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How To Learn Sign Language

Understanding Humankind Through Gesture | Benjamin Lewis | TEDxGallaudet


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Robert Deliman Hello. I’m so thrilled to be here
with all of you today. My presentation is in fact about gestures. Oftentimes hearing people gesture and they think that they don’t. There are areas around
Europe like Italy and Spain, where I have to admit that hearing people, it’s almost like
forgetting how to breathe. Deaf people look at gesture,
and it’s innate. I would like to show you a short clip to show you how hearing people use gestures in their daily lives. (Mute video of JR, TED speaker) So we can see the use of gesture here. A countdown, for example. (Mute video of Oprah Winfrey) When he talks about loving yourself, he points to the audience and emphasizes
with his hands “you.” “You must love yourself.” (Mute video of Dalai Lama) Dalai talked about
contributing to a community and ways in which we can contribute. (Mute video of President Obama) President Obama talks about
job growth and growing jobs and he uses his hands to demonstrate
and illustrate how that’s going to happen. (Mute video of The Beatles) Here we see some more gestures
indicating “hmm.” Here in more of these clips, you can see how gesture is used
to get across a message. (Mute video of Tom Hanks) It’s an interesting
discussion about gestures and how innate they really are. And oftentimes, we don’t recognize that it is in fact
a part of human language. Hearing people use gesture
in a variety of different ways to describe direction. Hearing people
don’t always necessarily say, “You turn right,” or “You turn left.” They do take advantage
of the space that’s in front of them and use gestures. Gestures are used when people are talking about shopping and lists. They’re making their grocery lists. And they use their hands
as the different products that they want to buy. Also, when they’re comparing, for example, whether or not they want
to buy one color car or another type of car,
like a red or a blue car. And I’ve also noticed gestures
used when two people have quite a far distance
between the two of them. To gain someone’s attention; to connect with someone
across the room through gesture. It’s innate through all language. John Bulwer, in the 1600s, wrote a book. and in that book he showed how gestures were innate
in human language. People, at that time, thought
those gestures were savage and inhuman, but, in fact, they were hearing themselves and didn’t realize the role gesture had
in their everyday language use. They were in denial. Again, they didn’t think this was
a human way of communicating. Anthropologists have analyzed
pre-historic language starts and actually found that language started
with a foundation of a gestural system. It started with a manual modality. National Geographic did
a fabulous research study, one that I found fascinating when they talked about how gesture
could benefit us educationally. They looked at second, third,
and fourth grade classes. They had one class that didn’t incorporate
gesture in their math class, and then another class that actually
did incorporate the use of gestures, and found that where students
were exposed to gesture, they far out-surpassed their peers who were not exposed
to the use of gesture in math. There was one famous deaf man
who performed in silent films, and he wrote a book. It was fascinating. He talked about deaf individuals, and in the end of his book he said, “You know, hearing people
should learn to sign because that would absolutely benefit both the hearing community
and the deaf community because that would be a way in which we could connect
with one another.” That was 100 years ago! What forward thinking that man had. I think the world
has a lot to think about. I love to travel the world. And have done so. I have been to several
different countries. One fascinating place
I have visited was Japan. Japan is well known
for their reserved manner, but they do use gestures. One of my favorite gestures is this
that I’m using here. Again, these are hearing individuals
who do not know sign language and they would make signs
such as I’m using right now. This sign is a very serious sign. And no one has ever taught hearing people
how to use these gestures, they just naturally occur. We see that in the communities of Italy. They definitely use
gestures to communicate and emote their feelings
that they’re feeling, even though they’re using
a spoken communication, gesture seems to play
a very important role, one they cannot disconnect
themselves from. I have been teaching
American Sign Language for quite some time and I’ve noticed that sometimes
my students struggle when they try to use their hands. They’re very motivated to learn,
but they just have a fear that their hands are simply just not going
to work in the appropriate ways. I make sure that my classroom
is a relaxed environment, one that will inspire students to be more open
and comfortable with themselves. They’re so used
to listening with their ears, they have to re-train their brains
and allow them to listen with their eyes, even though they’re terrified
sometimes to do so. I show them how that can create
a warm and welcoming environment and how that will allow them to feel more comfortable
using their hands to communicate. I do have to admit,
I took French here at Gallaudet I just barely passed. It was a requirement
that I had to take a foreign language, and I realized it would be complex,
but I wondered why I struggled. Because I’ve been to Denmark and to Japan, and I’ve learned these languages more so
than a whole semester of French. So I’ve realizes, when you take
any language class, you have to re-examine what is the goal is
for you to learn that language? What is your purpose? And without taking that self-examination, you may in fact, just barely pass, like my experience taking French
here at the university. I taught a classroom that had
special technology, video cameras, the use of technology
that we could watch VHS video tapes. And now we have wireless technology, and we can communicate language
through a variety of different means. I found out that my students love
to use areas where they do feel isolated, where they can practice on their own,
oftentimes in the bathroom, so they can develop
and improve their skills. I used to work in New Zealand,
in the deaf organization there. They’ve recognized their languages, New Zealand Sign Language,
Mauri, and English. In New Zealand, they host
a week-long language festival that the entire community comes out for. And we decide to
take advantage of the festival to have a flash mob. For those of you who don’t know, a flash mob is an organized event that those who are not
in the event are not expecting it. So we organized a group
of community members, there was only a few of us,
probably 20-30 individuals, who in fact created this flash mob
and started signing. And in the end,
so many other community members who happened
to be in the vicinity, joined in. That shows that hearing people are in fact
motivated to learn a sign language, the sign language
of the community in which they belong. Maybe we could have a flash
mob on H Street, on Capitol Hill. It’s a way to celebrate
and showcase our language. Oftentimes, we view deafness
as complex and layered because our community is so diverse. If we do in fact value
and want to preserve our heritage, if we want to make sure
that the medical model that says deaf people need
to be fixed goes away and dies off, then we need to make sure that ASL
is communicated as a language that can be used and benefit everyone. That is the message that could in turn
become the best medicine to fight against the medical model. George Veditz is a man
that I truly I love. In 1913, many individuals thought
ASL would in fact die out, that it would not persevere. George Veditz wanted to maintain ASL through the use of video tape. And now, 100 years past we see that ASL is in fact
not dying off, and will not. But we need to continue
to preserve our language by spreading it. Showing our language
through a variety of different uses, including technology, and offer our beautiful
language to the world. Thank you.

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