Day 17: The New Girl
Today I had my first day of Spanish Sign Language class! The class had already been in session for 2 weeks so I received quite a few curious stares when I walked in and took a seat.
For those of you who not have taken a sign language course, it is important that I mention the layout of the room. In sign language classes the chairs in the room are usually arranged into a giant circle for visibility.
This being said, when I walked into the classroom, the layout ALSO allowed every curious soul to openly stare directly at me. At first, people were trying to politely scale back on the open curiosity. Until finally, one young woman directly across the circle broke the ice.
She leaned over towards me “¿Como te llamas?” she whisper-yelled. I couldn’t hear her at first so I, too, leaned over and whisper-yelled, “¿Cómo? (Come again?)”. She repeated herself. I understood and asked her the same question. When I couldn’t hear her response yet again, she decided to walk over and sit down next to me.
I was thankful to her for being so kind as to introduce herself and strike up a conversation. Her decision also seemed to make everyone stare less covertly and ~casually~ turn their ears towards us. When she asked where I was from, her eyes widened at my response. “Los Estados Unidos? Wow,” she said. I was shocked no one had fallen out of their seat as they were straining to listen.
My new friend returned to her seat after we exchanged contact information. Another young woman took her place. This time, with a group of girls. She looked at me without saying anything and, feeling sociable, I asked her about the class. She answered quietly and succinctly (I realized then that she was not a leader of another welcome committee). Suddenly, the four girls that sat down beside her leaned over into my field of view.
“Eres de los Estados Unidos?" one of the girls said. I smiled and nodded my head.
“Soy Irene!” “Soy Silvia!” The other two girls called out their names, as well.
Even a few people from across the room raised their hands to wave and to call out their names.
Finally, the instructor started the class.
My instructor and I were introduced by one of my mentors briefly before class started. My instructor is a Deaf Spanish woman full of positive energy and happiness. We chatted a little bit and I understood her fairly well and she understood everything I signed to her in ASL. It was not until she began teaching that I realized that she had been adapting to my signing, by using “International Sign”. Fun fact: International Sign (IS) is not an official language like ASL or Spanish Sign Language, LSE. It is a pidgin language that occurs when there’s contact between signed languages. International Sign is often used by Deaf world travelers! My instructor informed me that this system was heavily influenced by ASL, which is why I was able to understand her so well.
Once my instructor had everyone’s attention, she greeted the class and then presented me, a student from the United States. There was a lot of excited murmuring as even more people looked at and waved to me or called out their names. There was no way I was going to remember all of those names.
As I sat through the lecture, trying to absorb as much as possible, I began to realize how much I underestimated the differences between ASL and LSE. I had been transported back to my first ASL class, when I didn’t understand really anything but smiled and nodded regardless.
By the end of the two hour class, I had a game plan: I realized that I had to work to really separate my English and ASL into one half of my brain and my Spanish and LSE into the other. Though, in theory, it may seem obvious, I’m finding that it, for me, it is a difficult task.
This was a pretty long post, but I wanted to try to highlight just a few of the most interesting/funny things that happened today. I walked away from this class with some new friends, membership into the class What’s App, and the ability to have a VERY basic conversation in LSE!