Friday, August 21, 2009

Who Wants to Learn ASL?

This is a picture of Nicar Bocalan teaching part of the ASL Community Class.  He was an intern from Gallaudet who was with us for ten weeks beginning the second week of May.  He helped with school. this class, VBS and many other things.

Several times every week someone tells me they want to learn ASL.  They say they know someone Deaf or they think it is an interesting language.  Wonderful!

With some fanfare (posters put up in the bakery, food store and other major establishments) flyers passed out to high school students, and advertising both on the local radio and Community Bulletin Board on the TV, I prepared for a week of ASL classes. Last time I did this I got 52 people !!!   We were squished in the school kitchen.  This time I wondered where they all will sit. Fortunately Pastor Chon gave us permission to use the Mennonite Church.  The class this time, like the last time, was free.

I like teaching this class.  It stirs up interest in deafness.  It helps people to realize that what Deaf people are doing while moving their hands is not just a lot of gesture but is truly a language with specific vocabulary.    The class ran from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. I'm not deluded to think that the people will walk away fluent... but it is a good taste and good exposure.  Maybe if I get enough people who want to take this introductory level class, I could hold a second level class in August.  As I prepare I also think about  what might be a part of that second class.

On the first day of class Nicar and I arrive at the church early.  One woman is 8:30 and a man shows up. Eventually we add the woman's high school son and Rosalyn who will be helping with VBS the following week.  Four people.  


I wonder what happened?  Even so, it was a great class.  It's fun to see them grow in confidence and ability to communicate with signs.  What's different about teaching here than in the US, the people here are immediately comfortable with ASL word order. English sentences use an agent-action structure: the boy runs, the ball rolls, etc.   ASL is "Topic-descriptive".  Deaf people could say "mom my smart, whew".  It makes perfect sense.  Usually hearing people I have taught in the US want to know how to sign all of the little words, articles, statives (is, are, has) so they can put the signs in English order.  It takes a lot of modeling to help them release this English order gut level sentence structure.   BUT here in Belize, where most people speak at least two and maybe four languages (Spanish, English, Kriol, Maya , Garifuna), they are more flexible.  Almost immediately the man in the group who is a native Garifuna speaker from Honduras, caught on. He kept verbalizing it in spoken English, but he caught on to the topic descriptive structure.  I was impressed.  Everyone else caught on quickly, also.

On the second day a TV reporter and camera man came to film the class and run a story on the evening news.  They did that before, too.  Even though we had a small group, they went ahead and we got some publicity and were able to promote ASL and deafness.  I signed/spoke the whole interview hoping they would show that and deaf people could for once understand something on the news, but, they used my voice as a voiceover and showed the class in the background.  Oh well.  Live and Learn.

Next year...what would I do differently?  Hmmm.  I liked the structure of the class, conversation, games, vocabulary...keeping it somewhat of a natural language learning process.   Somehow I think I need to keep track of the people who ask for the class and specifically tap them when I am about to offer it.  I think some already know the basics and want a second level class (like the parents of the children that I teach).  So next year I might offer two classes and advertise both at once.  Anybody else have ideas? 

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