[lg policy] Speaking with two hands and all 10 fingers

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat Sep 1 14:55:54 EDT 2018

Speaking with two hands and all 10 fingers 29 August 2018 | *Story *Helen
Swingler. *Photos* Je’nine May. *Read time* 6 min.
[image: The Staff Learning Centre’s six-week pilot course on South African
Sign Language was a resounding success.] The Staff Learning Centre’s
six-week pilot course on South African Sign Language was a resounding

*Two hands and 10 fingers are all it takes to learn a new language that’s
inclusive and transforming, staff on a pilot course at the Staff Learning
Centre have learnt. They recently completed the six-week Signing programme.*

A sense of humour and some tenacity also eased the way for the eight
staffers who can now hold a basic interactive conversation with a Deaf
person in South African Sign Language (SASL).

They’re able to greet people, share their age, name and other basic
personal details. They’ve also learnt useful background on Deaf culture,
says Lesego Modutle, disability advocacy coordinator, Disability Service,
in the Office for Inclusivity & Change. Modutle and her colleague, writing
development coordinator Glynnis Newdigate, created the pilot programme.

“I sit in on many of the UCT policy discussions and one of these is
language policy. I always nag my colleagues about the inclusion of sign
language. But I’ve noticed that Deaf people tend to be isolated; if there’s
no interpreter with them, they’re basically cut off. No-one’s communicating
with them,” says Modutle.

“We’ve got some wonderful sign language interpreters, but it would be
lovely for people not to have to rely on them.”
[image: Speaking with two hands and all 10 fingers] Disability advocacy
coordinator Lesego Modutle engages participants in conversation using South
African Sign Language.

The pilot phase has gone very well, she says, and the students have asked
for a second level.

“But it’s baby steps. We’d love to make this broader and for more members
of the university to come on board for the introductory course.”

Deaf staffers Roy Priestley and Thumi Manvashe, of the health sciences
faculty, were part of the pilot programme, and invaluable teachers and

“Sign language is like any other, a fully-fledged language with its own
rules and structure … Once you start visualising it, it becomes easy.”

“Sign language is like any other, a fully-fledged language with its own
rules and structure,” says Modutle. “The signs themselves are like
pictures. For example, the sign for Cape Town is of Table Mountain. Once
you start visualising it, it becomes easy.”


Human resources practitioner Lulama Sibiya was keen to participate in the
pilot. Her job is all about interacting with people and she quickly saw how
challenging it is for Deaf people to integrate into “normal” community.

“It’s been a life-changing experience.”

Sibiya also has a hearing-impaired cousin whose new wife is Deaf.

“Just the experience of trying to communicate with her, introduce her to
the family, dress her in traditional clothes [part of the wedding], was a
challenging experience. So, when this came up I thought, yes, I want to do
this. When I see them at the end of the year I want to be able to
communicate better with them, especially her.”
[image: Speaking with two hands and all 10 fingers] Sibongile Dano-Bopape
(left) and colleague Lulama Sibiya talk with their hands.

Staff Learning Centre course coordinator Sibongile Dano-Bopape felt
inadequate when dealing with Deaf people at the centre. Besides a basic
greeting, she couldn’t communicate. The course has changed that. But it
wasn’t without challenges.

“I’ve got short hands,” she quipped. “You don’t normally have to work with
your hands when you’re interacting. You just talk.” Now she’s learnt to
stay silent when she signs, concentrating on what her hands say.

“It’s been an eye-opener. When you meet a Deaf person you kind of shut
down. At least this is an opening. They’re not different from us. We just
can’t hear what they’re saying. Sign is like any other language we learn.”

*Sign language literate*

Participant Dr Progress Njomboro, of the Department of Psychology, has a
17-year-old Deaf daughter, Tafadzwa, who attends the De La Bat School for
the Deaf in Worcester.

“She was born profoundly Deaf,” he says. “The sign language I learnt helps
me to communicate with her. She knows mostly British Sign Language (BSL) so
we use that mostly at home. But we want to be able to help her with her
school work. That’s why I joined this course. It’s helped me a lot. It’s
fast-paced but I enjoyed it.”

Tafadzwa now helps him sign.
[image: Speaking with two hands and all 10 fingers] “Sign is like any other
language we learn.” – Sibongile Dano-Bopape.

“There are slight differences between BSL and SASL,” he added. “Perhaps
because of BSL I found it [SASL] easier to pick up. It hasn’t been such a
steep learning curve.”

As Njomboro has found, it helps to have someone to sign with.

“Find a Deaf friend,” Modutle suggests. “The best way to learn a language
is from a source speaker. Chat with them every day. Take it slowly. That’s
one of the beautiful things about learning: being able to interact.”

   - If you are interested in participating in an introductory South
   African Sign Language course please email Lesego.Modutle at uct.ac.za or
   call her on 021 650 2427


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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