Your Brain on ASL

By BitcoDavid

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...
A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in orange, including the primary visual cortex (V1, BA17). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever thought about learning a second language? You might be surprised to discover that there is evidence out there that becoming bilingual makes you smarter. It’s true. Neuro-biologists – eggheads who study the Human brain – claim that since so much of our brain activity is language based, by learning a second language, we actually turn on dormant brain centers.

MRI scans reveal it to be true. So do standard test results. See, here’s the interesting part. If a person had an ability in math, that ability – albeit an unrelated field of study – would be enhanced if that person learned another language. It is believed by the scientific community now, that every area of study is picked up easier and retained longer when the student is bilingual. And the effect isn’t limited to just two languages, either. The simple fact is, the more languages one is conversant in, the better one will do in all other academic areas. Wanna learn auto mechanics? Take French first.

Sign With Your Baby with Sheryl White
Sign With Your Baby with Sheryl White (Photo credit: Newton Free Library)

Now, where am I going with this? Well, of all the languages one can learn, ASL is the only non-verbal one. But as a second language, the student would invariably sub-vocalize. That means you would translate the signs into English words, in your head. Sub-vocalization is something most of us do, for example, when we read. If we didn’t, we could read many times faster than we do. The act of translating symbols on a page, into words, takes time but it also requires more gray matter. Your brain works harder to do it.

This means that the I.Q. boost one would receive from the study of a foreign language, would be even further enhanced by the study of Sign. Here, you’re not only learning a new language, but stimulating both the visual and speech centers. Add to that the physical memory involved in using your hands to communicate, and you get even more cerebral development taking place. And the younger you are when you embark on this journey, the greater the overall results will be. When most of your generation is slipping off into senility, you’d be a non-corporeal beam of light.

ASL has dialects, slang and non-English counterparts that are spoken all over the world. It is a unique and complex language that can perhaps challenge the learner more so than any other.

English: "good" in American Sign Lan...
“Good” in American Sign Language using SignWriting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But wait! There’s more! Sign language is not only spoken, but written as well. ASL has a written component. Many people are unaware of that fact. It’s not simply using hand gestures to communicate in real time, it is also using symbols to write with. Now with most Western languages, say French for instance, the characters of the alphabet are the same. One writes French words in English, so to speak. An “A” is an “A” in all European and Latin languages. While it is true that German has a couple of odd-ball characters, you would have to go to Cyrillic or the Asian languages to get away from our Alphabet.

This is important, because the same multiple brain center advantages can also be gleaned by writing and sub-translating written characters. Now, you could try Mandarin, but from what I understand they have over 140 characters and each has at least 3 meanings – so good luck with that.

A passage from Goldilocks in ASL transcribed i...
A passage from Goldilocks in ASL transcribed in Stokoe notation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written Sign is most interesting because not only do they have an alphabet, but they also have word signs, or Stokoe Notation. This means you actually have to learn – in essence – 3 individual languages. Hand Sign and its accompanying alphabet, and the two forms of Stokoe.

I’ve been known to bash it around in the Ring – on occasion. One of the many reasons I box is because it is to a normal physical fitness regimen what a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe is to a bicycle. I think I can safely say that ASL is the boxing of languages.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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