Hesperian Health Guides
Teaching sign language to parents of deaf children
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People who use sign language as their first language can teach parents how to communicate with babies and children who are deaf.
Here is a story about a group of Indian mothers with deaf children, living in England, who learned British sign language from a deaf teacher. Before they learned sign language, the children and their parents had trouble communicating because it was so hard to understand each other. Learning sign language changed this.
Signing across language barriers
Lisa is a British woman who was born deaf. After she finished teacher training school, she got a job teaching deaf children. Part of her job was to help the mothers of the deaf children learn sign language. Among the groups that Lisa taught was a group of Indian women who did not speak English. At first, it was difficult for Lisa and the mothers to communicate with each other. Lisa used British sign language and another teacher translated for her into spoken English. Then another woman translated the spoken English into Punjabi, the language that
Ashis and I can share ideas with each other now...
The mothers’ group first learned signs about the home. They also learned signs for what the children were studying in class. This helped parents understand and communicate with their child at home.
Later, a man joined Lisa’s group of mothers learning to sign. He then taught fathers and older brothers in a group for men. In both groups, parents with older deaf children shared their experience with parents of very young deaf children. This let them use their new sign language skills to discuss things that were very important to them.
Watching Lisa work and teach, the parents saw that deaf children could be teachers, make a living, and be respected by other people. Many families in the community learned something about deaf people at the same time that they learned how to communicate with their deaf children.
Tips for adults learning sign language
Sign language depends a lot on the way you express things through the whole body. The way you stand, and expressions on your face all communicate as much as your hands.
|See how Nimi’s expression changes as she asks the question, “What should we do?” in sign language.|
Deaf people watch the face of the person they are communicating with — not only that person’s hands — just as hearing people look at each other’s faces as they listen.
- Act out what you want to say. Do not worry about making mistakes or looking foolish.
- Use anything and everything that helps to communicate: gestures, expressions on the face, body movements, pointing, signing, and finger spelling (spelling out words by using signs for each letter). Try communicating an idea or simple sentence with no formal signs at all. Just use gestures, facial expression, and pointing. Even when you do not know or forget a formal sign, you can still communicate with deaf people this way.
- Each person learns language in a different way and at a different pace. Learn as much as you can. Do not worry about what others have or have not learned. The goal is to help your child, not to compete with others.
- To really learn sign language, use it often with deaf people who sign.
Learning sign language will not be easy. But remember, it is important to your child to have a common language that all of you can share. Keep practicing sign language. If you do not use it, you lose it — just like any other language you learn.