MVNU students are learning American Sign Language from a teacher who relies on it for her primary language.
Alyssa Buccholz, the professor teaching this course, has been part of the deaf community all her life. She lives in South Bend, Indiana.
This language barrier has been difficult for the students thus far. Because the professor is deaf, all communication takes place through sign language or written text.
“It’s very hard because none of us know sign language yet,” said Emma Lewis, a sophomore enrolled in the class. “However, it’s the best way to learn, because you’re learning from someone who has spoken it their whole life.”
Professor Buccholz agrees with Lewis’ assessment. The 16 students in this course are not only learning ASL, they are also learning about deaf culture, history, and the deaf community, she said.
“It is best to learn a new language from a native speaker and ideally
from a person who is a member of the culture versus learning from a person who took the language for four years in college and has never been a part of the community,” Buccholz said.
“The native speaker knows all the nuances of the language along with the cultural associations, jokes, tendencies, and all the tidbits that a person outside of the culture would not know about,” she explained.
Adding to the difficulty of the course is the distance barrier. Buchholz teaches through a live video feed from South Bend.
At the beginning of the semester, the class faced many technical difficulties. Kasey Kindle, the Academic Technology Specialist at MVNU, was instrumental in making this course possible and working through the challenges.
“With a video-conferencing software called Zoom, it’s possible to have the professor’s slideshow presentation projected onto the screen in front of the classroom and to have each student able to see the professor’s face on their own device, learning how to sign,” Kindle said.
Kindle attended the class for the first few weeks to make sure everything was working properly for Buchholz and the students.
“It was stressful since we’ve never done anything like this before, but I am proud that the IT department was able to make this course a reality,” Kindle said.
Dr. Yvonne Schultz, the dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, said that adding ASL to the University’s course offerings is a step in the right direction.
“Among the arguments for ASL being accepted as a ‘foreign language’ is that ASL has its own grammatical structure, which is quite different from edited standard American English,” she said. “Learning ASL is not just learning about language but also about being exposed to deaf culture and history; many universities already accept ASL as a foreign language.”
Learning ASL and about the deaf community is beneficial for MVNU students as it can ultimately lead to sharing the love of Christ.
Terri Farnham, a faculty member in the Communication Sciences Disorders department, said those in the deaf community desire to know the Gospel in their “heart language” just like every other community.
However, this is hard to do as “a chief difference between spoken and signed languages is the as-yet-unsolved problem of reducing a signed language to writing,” Farnham said.
The deaf community does not have access to a Bible that is translated in their native, or “heart language.” Though most can read and write in the language of their respective countries, they lack a full connection to the gospel in sign.
Wycliffe and the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a faith based organization, is working to produce videos for the ASL community that translates the scriptures into their “heart language.”
These videos will be produced with the “same careful translation, scholarship and oversight given to translation of Scripture into written languages,” Farnham said.
Farnham encourages more students to take advantage of this course. Introduction to American Sign Language will be offered again in the fall of 2017.
The course is meant to engage students in the language through “reading, writing, speaking, listening and authentic language experiences,” according to the MVNU course catalog.