Languages and Culture Merit Badge

The adorable, always humorous MBA Jane is my way of honoring our Sisterhood Merit Badge program, now with 4,819 dues-paying members who have earned an amazing number of merit badges so far—6,550 total! Take it away, MBA Jane!!! MJ

Wondering who I am? I’m Merit Badge Awardee Jane (MBA Jane for short). In my former life

For this week’s Merit Badge, Each Other/Languages and Culture, I was excited to try my hand at learning American Sign Language.

(Get it? Try my hand? Sign language? I slay myself).

When I first started this badge, I only knew one phrase in American Sign Language (that’s ASL, for us in the know): “Rock on!”  Turns out what I thought was “Rock on!” and what I sported all through my last Jefferson Airplane concert last summer was really ASL for “I love you.” Now I’m starting to rethink what I thought was my traditional Hawaiian greeting … I thought I was saying something like, “hang loose, bro,” but for all I know I could be saying, “please pass the toilet paper.”

I started slow—with the ASL alphabet. Once I mastered that (okay, okay, you got me; mastered is a strong word!), I moved on to numbers. Just when I thought I could anticipate the next one, they threw a curve ball at me: for instance, the sign for three is not what you’d expect. Oh no! Middle finger, index finger, and THUMB.

Well played, ASL masters, well played.

Once I got my numbers and alphabet down (this was fun!) I moved on to small pieces of poetry.

Helpful hint from me to you: I wouldn’t start with “Jabberwocky.” Your fingers will get cramps.

Therefore, I recommend something short and easily memorized, like “Who Has Seen the Wind,” by Christina Rossetti:

Who has seen the wind?

Neither I nor you;

But when the leaves hang trembling,

The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?

Neither you nor I;

But when the trees bow down their heads

The wind is passing by.

Or perhaps a little Ogden Nash:

Now another day is breaking,

Sleep was sweet and so was waking.

Dear Lord, I promised you last night

Never again to sulk or fight.

Such vows are easier to keep

When a child is fast asleep

Today, Oh Lord, for your dear sake

I’ll try to keep them when awake.

Good advice, Ogden dear.

I recommend a good mani before a long ASL. You’ll be staring at your hands, and nothing is more distracting than a hangnail or a chewed cuticle. Unless it’s the worry that you may have offended a Hawaiian friend during your last cruise.

Lastly, I dream to work my skills up to song level. Maybe it’s the scene from Napoleon Dynamite, maybe it’s my soft spot for mooshy ballads sung by Bette Midler, maybe it’s my secret dream of a flash mob of ASL-ers … can’t you just see it? I may only be halfway through “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but someday soon, I will move beyond the kindergarten playlist, and into National Anthem territory.

I can see it now.  Girls, this badge is just too much fun. I’m hooked!


  1. Elizabeth says:

    This brings back so many memories. Many, many years ago, I worked a catering event for Gallaudet University (had difficulty hearing for several hours after their party but I digress). The University students & faculty member’s were very nice & I quickly learned a few basic words from them, like: hello; thank you; your welcome & such. Shortly after the GU event I bought a book on ASL & learned the alphabet.

    Later, I worked with 2 people (more closely) who are hearing impaired & spoke ASL; they taught me even more words & phrases. But now, decades later, I have forgotten more ASL than I remember. The same can be said w/ the shorthand I studied in high school & the foreign language I could speak (fairly well) when I was young~er:-)

    I think I need a refresher course on all subjects. Just so happens that I still own the ASL book. You’ve given me another project to consider MaryJane. Learning a new language can be challenging, fun & really gratifying. Hope you are enjoying the process.

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