign language in a class at Indiana University. UVU offers opportunities for students to improve and receive recognition for their American Sign Language knowledge, and some argue BYU should do the same. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University)

On a short trip down University Parkway, there is a school with an established American Sign Language program. There, students learn how to teach the Deaf using the language of their students or learn how to become interpreters. Multiple pathways are provided giving them an opportunity to not only improve their ASL knowledge but also receive university recognition for it.

That school is UVU. 

Meanwhile, BYU also has a plethora of options for language students, including recognition of foreign language proficiency in the form of a certificate. But not for ASL.

For a BYU student who wants to integrate ASL into their education, three options are provided: (a) transfer to UVU to major or minor in Deaf studies, (b) take the ASL classes offered at BYU with no acknowledgment of the student’s work or progress or (c) drop it and take a different language.

The language department should add ASL to the list of languages they provide certificates of proficiency for to benefit their students now and in their future careers and job hunting.

I returned from an ASL mission less than two months ago, excited for my new semester at BYU and looking forward to continuing to use my mission language. I already knew my school offered no major or minor for my language, but I hoped I could get a language certificate after studying in BYU’s advanced ASL courses. Unfortunately, I discovered while I could take such classes for personal benefit, without a language certificate they offered no significant advantage to my overall education. 

It might be argued a language certificate is just for show, the equivalent of a fancy sash worn at graduation to signify accomplishment. But it is worth much more than that.

As the BYU Language Department states on their website, “The recognition of your foreign language proficiency will strengthen your resume or portfolio as you seek employment, begin your career or apply to graduate school as a diversely skilled individual.”

A university-issued certificate helps students advance with their future careers and education. But for ASL students, those options are not available. If they wish to state their experience with their language, all they have is their word which is not good enough for a job resume.

With these meager options laid before the students of BYU, they are left with very little incentive to study ASL at all.

Time and money are precious for a college student. Why take an ASL class using valuable schedule space and study time if they can’t do anything with it? Why spend tuition on these classes that won’t validate the skills they will gain from them?

For those who love ASL and the Deaf community, they are left with the dilemma of functionality vs. studying what they love. This decision goes against BYU’s mission statement, which declares the purpose of a BYU education is to cultivate the balanced development of its students to aid them in bringing “strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships, civic duty and service to mankind.”

For the Deaf people of Utah, the lack of incentive for BYU students to study ASL is a disservice to them because it dissuades potential users of the language from learning it. It is integral to BYU’s purpose to foster our local communities. The creation of an ASL certificate of fluency would increase the diversity of BYU education and foster the balanced development of its students to go forth to serve.

Kate Fowler

Draper, Utah

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