I've been intending to post this for a week or two, now, and I was just reminded by it by the front-page poll on LiveJournal, about "how many languages do you speak"?
I consider myself monolingual, although I know a couple words in other languages, and have a dilettante's interest in linguistics, so I know a little bit about the different ways that different languages put together grammar, and, off of my speech and rhetoric, I have a little tangential knowledge of different phonemes, including a few that don't appear in English. So I know a little bit ABOUT languages, but I don't know any other languages, themselves.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I went to Home Depot to look for a grinding wheel that I could attach to my drill, and then use to sharpen my machete, rather than using a file. It's a cheap machete, so the blade gets knicked up badly whenever I hit a rock, which is often, so I wanted a quicker way to grind out knicks than a hand-tool. The BEST tool for that, of course, would be a bench grinder, but that's kinda excessive for me to own.
So, I went to Home Depot, poked around for a bit, and then asked one of the clerks for help. I started explaining what I wanted, and he wasn't sure, so he pulled over another clerk, who actually knew the section better. The second clerk was Deaf, and the first clerk was trying to enunciate so the second clerk could read his lips, and was having trouble, and he started to pull out a pad of paper.
I stepped in, and started signing. 'Cause I know a LITTLE ASL.
Now, I used a LOT of fingerspelling, some miming, a lot of pointing at stuff. . . but he understood what I wanted, I understood what he was telling me. He was able to show me what they had, but we agreed that what they had wasn't EXACTLY what I wanted, and he suggested that I check out another store that was a bit south of them on Rte 1.
So I thanked him, and that's what I did, where I did, in fact, find something that worked for me.
It wasn't until I left that I realized that I'd just had a conversation in which I was able to express a relatively complex problem, and understand a relatively complex response. I didn't do it grammatically, nor prettily, nor entirely within the bounds of that single language (fingerspelling isn't ASL, in my mind, although there are signs in ASL that include fingerspelling forms). But I did it.
Can I think of myself as bilingual in ASL? I DON'T think of myself that way. But I DID muddle my way through.