Meet Shannon J.

American Sign Language instructor

“Sign language isn’t only for Deaf people. People from all walks of life can use it ... the more people that learn sign language, the better. ”

Shannon Johnson may only be in her second year of teaching classes in American Sign Language (ASL) at Hudson Valley - but with a lifetime of signing experience behind her, there’s no doubt her students are in capable hands.

Growing up with two Deaf grandparents who took care of her while her parents were at work, Shannon was immersed in ASL from infancy. Though she isn’t Deaf herself, ASL was a cornerstone of daily communication in her household, allowing her to learn to sign as she was learning to talk - an experience that has shaped her own life, and inspired her to shape others’ as well.

Today, Shannon is a school social worker by day and an ASL instructor for Hudson Valley’s Community and Professional Education classes by night. The two careers are connected - she says growing up with close ties to the Deaf community influenced her to pursue social work in part for the opportunity to work with Deaf children and other underserved populations in schools. Her upbringing, with ASL as a staple of communication even amongst the hearing members of the family, opened her eyes to the importance of sign language for people outside of the Deaf community as well.

“Sign language isn’t only for Deaf people. People from all walks of life can use it - and there are so many studies on why hearing people can benefit from it too, especially children,” she says. “Really, the more people that learn sign language, the better.”

Shannon says people sign up for her classes for a variety of reasons. Some want to learn to communicate with a Deaf loved one, and some have been diagnosed with hearing loss themselves, while others are looking to learn practical skills to apply in workplace, healthcare and retail settings. Many are just curious about the language and ready to learn something new.

Shannon’s ASL classes are both interactive and immersive. Students sit in a U shape so everyone can see each other, and for the first hour and a half class is silent - only sign language is allowed. While it might sound intimidating to dive into a silent sign language class on day one, Shannon says her students adapt to this immersive environment much more easily than you might think. “ASL has its own grammar and its own context, but we make sure the learning environment is fun and easy,” she says. “We play games, we act, we gesture, we play charades. Everyone ends up laughing during class.” The last half hour of each class is dedicated to learning about Deaf culture, which provides both a deeper level of context to the language and an understanding of the Deaf community amongst the hearing population.

For those who are on the fence about learning a new language, Shannon has some words of encouragement. “It’s never too late to learn a new skill,” she says. “Learning sign language is both."