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Deaf teacher strives to make learning through sign language fun for hearing-impaired pupils

Anita Yu, 38, was among the first batch of 13 graduates in CUHK’s sign language teaching course and wants more to be done for hearing-impaired students in the city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 12:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 12:21pm

She was born deaf and while Anita Yu On-lam went to a school for the hearing-impaired, she struggled to learn because teachers did not use sign language during lessons.

“Teachers there only taught using speech [so] it was mainly guesswork in the classroom,” Yu, who cannot hear anything at all without the help of hearing aids, said of her experience. She added that she gained most of her knowledge from reading up on her own.

Yu, now 38, became a sign language teacher about 10 years ago.

She teaches young children in Chinese University’s Sign Bilingualism and Co-enrolment in Deaf Education programme, where deaf and hearing pupils learn through a combination of sign language and speech.

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On Monday, Yu was among the first batch of 13 hearing-impaired individuals to graduate from Chinese University’s Certificate Programme in Sign Language Teaching, which aims to equip teachers with practical knowledge of sign language teaching and help them develop the skills to teach different learners, among other things.

The 10-month course is the only formal programme for sign language teachers recognised by the Hong Kong government-endorsed Qualifications Register.

Yu said she was inspired to upgrade her teaching skills, after realising that some of her students did not have much motivation to learn and would forget what they were taught easily.

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One of her takeaways from the course was how to make her lessons more interesting.

“For example, instead of just teaching them how to sign each word, I learned that I can let them know that ‘good’ and ‘yes’ both are signed with the thumbs up hand symbol, but they are differentiated using different facial expressions,” she said.

As Yu also teaches other subjects besides sign language, she gained some ideas on how to teach maths creatively, for instance, by distributing red packets with different amounts and asking pupils to sign how much was in the red packet given to each of them.

While she could now inject fresh teaching techniques into her classes, Yu said more needed to be done for hearing-impaired students in Hong Kong. The city was “backward” in offering them support, she added.

Professor Felix Sze Yim-binh , co-director at Chinese University’s Centre for Sign Linguistics and Deaf Studies, said there was currently only one special needs school for deaf children in the city, the Lutheran School For The Deaf in Kwai Fong.

But only those with profound impairment in both ears – which means they are very hard of hearing and rely mostly on lip reading and sign language – could enrol and the school only used sign language to some degree.

This meant most deaf pupils still had to go to mainstream schools where teachers could not use sign language. They would be given assistive devices to help them hear what the teachers were saying.

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Both she and Yu urged the government to invest more resources in training more sign language teachers. Sze said it would be good if the 10-month programme could be extended to provide additional training, but acknowledged that it might then become too costly for hearing-impaired individuals to sign up, given that many would be in lower paying jobs due to their disability.

Sze added that there should also be more resources devoted to grading sign language proficiency. The centre is currently developing a framework for this, similar to what is used for foreign language learning.