I don’t know why, but why I’ve always wanted to learn sign language. Maybe it’s all about its expressive ways, the ability to communicate so much with just a few gestures or the unique way words are transformed into a visual language. I’ve always loved learning and learning languages in particular.
So at a time when most language schools are offering virtual classes, I signed myself up — fully intending to finish all three courses for this particular school’s certification.
Sign language is a beautiful language, even so in your native tongue. It is simple and concise — it compresses a lot of information in gestures, just so it can be an effective means of communication. And as I’ve always thought, it’s also expressive — your facial expressions are more animated and match the meaning of the words you are signing. For example, when you say you don’t understand something, you aren’t (most likely) supposed to say that with a smiling face. That in a way, makes it all the more an authentic and heartfelt way of communication.
Be that as it may, I soon found out that learning sign language took a whole new level of difficulty for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a visual learner, but when everything turned visual, I guess I saw myself panicking. I’m also a tactile learner — I just have to have my notes handy. But how do you take down notes to describe how a particular word is signed? Descriptions, probably. But that just takes forever.
I also excel in writing, so assignments used to be manageable, and at times enjoyable like poem and letter writing. But how do I do these now?
Add that to the fact that my mind also tends to wander. In a learning environment (and in almost every other situation), when that happens, my sense of hearing takes over to absorb the information, allowing me to salvage important parts of the discussion for myself. But clearly, you can’t do that when audio is turned off (for good reasons, of course!).
To top it all off, most of my classmates had prior learning experiences in sign already. One was deaf herself, and the others had either already taken the course previously already or learned sign in another language (English, International, etc.). It was just probably a couple of us who just started as absolute beginners. So when discussions take off, I sometimes find myself lost and unable to keep up with the discussion. This also meant I was unable to answer some questions without having to request the teacher to repeat the question. She’s patient though, and I knew she makes an effort not to leave me and the newbies behind.
Nonetheless, I know that I can always work harder to close the learning gap I have encountered. I did that when learning Spanish when I just gathered as much as I could find to help me understand tenses, vocabulary, and even colloquialisms. I did that when learning algebra, geometry and all things mathematics when I tirelessly practised solving problems and whatnots. I did that when learning yoga — listening to different teachers on how to approach a certain pose and the practice in general until I found ways that worked for me.
But when there’s not a lot of literature and resource materials, how do I study more? There are videos online, but it’s so cumbersome to have to trawl through each of them to find a specific word being signed. There are apps too, and some of them are actually good, just not complete.
I hope with the continuous development in technology, more people can step up and make learning sign language easier, both for the deaf and hearing. It’s easy for me to just let it go and go with the flow since I was learning it for fun. But what about those who need to really learn it as a means of their communication, or their communication with deaf loved ones?
Ultimately, being able to learn the basics unlocked so much potential and made me proud of this personal feat. Thanks to my inspirational deaf teacher who never let me quit and had me makeup my quizzes and assignment, I was able to successfully garner a passing grade a day before graduation. Having said all these, I still intend to continue to the next level. Maybe somewhere down the road, I could find a way to bridge the gap in this learning environment and contribute something in my own little way.