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ASK AN EXPERT: How can sign language be used as a tool in class



With Megan Bruwer.

By Anchen Engelbrecht


 

Teacher Megan has been teaching at POPS for several years. She is a language and art teacher. She is also the teacher responsible for teaching some of our learners basic South African Sign Language.


1.     What is your opinion on using sing language in a classroom with learners who are not hearing impaired?

Sign language signs are often iconic in nature – the sign looks like the actual object – it can help a child to develop that mental picture. Even when a sign is not iconic, it still gives a visual representation of the word, thereby helping a visual learner create meaning. Sign language is not only a visual language, but it is also a language that requires movement, thus helping learners who may be kinaesthetic learners.

 

 2.    How can SASL in the classroom benefit learners’ academic performance and their communication skills?

Sign language provides the visual prompt necessary for learners to understand new vocabulary, terminology, and concepts. Unlike a word that is heard and then disappears, as long as someone is making a sign, the visual prompt is a necessary step to make it possible for a learner to take the time necessary to receive and process the communication.

 

3.     Any other benefits of using sign in a classroom?

Learning any language will help to stimulate your brain and give it a good workout. Sign language is no different. It can enhance brain cognition, creative thinking, brain functionality, memory, spatial awareness, and more.

 

4.     How do you incorporate signing in your lessons?

I like to incorporate sign language in English and Art lessons. I always start with the basics – Parts of Speech, colours and other language conventions that are used often in English. The best part of it all is that in South African Sign Language, the signs stay the same for English, Afrikaans, and other African languages. Whether I say “Thank you” in English or in Tswana, the sign will always be the same. It can simultaneously bridge language gaps between people all across the country.

 

5.     How can sign language benefit learners who have speech impairments or learners who experience anxiety?

When it comes to learners with speech impediments or anxiety, being able to communicate what you need is an important aspect of getting through your day. Sometimes it may be embarrassing to tell the teacher that you desperately need to go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson, or if you are the only learner who seems to not understand the work. Making use of sign language can help a learner circumnavigate such situations.

 

6.     What tips do you have for anyone wanting to learn sign language?

There are many resources for people who want to start learning South African sign language. The resource I have been using since the start is deafinition.co.za. They offer short courses on basic conversational sign language and they offer professional training too. deaf.creativity is an Instagram page run by Dirkie Ebersohn, whom I reached out to regularly during my studies whenever I could not find a sign for a specific word. And finally, TikTok and YouTube have many pages and channels run by people with hearing disabilities who aim to make educational content for people who would like to start somewhere. Einsteinhands.com also sells very valuable resources and starter toolkits for foundational phase SASL. Finally, the University of Witwatersrand has a free SASL guide called “SASL: A teacher, friend and family resource for beginners”, which can be downloaded in a PDF format.

 

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