Proposed Law Would Let Sign Language Count as Foreign Language in High School

By Candace Kelley

High school students may one day be able to choose sign language as their foreign language under a proposed law that the Senate Education Committee approved 4-0. Professor of foreign languages at Caldwell University Sally Jo Weber says their sign language course fulfills their foreign language requirement. But before they added the course, they had to ask some of the same questions the legislature is asking.

“Can we get this course to fulfill the requirement of a foreign language? Well, not if it’s just the language but if it represents the culture and the teacher teaches the culture, the deaf culture, then yes we will accept it,” Weber said.

Weber says students will more than likely be excited about the option of taking sign language.

“The students asked for it. We have a lot of students who are in a nursing program, a lot of students who are in applied behavioral analysis. They work with children with autism,” she said.

The state’s high school students are currently required to earn five world language credits out of 120 before they graduate.

The bill specifically says that sign language would be regarded as a world language and meet any state and local requirements for high school

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Diane Allen, says that “Students who take a sign language course, whether it is because of a hearing or speech impairment or simply to broaden their horizons, should get the same credit for their work as their peers who study another world language.”

The senator and Weber say that knowing sign language is a marketable skill that can open students up to new careers.

“A lot of the students go into education and specialize in special ed,” said Weber.

Some districts in the state already offer sign language as an optional course, and the bill would not require school districts to offer sign language. Weber says that learning sign language is very difficult but if high school students wanted to learn how to sign, they would gain a lot more than the credits.

“It would be an introduction into a different way of life,” Weber said.

The next step is for the measure to go to a vote in the full Senate.