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American Sign Language

ASL continues to be a growing segment in IUPUIā€™s World Languages and Cultures department

Helping people communicate effectively is often a popular career choice, and that applies to those whose skills include American Sign Language, one of the growing segments in IUPUI’s World Languages and Cultures department.

The ASL/English Interpreting Program, which includes classes in ASL, has been part of IUPUI’s communications training programs for more than a decade. Last July, it found a home in the World Languages department, a “good fit” for the ASL program, according to director Janet Acevedo.

Interpreting between ASL and English is a significant skill, Acevedo said, and not easily acquired.

“You cannot read about becoming an interpreter and just go out and be one,” she said. “If ASL is not your native language, you have to develop a fluency in a language meant to be received through the eyes and produced with the body. For those of us whose first language is English, this can be difficult. We are used to using our ears and our voices to communicate.”

The training Acevedo’s program offers is important. “Our program is for students who, having developed a level of fluency in ASL and English, are ready to begin to practice the skills needed to interpret between the two languages,” the director said. “In this case, it is definitely a hands-on experience.”

The program has been growing steadily throughout Acevedo’s six-year tenure as director. She estimates that in that time, the number of majors has grown nearly threefold. “Certainly public awareness has been growing, and that’s important,” said Acevedo. “People are moving in and out of countries all over the world, and language skills are in demand because of that.”

Sign language interpreters are now familiar sights at major public speeches, but the need for interpreting skills isn’t limited to such events. “Translators are needed in doctor’s offices, in legal settings, in job interviews—in almost every form of human endeavor,” the ASL director said.

Good interpreters share several traits when they are working. “Certainly, they have a love of languages, and an ability to concentrate,” Acevedo said. “They also have to be versatile, and fast thinkers, because you have to anticipate and deal with potential problems or situations.”

One of the biggest challenges, Acevedo said, involves interpreting words or descriptions for things that interpreters may not understand. “It’s really hard to interpret concepts that are unfamiliar and still keep up with speakers,” she said. “But we get paid to be accurate, so we must be lifelong learners and interested in every area of human activity, because we may be called upon to interpret it.”

Acevedo is proud of IUPUI’s sign language program and how far it has come.

“We’re really well-positioned to help fill the needs of the community,” she said. The basic tenets of the World Languages and Cultures department are perfect for ASL, she added, along with the many international languages offered at IUPUI.

“You can’t use language properly if you don’t understand how things are culturally expressed,” Acevedo said, an approach that is useful for both spoken and sign language. And she expects that approach to continue to be valuable and the demand for interpreters to be high. “All people need these services,” Acevedo added. “If people aren’t going to learn every language in the world, there is going to be a need for interpreters.”