We sat at an oval table. There were seven of us having a conversation. It was a typical conversation: We had some laughs, times of serious stories, questions, personal reflections. We interrupted each other and the best part was you did not have to feel guilty about not bowing your head or closing your eyes during prayer. No one else was either. All was silent. And yet, I understood almost every word.
Isn’t that exciting? I sat for an hour listening with my eyes, talking with my hands–American Sign Language! I have not had an experience like this since I took a summer ASL class in college. The Deaf community of the town got together every so often for dinners at local restaurants and they had invited me to go as well. That was one amazing dinner and conversation!! 🙂 Here, our group is much smaller and diverse: There are the two interpreters; a couple–the man, mildly hearing-impaired and the wife, hearing; a Deaf man; an occasional college student who is studying ASL; and me–profoundly deaf, but can still hear a small percentage. But we all sit together on Sunday mornings for the same reason: to hear the sermon.
Our interpreters came up with the idea of our group meeting after the first service to have a time of fellowship. I think it is a brilliant idea! Soon after we started, I discovered that I am in dire need to practice, practice, practice my signing! The group assured me in full support–“This is the best place to practice.” How true. Watching people talk with sign language is different from actual signing. I know most signs and can sign well enough to carry a conversation. But I doubt my memory of the signs and I literally cannot fingerspell. I used to be fluent–signs would just float in the air as I tried to sign as fast as I talk. But the college days are over. I re-entered the hearing world–outside of my classes, chapels, Deaf friend and interpreter–becoming dependent on it, forgetting my signs. Yesterday was my motivation reminder: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~Aristotle
I lip-read, even when talking with a Deaf person or an interpreter. I can see the signs, but the focus is lip-reading. Like taking a picture–focusing on something in the background, yet you can still see what is in front. Same goes for how I communicate. So when they don’t use the mouth function..I see how much it impacts the way I receive the information. (Not as good.) For myself, I still “hear.” Therefore, I associate lip-reading with sound. I live with a hearing family…so when I open my mouth to speak–instinct tells me to use my voice. How else am I to be heard? As we carried on our conversation yesterday, I made a mental note to self…remember the elementary rule of effective sign language communication: facial expressions! This is the tone…there is no need for voice. Facial expression is the voice of the conversation!
Now all that remains is to retrieve the dusting ASL books off my bookshelf and to dive in–looking up words, signing things I see during the day, getting a better right-hand movement in my fingerspelling. And I know the main reason in my not striving for this earlier at home–because it is embarrassing. The sound of that sentence is just ludicrous! It should not be, but it just is. I should think of it in terms such as going around the house, shouting the words at the top of my lungs…why is that any different from just a little sign? I am not certain. Maybe it is because we have never really signed much as a family, besides a few basic words and they can fingerspell. Maybe it just seems inconvenient to me…why sign to them when they can hear? I am not certain. But my family is taking the steps to try different signs to me…why not then sign to them or practice myself?
My sister signed/sang to me the “Happy birthday song” this year before I blew out my candle on the cake. At that moment, I thought it was so beautiful that I almost cried.
So today I added another motivation reminder: I love my family and desire to communicate better with them. Thus, I will strive to practice routinely. We are all in this together…even though I am the only one nearing Deafness.
13 responses to “Conversations”
This makes me so happy!!! You can do it!! I wish we could practice together, my dear friend! It is a beautiful and wonderful language and your family will be blessed by knowing it for your sake and others!
I actually felt very overwhelmed when I first started interpreters for classes at CCU. Then got so used to it, I fell asleep in class. 😉 “Extreme concentration.” LOL. Wish we could practice together too…or just lunch and conversation. 🙂
This is really beautiful Mel
Thanks for the kind words Rachel. 🙂
Go for it!! You can do it!!! And happy belated birthday wishes to you! Hehehe…
Thank you! I tried a few last night with my sister. Going to be a new habit to learn!! (And thanks for the bday wishes!)
I never gave much thought about how you communicate with sign language, it requires a totally different approach that I was never aware of. Your positive approach to adapting to your surroundings and changing body is amazing to me!
I know on days like today where even staying awake is difficult, my approach to life could be different. Just thankful God got me out of bed and I will be thanful when I get back into bed. LOL.
ASL is different but beautiful! You literally use your whole body instead of just moving your mouth. It does take work. 🙂
I just had a thought: I guess it is not really that much different from any other conversation, because a person can always observe the body language of another person(s). Like giving directions: not everyone moves their hands like pointing arrows in which way to turn, but when they do–somehow I understand it better. Interesting.
I am praying that signing comes back to you quickly and that you learn all the expressions the deaf use with their face. My sister is deaf and she certainly has that down pat:) I love to watch others sign!
Thanks for the prayers Liz. I think I will remember the facial expressions faster than the signs. LOL. The words are coming back to memory…like when we went to Wendy’s, I could think of signs. It is just a matter of putting them into context I feel. Sentences!!
This was a true eye opener – thanks for sharing sis!!! I’ve been wanting to purchase an “ASL for dummies” book or something just so I could start off learning in small steps but then I feel almost at a loss because I’ve no one to practice it with or to make sure I’m doing to signs correctly. This truely motivated me to go ahead and try, try, try:) XOXO
The ASC library might have some good books or study movies. Sometimes seeing the signs is easier than trying to read and know hand motions (just speaking from experience.) Now that my hands are so numb and curling, I don’t sign much but we still fingerspell here at home and that works nice. 🙂
Great idea!! Perhaps I can check out the ASC library now that they are open more frequently due to Adams State beign back in session. XO!