ASL translations of songs | Deaf Awareness Month

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome. As you can see from the title, I’ll be talking about translating songs into ASL today. I was already planning on making this video, but it’s even more appropriate with the recent events. I’m not going to say names because this can actually apply to more than just one particular person. I have talked about this before, with Jules Dameron. I’ll link that video, but it’s always good to make a new video because unfortunately, it’s a thing that keeps happening.

What keeps happening is hearing people – often ASL students or people who are learning ASL on their own – create what they call ASL music covers and get a lot of attention and praise for it. There’s several problems with this.

First, ASL is usually not their native language. So they’re taking attention away from deaf creators who are doing the same with what’s their native language. For comparison: if you were someone who’d been taking Norwegian for two years, and suddenly wanted to do a translation cover of your favorite English song into Norwegian. Would you do it? Or at least, make it public? Probably not, and you know why. You know you’re not fluent enough to be able to make a culturally appropriate translation. So why do people think it’s okay to do with sign languages? They are real languages, just visual rather than auditory. *sigh* I get it, I do. Sign and music can go together really well. Still doesn’t give them the right to do translations.

Second, these people usually are not…good at signing. They’re often people who have been learning for only a couple of years, and are nowhere near fluency. So it’s frustrating when people get attention for doing this when they’re not good at all. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too often done as a way to get clout, or bump up their social media following. That’s not cool. Hearing people often go viral doing this, despite deaf people saying they’re not good. And even when they’re shown videos of deaf people doing it that’s clearly better, the hearing people still get more attention. [pause] The next thing I’m going to say may be a bit controversial. I actually don’t have a problem with ASL students doing this. BUT. As practice only. Doing song translations is actually a great way for ASL students with aspirations of becoming an interpreter to practice getting into the right headspace. You *have* to show emotion with songs, so this can be a good way for them to practice this along with understanding the meaning behind words rather than just signing word for word. I’m fine if they post it and clearly label it as a practice in the title or something. I just want the ASL students to be clear from the start that they shouldn’t be seen as fluent ASL signers.

Third, some, quite frankly, unethical people will use this as a way to make money. Sometimes by using those covers to guide people to their “ASL lessons.” Hearing people should absolutely not be making a profit off of our language, it’s not their native language. They shouldn’t be getting so much attention for something that is often done poorly or not at all what a deaf person would have done. Especially when there are deaf people who have been doing this for far longer and much better. A lot of these “teachers” have actually taken only a few years of ASL, most likely have no degree in either ASL or teaching, and chances are high that they have very little interaction with the larger deaf community. There *are* people who might be completely ignorant about this and the ethics, absolutely. But it’s a problem when these people completely ignore deaf people trying to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable and keep doing it. Some people have continued to create these videos, continued to teach bad ASL, all the while blocking any deaf people that disagree with them, are telling them to stop, and taking advantage of it for their own gain.

I could go on all day about this, but I don’t want to use that much more energy on this, because deaf people already have for a long time. We are tired of it. We keep going because we care about our language, our culture, our community, but it’s exhausting being the only ones speaking up about it. Hearing people need to question things, not take them at face value, and say something if it’s not acceptable. This includes interpreters too, you know that this isn’t an acceptable behavior. *takes a deep breath* I’m done for today. I’ll be leaving a link to a playlist made by Jules of ASL versions of songs that are actually good. Watch those and enjoy! Bye.

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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