Sign language is a visual language, not a written language like English, French, Dutch, etc. Teaching a visual language is completely different from teaching a written language. Generally, you can teach yourself the basics of a written language by making connections with simple words of your native written language, but with sign language, it requires tons of time and concentration to learn.
You can’t do the same with visual language. Teaching the basics of a sign language for around an hour requires a lot of preparation beforehand, visual aids (keynote presentations), repeated demonstrations, and the list goes on. The point here is that sign language is a visual language and it has to be as visual as possible.
Sign language itself has its own and unique grammar rules and foundation because it is strongly influenced by Deaf community’s cultural attributes such as facial expressions, gestures, usage of space, and many more that I can’t list here. It’s like the Iceberg Theory. The language itself may seem superficial from the outside but if you sink deeper, there’s much more to the language itself. That goes well to any sign language in any country all over the world.
To be able to teach a complete sign language of a country requires a lot of training and certifications, but anyone can easily teach the basics of ASL like the alphabet and common phrases that are useful when approaching a Deaf person in the future yet it still requires a lot of preparation, which I did not expect after teaching this class of hearing Malaysian kids. That experience I have had was enriching because I learned the challenges of teaching ASL to a class while their native language are not ASL. I’m not saying that sign language is harder to learn than any written language. All languages in any form are hard to learn, but I’m just saying that sign language takes more time.
It was challenging yet I am grateful to have this opportunity. All of this happened in a spur of moment. Our Couchsurfing host was a founder of a private school in Malaysia (I didn’t quite catch the name), which he also taught at. He was so intrigued about ASL and he felt that it would be beneficial for his student to become familiar with sign language when approaching another Deaf person in the future. He asked us if we were interested in teaching his students about American Sign Language.
Of course, we were down for it.
In order to be prepared, I asked the host if the classroom had a projector and WiFi connection for us to use with my MacBook to demonstrate visual aids and to show this website. The host nodded confirming that it was possible.
We went ahead and prepared our keynote presentation with demonstrations plus we had some feats in it that will also communicate with our class that they should follow our demonstration in order to learn how to say the words in ASL. I wanted to make sure that I was fully prepared for the class to be able to follow my teaching.
Then we came to the school the next day and met the students. The kids were adorable and they were clearly shy. They all kept giggling.
As soon as we started setting up our “station” for the presentation, we asked for the adapter cable and the projector.
Guess what? There was a misunderstanding between the host (aka the teacher of the classroom) and me. The host thought I was asking if they had a whiteboard with dry markers.
We had to do it the old-fashioned way, and you could say the same way a mathematic teacher would do with their notes on the white board. ;P
Dalton actually bailed out on me the moment he learned that he had to do it the long way by excusing himself to film me. He used the “It’s my job to film you, anyways” card on me. So, I let him be.
He reinforced me by saying I had the natural talent and plenty of experience with ASL.
I went ahead and started introducing my name and what I had been doing with Seek the World blog. I had to make sure that clear with my writing, because English hadn’t been my first language and I wanted to make sure the kids understood me. The writing kind of took up some time and the teacher gave me a nudge to finish up my introduction and start teaching some basics of ASL.
I explained that I will begin with greetings in ASL then I wrote down “GOOD MORNING” then I signed it out in ASL expecting that everybody would naturally pick up that they were supposed to follow my sign.
I had completely forgotten that I didn’t have any overhead projector with a slide asking them to follow my sign. So, I went back to the board and manually wrote “FOLLOW ME” on the board.
After that, the students picked up everything and started following me when I pointed out different phrases that is commonly used in ASL like ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, ‘how are you?’, etc.
Some of them were new and awkward with the hand position and movement of different signs, so I had to assist them by using a position then making the connection to the movement.
When we finished teaching them how to say a phrase in ASL, we usually asked them to repeat what we signed. Some students were talking and trying to help each other remember what we were signing and repeat it correctly.
That kind of broke the ice between me and the class. They started laughing around new words they learned and they were intrigued about different facial expressions that usually come with certain signs. They became actively involved with my teaching, which was fun.
The ice melted when I started this charades activity with the student where they had to act out different scenarios and things. Everybody actually started wanting to have their turn. In this activity, I taught student the courtesy of the handwave in Deaf culture as an way of applauding. They handwaved throughout the rest of the class.
It became fun and the students became more comfortable to start asking us for the signs for the names of different superheroes like Spiderman, Batman, etc. It’s in their generation and then it actually led to dirtier words.
Students started asking about sexual words like: penis, breast, sex, etc. They even asked how to ask someone out on a date in ASL.
That really shocked me and the teacher laughed along. It was okay and they were open about it. It was normal to them. Dalton and I stood there awkwardly because it would have been the right thing to call them out if they had done that in America.
Then we went along with the energy they had. We grew a bond. They ended up handwaving more often to show how much they enjoyed learning ASL with us.
The teacher ended up asking us to teach another group. I made Dalton take over the next group and Dalton followed my example—hey, he was a natural too. He did well and the second group of kids enjoyed just as much as the previous group did. We all had so much fun.
The experience was quite rich. There had been several factors that made our teaching experience challenging. Students at age 10 through 14 had raw mind and they were so new to Deaf people. They had no idea what to expect. It’s wasn’t easy for us to break the ice for them be more motivated to get past the communication barrier between our languages plus the fact that Dalton and I were Deaf.
At first, I thought it’d be easy to present and teach, but with the communication barriers, this kind of teaching definitely requires a lot of preparing and I was definitely not fully prepared for this. If I had the projector, I would have been able to show more of the language and the depth of the Deaf culture. I was expecting the projector and visual aids to be at my convenience, but I had to use the whiteboard instead and the writing took time due to two reason. First, my handwriting isn’t that great, and I wanted to make sure my handwriting was clear; so, I took the time to write each word clearly. Second, English is not my first language, which means I am not 100% fluent in it, so I had to make sure my grammar was clear for the kids to understand.
The bottom line had been that the experience was enriching for me to have and I would definitely love to try again.
If any of you know any potential teaching experience I could obtain out there in the world, do feel free to let me know and I’ll be eager to learn more. Click here.
Before I wrap this up. I had to include this picture because the teacher made this boy to take a picture with me because we unintentionally wore the same shirt. The kid thought it was so lame to do so and he was so resistant during the process of snapping this scene. Funny!
Have a good day!