Attended the introduction to sign language class last night at SADEAF – The Singapore Association For The Deaf. The room was filled with people either our age or younger. A few of them already knew the basics because they had deaf friends. There were also a couple of students from NTU who were there to observe. I found myself in an unfamiliar position – being unable to understand the teacher who was signing to us and having to move around so I could get a better view of her. Her interpreter stood at the back of the room, helping us understand her instructions. I struggled to listen and associate her gestures with the words.
Irene and I signed up for the classes because we feel that sign may be useful in the future. Her journey to get the cochlear implant has exposed me to many different aspects of the Deaf culture that I was never aware of. Even though I live with a deaf person who is hard of hearing, there are many nuances of the community that I wish to familiarise myself with. As the instructor put it, it is a hidden disability. The community in Singapore is so small that it is difficult to get better support and resources for the cause.
The teacher brought up the example of going to the cinema only when it is a movie that has English subtitles. I was suddenly made aware of how fortunate we are that Irene can read Chinese, which is what most English movies are subtitled with in Singapore. Even then, I always make sure to check that the movie has subtitles before buying tickets. It was different in USA where Irene could get a closed caption device to put at her seat. I’ve also noticed local subtitles normally do not include sound cues that are essential to the viewing experience of the deaf. There is still a ways to go for better hearing support locally.
The teacher emphasised that we can only become fluent if we keep practising. So I hope to practise daily with Irene and we intend to teach Zoey at the same time. Last night we learnt the alphabet and numbers. I was excited and slightly relieved to find my name fairly easy to sign.
Here’s a video of me spelling out all our names in sign.
The association currently teaches SEE2 which is Signed Exact English, a language that makes use of the same grammar and sentence structure as English. It derives around 80% of the language from ASL which is American Sign Language, the predominant sign language used in North America. The Deaf community in Singapore generally uses SgSL which is Singapore Sign Language, consisting of signs from ASL, SEE, SSL (Shanghainese Sign Langauge, a form of Chinse sign language) and locally developed signs. SADEAF informed us that they are looking to move towards SgSL classes in the future, but assured us that there would be a bridging course available when it happens.
In the meantime, I shall remember to practise my alphabets and numbers.