A positive sign: Darlington Library hosts ASL classes
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
If you’ve ever thought about learning another language and failed to follow through, you’re not alone. Many people stop before they start, scared off by high price tags on computerized learning programs, or intimidated by fears of making mistakes and embarrassing themselves. But a new program at the Darlington Library aims to defuse those fears and help students young and old learn the useful and unique communication of American Sign Language (ASL).
“We’ve wanted to learn (ASL) for years… we would pick up a few signs here and there just sign together,” says Darlington Library branch manager Gwen Robinson, explaining how she and reference librarian Christy Lamb came up with the idea.
“It is much easier to pick up another language, even a signed one, if you’re learning with someone,” says Lamb. “So we decided, hey why don’t we all just learn together?”
Robinson says that it was an easy leap to start planning a class once she and Lamb realized how much interest there was among library patrons and the community at large.
“We do have (hearing impaired) patrons who come in and they have to write down what their needs are. They can usually understand us with lip reading, but this way there will be someone on staff that will understand enough to get them what they need,” says Robinson.
To get the ball rolling, they linked up with Julie Watkins, who works with the Darlington County School District as an interpreter for the hearing impaired, and Kirstin McIver, who led the ASL classes, and then scheduled two months of weekly meetings during June and July. Every Tuesday afternoon, students of all ages gathered in the library’s conference room to learn basic signs.
Classes covered useful essentials like the alphabet and numbers, simple conversations, finger spelling, seasons and colors, and family members. But instruction also included different ways you can translate common body language cues to ASL. Take for example the combination of upturned palms and a shoulder shrug that normally conveys “What?” In ASL, that same sentiment can be expressed by displaying your left palm and tracing your right index finger across it diagonally, from the base of your left index finger to the heel of your palm.
Robinson says that students seemed to enjoy the classes so much that they dreaded the end of instruction, so at Watkins’ suggestion they have agreed to expand their classroom and test their new language skills in the outside world.
“We were going to take a break and decide if we wanted to continue instruction from this point or start all over, but the class is so interested and they’ve become so close as a group that they decided not to take that break,” Robinson says. “They want to meet at a restaurant and have a silent supper.”
Watkins explains that a silent supper bars verbal communication, requiring students to use ASL all during the meal.
“It will give the students a good feeling of what deaf people actually have to deal with when they go in and place an order at a restaurant, just that consideration that you may not even think about otherwise,” says Watkins.
With the success and popularity of the summer ASL class, Robinson says that the Darlington Library will almost certainly schedule a repeat session for the fall or winter, so those with heat aversion, health problems, or vacation conflicts can have the chance to learn ASL in a fun, low-pressure setting close to home.
Similar classes at locations like Poyner Adult Education in Florence presented difficulties for locals with transportation troubles, scheduling, and cost concerns, but the Darlington Library class is close by, absolutely free, and uniquely edifying.
“I feel like learning this way encourages people to be okay with making mistakes, because you’re going to do that with any new language,” says McIver. “Also, it’s important to know that you don’t have to leave the country to immerse yourself in a different culture; there is a different culture right here.”
To keep up with educational programs and other activities sponsored by the Darlington County Library System, visit them online at www.darlington-lib.org or call 843-398-4940.