Deaf students complete linguistics diplomas using sign language

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 2:52pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 4:51pm


Seven students made history when they became the first batch of deaf students to receive high diplomas in linguistics.

The students — three from Hong Kong, two from Sri Lanka and two from Indonesia — spent six years to complete their basic and high diplomas under the Asia Pacific Sign Linguistics Research and Training Programme at the Chinese University.

"This opened my eyes to what opportunities there are for me," said graduate Kenny Chu.

In a city where sign language is still not regarded officially as a language, still banned from usage in most classrooms and where there are only 10 officially licensed translators, Chu had grown up with low self-esteem and little prospects.

At Chun Tok School, Chu was told that sign language — what he used to communicate with his family who are also deaf — was bad for him. He learnt nothing from the classes which were taught verbally, he said.

"Whenever I had to communicate with those who can talk, I had to point and gesture — it was embarrassing and I felt so bad about myself," he said.

"This programme taught me that sign language is a legitimate language too, and knowing that I do have a language — it gave me confidence again."

The programme is the first of its kind in Asia, set up in 2003 with funding from the Nippon Foundation. The first four years were spent on research and compiling sign language dictionaries, with the first batch of students joining in 2007.

Taught in Hong Kong Sign Language, all students had to first learn the language for class, but were encouraged to conduct research and analysis of sign languages used in their home country, said professor Gladys Tang, director of the programme and at the Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies.

Sign language is underdeveloped in the rest of Asia as well.

"In Sri Lanka, 95 per cent of deaf people are illiterate," said Sri Lankan graduate Kodithuwakku Koralege Brayan Susantha. "There is very little sign language in classrooms."

With no programmes for deaf students in his home country, he said Hong Kong had been an eye-opening experience: "Here classes are taught in a way that we can understand it."

"It’s worse in Indonesia," said Indonesian graduate Laura Lesmana Wijaya. The programme had opened doors for her, and she hopes to return to Indonesia to further development sign language there.

Video: Sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired