Hey everyone! I’m back with my final update on my project until In-Depth Night! This post happens to be a bit later than usual, but that just means that I’ll be covering content from two of my meetings. I will also discuss what my plan for my learning centre is.
This meeting was on Sunday, April 11th, and had lots of important information. To prepare for this meeting, my group and I all watched a documentary called “Through Deaf Eyes”, from Gallaudet University for the Deaf. It covers deaf history spanning back to the 19th century, mentioning how deaf education first came about, how it developed and split into different learning systems, how different individuals deal with being deaf, and just life from a deaf person’s perspective in general. It includes interviews from deaf people, such as historians, actors, and other deaf Americans. I would suggest watching it if any of you are interested in learning about deaf culture. Here is the link: Through Deaf Eyes
During the meeting, we had a discussion about any thoughts we had about the video and we were free to ask our mentor any questions we had. The video focused a lot on the fact that for a long time, ASL was not an accepted language and deaf children were taught with the oral method. The oral method is teaching them to communicate verbally and speak out loud, without using hand movements. This included lots of development, which meant learning mouth shapes, breath and airflow control and how to produce the sounds. At least in the beginning, these schools did not allow the students to use any form of hand gestures to make sure that they were focusing on learning to speak. In our meeting Sinu mentioned a method that he saw being used in some of the video footage for these schools. It was a deaf child touching the teacher’s face, presumably to feel the vibrations and mouth shapes so they could attempt to replicate them.
I brought up the fact that ASL is it’s own language and is not English translated into signs. And yet, in the documentary it talked about how, for a long time, many deaf people treated it as a representation of English and it was just a way of using gestures to show what they were saying. I believe it was actually a hearing person, who came to work as a professor at Gallaudet, that proposed the concept of ASL being it’s own language, with it’s own grammar, structure, rules and nuances. At first, this idea was not well received, even the deaf community was against it, as they had been raised with the opposing belief that it was not a separate language for so long. At hearing my thoughts on this, my mentor talked about how that relates to there being two different ways of signing in an English-speaking country. The first is sign languages such as ASL (American), BSL (British), Auslan (Australian), etc, and the second is signed English. Signed English is more of that representation of English using gestures that people used to think ASL was. Usually the sign is very related to the word you are trying to express, and often uses the first letter of the word finger-spelled as the hand-shape in the sign. It also uses English grammar and is directly translating into signs, making up signs for words like “the”, “to”, “is”, that ASL does not have. Although some people do use this form of signing, it is usually thought of in a more negative light as it is not a language and kind of takes away from the independence of deaf culture, trying to fit into the hearing community norm.
My mentor, Tori, told us something that she had learned in a class she took, about the development of a new sign language. She didn’t quite remember the country it took place in, so I’ll just refer to it non-descriptively. So there was a school in this country that was teaching deaf students, and was taking the oral approach, as they believed that was really the only way to speak, and at the time, the country did not have its own sign language. The students were prevented from using other ways to communicate while learning, but while on the playground, at lunch time and such, the kids began to create their own signs. The children wanted some way to communicate more easily with each other, and so they started making up hand gestures that they would use with each other. Although they didn’t have the grammar and structure that full languages do, they kept expanding the basic vocabulary it was still an effective way to show what they were saying. At one point, the teachers noticed this happening and began to observe the signing, occasionally trying to interact with the students in this language they had built. Eventually this spread from the school and started to gain traction in the rest of the country, developing into a new language. I found it crazy that an entire sign language was made just by some kids trying to talk with each other on the playground.
Another thing that we talked about was different accents in sign language. Although many of us haven’t thought about this as something that really happens, it is the same idea as with verbal accents. Tori said that some people will have “very precise hand movements”, whereas others might be more relaxed and kind of “drift from one sign to the next”. Lots of people also use slang when signing, some of it being very specific to a certain group of people. This prompted a question from Sinu, that was basically how can people understand someone if they have an accent that is foreign to them and use slang that they have never seen before? Tori replied by saying that it can be assumed that they can still understand the gist of what they are trying to say. She mentioned that it is most likely very similar to when someone from Canada or America, say, is talking with someone from Australia. Although they might have an accent and use terms and phrases that are very different from ours so their slang is unfamiliar to us, we can still usually deduce what they are trying to say, since they are still speaking English. She said that accents can also vary in intensity, for example someone can have a very thick Scottish accent, making it difficult to understand them, or they can have a slight accent that doesn’t really affect the way they speak very much. It is most likely the same in signing.
During this meeting, we also went over new signs that included school subjects and “filler words/exclamations”. This second category is made up of words such as the five W’s, replies like cool, amazing, same, I agree, and others like thanks, you’re welcome, do you understand, etc. I found learning these signs helpful because I tend to use these a lot in conversation when I am trying to show my interest or how I feel about something, as well as I think it’s important to know how to reply quickly with words like sorry. Something that I think a lot of us struggled with though while learning these was that when using an ASL dictionary there were a lot of different variations, and it was confusing because we weren’t sure which one we were supposed to use. Fortunately, we were able to clear up most of this confusion when we asked Tori about them, discussing the differences between what she showed us and how we each learned it.
This meeting took place on Sunday, April 18th and actually ended up being mostly review. We had to keep it short so that it didn’t conflict with some of our schedules, but I believe it still lasted about an hour. Although we did review some new signs, which were from the category clothing, and a few like middle school, elementary school, etc, we spent most of the meeting going over all the categories we had learned over the course of the project. This was very helpful, because I know personally I had forgotten some of these over time, and this refresher was a nice way to not only practice what I know but make sure that I remembered the signs. Also, if during our review session I was confused because I had forgotten something, I knew that I should go back and learn that again and focus on trying to commit the section that I struggled with to memory. The way we practised these was a mostly voice off session where Tori would sign or finger-spell a word and we would do the opposite back to her with the same word.
How to Have a Beautiful Mind
- Deaf education
- This would include the different ways to teach deaf students, such as the oral method, or teaching sign language
- Although deaf people might not learn the same way we do, it does not make them any less or more intelligent, we all have our strengths and limitations, they are just different when it comes to hearing and deaf people
- Memory when learning a language
- We need to remember signs so that we can have them at our disposal in conversation
- We can practice with others
- Constant personal review
- Being respectful to the deaf community
- Understanding that being deaf is not a disability and they are a completely normal part of society
- Always being inclusive and staying within their limitations when interacting with a deaf person
- Not performing using ASL if you are hearing
Throughout the project, Tori has been very kind in allowing us lots of freedom in choosing how we want to learn. We always get to pick what sign categories we learn, based on what we think is important, and this changes what what we can say and ask and what kinds of conversation we can take part in. Most of what we have can be used in small talk and we can have short back and forth Q&As and chats with each other. We have also chosen to focus on the actual signs more than the grammar. We planned to cover grammar later on, but I don’t think that we will get to that before the project end. This means that even though we know the words, we are not quite able to easily piece them together into proper sentences and therefore we are not able to have full conversations and speak fluently with what we know. This may also be in part because Tori is also not completely fluent in ASL, even though she has an extensive knowledge, meaning that the grammar is not her strong suit and it is quite complicated, so it makes sense that it has not been our main focus. I believe that if we had been able to find a mentor fluent in ASL, most likely a deaf person, then we may have had an opportunity to learn that a bit more, but we could not find anyone who fit that description in the time given. I also think that having a deaf mentor would have given us a chance to learn the culture from that perspective firsthand, we would have been able to ask questions about that in particular very easily. But I think it also would have been a challenge, because we did not know almost any ASL at the beginning of the project and we are still learning, so for the most part, we would have to use only the chat to communicate with our mentor, which I think would have been kind of difficult. Besides, Tori has been an amazing mentor and has taught us so much and helped us with any issues we’ve had, eagerly participating in discussion about them, while being very friendly and casual and allowing us a lot of freedom and control over our project, so I am extremely grateful for her time and effort.
Unfortunately at this time I have not decided on what I am going to do for my learning centre. I have possible ideas, but I’m not sure if they would be appropriate as I am hearing and not fluent in ASL. These include teaching a couple of signs or demonstrating a mock conversation in ASL but again, I am not sure if these are acceptable or not. For this reason, I plan to ask the deaf individual that my group and I will be meeting with in a couple weeks if I would be allowed to use any of these ideas for this part of the project. I apologize for the lack of this information, but respect for deaf culture is an important and tricky subject. Thanks for your understanding.