Sign me up for this

By Siddiqua Ovais

It’s a sign of the times that students are queuing for the new “hands-on” NTU elective to learn sign language.

Fourth-year bioengineering student Andy Lau (who shares the same name as that Hong Kong celebrity) describes the “LL9001: Singapore Sign Language” experience as “mind-blowing”.

“Think of it as an Asian stepping foot into Europe for the very first time,” says Andy, who signed up for the course after using an iPad and drawings to communicate with two deaf students he met while vacationing in Germany.

“I had a fulfilling time interacting with my two friends and was keen to learn more.”

NTU course coordinator Ms May Low (left, with her students) says her course aims to promote inclusivity in society and help students better understand the deaf community.

Within the short span of a year, the number of applications for the module, offered by NTU’s Centre for Modern Languages, has doubled, “perhaps due to its novelty”, says Ms Low, who is herself hearing-impaired and has been active in the finance sector for about 18 years.

“Or maybe it is the star appeal of Korean heartthrob Gong Yoo in the movie Silenced, where he plays the role of a teacher at a school for deaf children,” she adds.

Zennathul Firdous, a final-year student at the School of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering, finds the course useful for her to stay in touch with a friend from her internship days who cannot hear.

“She communicates using Singapore sign language and now I can do the same. It’s so much better than texting and emailing,” says Zennathul. Drawn to sign language as a freshman, Zennathul finds it “beautifully intricate” and “much more expressive than other oral languages”.

“It’s a culture in itself,” says Renaissance Engineering Programme student Daryl Teo. “The deaf are privy to a world that the hearing have no knowledge of.” Daryl’s interest in the language was sparked when he had difficulty communicating with a helper at his hall of residence who is deaf.

Through the sign language course, Ms Low hopes to break down this wall of silence. “Teaching sign language is a good way to educate others about deaf culture and broaden relationships.”

History student Wong Ying Yin agrees: “Now, I can not only communicate in basic sign language, but am also more aware of the social issues intertwined with the language.”

Students step into the shoes of the hearing-impaired in various ways as part of the course. “For one assignment, we had to interview someone who has interacted with a deaf person. Through this exercise, I gained yet another perspective of the deaf culture,” says Daryl.

Zennathul also shows signs of a new understanding of the deaf community. “Deaf pride is all about embracing deafness, about not being embarrassed by the disability or the need for a hearing aid, and pushing oneself to do better in whatever one sets out to do,” she explains.

She likes that Ms Low’s classes are “hands-on” and said she could really feel her passion for the language and culture.

“It’s time to put away your papers and pens and get physical,” quips Ying Yin. “I haven’t felt this excited about attending class in a while.”