Last Wednesday I started taking a class in American Sign Language at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. How was it? In a word: Silent. (In another word: Fun)
Getting there was an absolute nightmare. There is nothing I hate more than being late, but there was an accident on the parkway which made me a half hour late. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Thankfully, I walked in at the same time as another family who knew their way around! They showed me to the auditorium, where all three levels of ASL classes were meeting for an overview/introduction to the course.
When we entered the auditorium, the introduction had just ended and everybody was in the process of splitting into their individual classes. Nobody was saying anything with their voices. Just hands. That’s right, folks. About 50-75 people in a room, all completely silent.
The group leaders were signing for their groups to follow them and people were following them out of the room and I knew that one of those groups was probably mine! But nobody was saying anything out loud and I didn’t know any sign and I had arrived after they’d done all the explaining. I was completely overwhelmed!
And… if any deaf people are reading this, it probably sounds pretty familiar. Now I know how it feels to be in a giant room where everybody can understand each other except you. And everybody is talking and they all know where they’re going… except you. It was like one of those bad dreams where you know that you’re supposed to be doing something, but it is physically impossible for you to do!
It’s like God was just said, “You are going to have a valuable experience! Much more valuable than being on time!”
Anyway, after a lot of rigmarole, I and a few other lost-looking newbies were shepherded into our classroom and class began. Our teacher was awesome. He was energetic and persistent and very very good-natured about the fact that none of us could understand a word he was signing.
First we went through the alphabet. Thankfully, my third grade training stuck with me and I proved that I was not horrible at fingerspelling. We pretty much went through the whole class concentrating on fingerspelling- our teacher taught us how to use a computer program that showed us ASL letters. When the word finished, we’d nod or spell it back or say it. Our very patient teacher would correct us or help us or show us the sign for it. Again, nobody voiced any speech whatsoever, but there was a lot of laughter as we finally caught on or made silly mistakes.
I’m really looking forward to next week’s class. I think our teacher said he’s printed our book. Either that or we’re supposed to buy a book. But having missed the introduction, I really have no idea. So either I’m in good or I’m screwed. I guess we’ll see on Wednesday!