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 In 2019 Content Series, BAMily

A couple of the most common qualities that the BAMfs on our team share? A major passion for learning new things and a love of making strong connections with people. For many, this translates well to adopting a second language. Merrita Llarena, one of our rockstar Account Executives, sets the bar pretty high in this department – she’s fluent in sign language. Merrita shared an in-depth look at her sign language journey and her best advice for anyone interested in learning.

When did you first begin learning sign language?
Sign language was actually my first language. Both of my parents are deaf, so I learned how to sign before I could even speak.

What originally inspired you to learn sign language?
I was immersed in the culture and community at a very early age. At age two, I attended a preschool for the deaf community, designed for kids who were deaf, had deaf family members, etc. All of the kids – both hearing and deaf – were required to speak in sign language every day which helped me become very well-versed in American Sign Language (ASL). It also helped me build an appreciation for the language.

What is the most challenging aspect of learning or practicing sign language?
Use it or lose it! Like any language, if you don’t use it often enough, you forget how to say certain words. This has happened to me since moving out of my parents’ house and not seeing them and communicating in sign language quite as often as I used to. Another really challenging aspect is knowing the difference between (and mastering!) ASL and English Sign Language. ASL is the correct formatting for sign language; the sentence structure and grammar are very different than if you were to simply sign words as you speak them out loud. The latter is English Sign Language and not the “official” form. For example, all interpreters speak ASL rather than English Sign Language.

What is the coolest or most rewarding aspect?
I love feeling like I’m a part of this amazing community. The deaf community is so tight-knit and I love being part of that. Anytime I’m out and about (whether at a coffee shop, the movies, etc.), if I happen to see people signing, I immediately feel like I’m part of this special club. I say hi to them and let them know that I, too, speak sign language and chat for a while giving them insight into my background. I also really love hearing about new innovations that help deaf people feel more included in our society – such as closed-captioning being implemented in TVs at bars, or apps that help deaf people. It makes me feel proud that technology has helped include the deaf community when only 20 or so years ago, they were much more discluded.

What advice would you give someone who was interested in learning sign language?
Fully immerse yourself in the deaf culture. There are many deaf events that are open to the public and really beneficial to attend if you want to learn sign language. Being around deaf people helps you understand the culture and language and are just overall really fun. You can find deaf expos, deaf community nights at a local Starbucks, deaf plays and more.

Are there any resources you’d suggest? YouTube videos, apps, etc?
There are so many but here are the top ones I’d suggest! The ASL Dictionary is the most helpful way to learn the language. This doesn’t help with grammar or sentence structure but is great for learning the words. Sign School is best for strengthening your ASL vocabulary and the ASL app is best for understanding real-life, complex interactions in ASL.

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