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How To Learn Sign Language

Nicaraguan Sign Language – Language Stories: Episode 11║Lindsay Does Languages Video


If you raise a child in isolation, would a
language emerge? To make the experiment fair, you’re gonna have to nurture him in every
way that you’d normally nurture a child but one. The one being we’re gonna deny him all
access to language. What if you raise two children this way to see if they form a language
together? And how do you run that experiment? And what if the government takes 50 Deaf children
and puts them all together. They nurture you, do everything they would for any other child,
and they try to give you access to Spanish, but they can’t because of your disability.
They just ran the experiment. The streets of Nicaragua may be full of salesmen’s cries
on the market, reggaeton verses booming from a heavy-bass speaker, and voices all around
conversing and communicating. The streets are full of language. But you can’t hear every
language. In this episode of Language Stories, we explore Nicaraguan Sign Language. After the Revolution, the new government embarked,
we would say in English, would be a literacy crusade. And the goal was to really make the
entire population literate. This included people who were not native speaking English.
They also said, you know what, let’s bring in Deaf people. You have now classes where
that class is geared for the Deaf kids. That said, it was still an oral methodology focusing
on speech. So that’s where you’re trying to teach Deaf children to read lips. So the language
modality would be whatever the official speech-driven language is. So in Nicaragua’s case that would
be Spanish. They worked real hard on it. They were not successful. And as is traditional
in oral educational programs, sign language is prohibited. So that to the extend that
children may have been trying to gesture with each other, that would have been viewed as
a distraction in the class. What they were not discouraged from doing was gesturing to
each other during non-school time. Recess! So still in school, but not in the classroom? Ok. Also this was a day school, it’s not a
boarding school, which means these children have to get there. Which means every morning,
all these children are getting on the bus together and that’s not just the children
of the primary school, that’s the adolescents as well. So they’re all coming together on
the bus and in the afternoon, schools out, they’re all coming home together. So these
children had lots of contact with each other. And the language, we think, emerged during
these periods of unregulated contact. Back in Granada and we took a visit to Cafe
de las Sonrisas. A cafe started by Antonio Prieto Buñuel, staffed entirely by members
of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in the city. Because, and presumably they would go home and they’d be
away from all these other children who they could communicate with and they just wouldn’t
be able to communicate, I imagine. The first problem the child had in the home
was that the Spanish in Nicaragua, the Spanish around him was not accessible. That’s because
of the disability. Because of that, his parents end up doing communication for him. So now,
not only does he lack accessibility, he doesn’t have necessity any more either. When they
took him and put him in a school where you had other Deaf children, these children still
had the natural innate ability to start generating language with rules. They didn’t have accessibility
to the hearing people around them, but they did have accessibility to each other. They’re
also in an academic environment, which means they’re being challenged with new information
all the time. That’s stimulating. So these children now have something to talk about
and try, and a need to, at least on the bus or in recess, when they’re just on their own
between themselves, among themselves, they have a need to communicate to each other.
And because they’re gesturing, which is accessible, well now you have accessibility and necessity.
And you also have the innate ability to do it – to invent language. Just like you had
the innate ability to invent language. You just ended up always adapting it to the language
around you. By ’86, a lot of these children clearly were communicating with each other
with their hands, even though the teachers, the administrators knew nothing about sign
language, or sign languages. And there was no attempt to get these children to sign.
But they could clearly see during recess that these kids were communicating with each other. After a number of years documenting the Deaf
community and use of sign language in various parts of Nicaragua, James and his wife Judy
were invited to visit Bluefields, a town on the Caribbean coast, with a population of
under 100,000 and an already growing Deaf community by the time they arrived. Parents
had already started to document their Deaf children and signing. So, James and Judy wanted
to help take things further. We co-ordinated with the Deaf Association in Managua, including
the president of the Deaf Association, who was a young Deaf man, who was sign language
fluent. And he met with these parents and said “I bet you had no idea that Deaf people
could communicate like I do?” You know. “I bet you had very limited expectations for
your own children, but it need not be that way.” And the parents then asked us to introduce
Nicaraguan Sign Language to the community. We ran this immersion program where we were
just all in the same room, all day long with 2 Sign Language role models and that over time,
it evolved into an academic program, which ultimately became a full school with a calendar
year, you know, full academics and whatnot. But, huge progress like this isn’t always
easy. When Antonio first shared his idea to open Cafe de las Sonrisas, it was met with some scepticism. The story of Nicaraguan Sign Language is fascinating
. A language emerging accidentally, during such a tumultuous time for a country? You
couldn’t make this up. To have spoken with Antonio and James and learnt of the positive
things today being done to support the growth of this language has been an unforgettable
experience. This is the penultimate episode of this series
of Language Stories. If you’ve enjoyed this, then you are sure to enjoy the sister podcast
to this episode and to the entire series. Just search Language Stories wherever you
get your podcasts. And if you have a Language Story that you’d love to share or you know
someone that does, get in touch. Contact details are in the description below. And of course,
remember to subscribe here on YouTube for regular language learning videos as well as
Language Stories. I’ll see you very soon. Thank you. Bye!

7 Replies to “Nicaraguan Sign Language – Language Stories: Episode 11║Lindsay Does Languages Video”

  • Wow, I attended an Auslan (Australia Sign Language) many years ago. I had a Auslan Dictionary but lost it is a flood 6 years ago. Now I have forgotten most of the Auslan Sign Language but it is fascinating to see two deaf persons totally communicating using this language. I remember our lecturer was totally deaf but could speak to instruct the class. Very interesting to see your video and how a sign language started from scratch!

  • I love your Language Story videos! I didn't know about Nicaragua's deaf community before. Thank you for giving us a look at their lives and their language!

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