About 500,000 deaf and hearing people speak American Sign Language in North America, is Will Smith one of them?
Will Smith does not know sign language. As his family are all hearing, Will has not had any exposure to American Sign Language despite its prevalence in North America and its growing prevalence in film and television.
American Sign Language (ASL)
American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete language that has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages. This means that it has its own communicative properties and grammar. The language is expressed through hand and face movements to form words and sentences. It is called American Sign Language as there is no universal sign language. American Sign Language is used both in The United States and Canada not only by deaf people, but many hearing people have learned it as well to help facilitate conversation.
Though Will Smith has been in many movies and television shows, none have featured any sign language, so it is likely that Will has never had any exposure to it. That has not stopped fans from creating their own American Sign Language content. This fan signed the theme song to Will’s hit television show The Fresh Prince of Belair:
Will Smith’s Upbringing
Will Smith’s parents, Willard Carroll Smith Sr. and Caroline Bright, his three younger siblings and his immediate family are all hearing. Thus, it is likely that Will was never exposed to deaf culture or American Sign Language. His parents, him and his siblings all grew up in Wynnefield, Pennsylvania which is a middle-class suburb in West Philadelphia where English is the majority language.
They all went to a private school in their area that was taught in English and there was likely little to no second language exposure. Will states that his favorite subject was mathematics and he even went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for engineering. So, it wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles that he had proper exposure to another language, Spanish.
Will Smith’s Spanish Fluency
Unlike American Sign Language, Will has had a lot of exposure to Spanish, enough that it has made him conversational in the language.
In an American Read Spanish interview, the interviewer asks Will where he learned Spanish and he responds by saying: “In Los Angeles, talking to people. Traveling to Spain where I do have many friends. Little by little I’ve being learning and I’m not afraid of talking or making mistakes, but I’m conscious of my terrible accent.”
It is often said that the best way to learn a language is through exposure and Will exemplifies that. He does say, however, in the same interview that he cannot read in Spanish, but seems to be trying to practice as he reads books from Spanish authors and can be seen singing in Spanish on his Instagram.
Will Smith has also done some interviews in Spanish, even when the interviewer speaks English, most notably in his After Earth interview on the red carpet here:
Although Will is not fluent in Spanish yet, he seems to be well on his way. He makes a great effort in speaking to people in Spanish when he can. His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith also speaks some Spanish, so the two likely practice together at home. Maybe learning American Sign Language is next in the cards for them!