I had my first Auslan lesson on Tuesday night, and to be honest I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was running about five minutes late (typical me!) and when I entered the classroom I was met by an overwhelming silence. As the teacher (I assumed) gestured to me to grab a seat and sit behind a desk, I suddenly felt out of my depth.
As her gestures, expressions and movements became more animated I felt myself withdraw more and more as I struggled to piece together the message she was trying to convey. With the other students nodding along I became increasingly more certain that I had simply walked into the wrong classroom and was, in fact, amidst the middle of an Advanced Level 2 Auslan lesson. As I became progressively more stressed that I was in the wrong place, all of a sudden the teacher began to speak…
And so it appeared that it was an elaborate exercise intended to make us feel uncomfortable, out of our depth and exhausted trying to create meaning from the signs she was creating. The teacher explained how this isolation, alienation and confusion of a conversation which was ever so brief for us made up some of the day to day difficulties that those Deaf or hard of hearing face.
As we began to go around the room and introduce ourselves to the class, it became evident that many people had different reasons for learning Auslan, each as valid as the next. Julie from Paddington was hard of hearing and wished to learn Auslan as she felt her ability to decipher words was drastically fading. Natalie originally from Brisbane was a mother of three whose youngest child didn’t have the ability to speak and so she was learning Auslan as a way to teach her daughter how to express herself more effectively. Susan was a Kiwi performance artist that wished to incorporate sign language into her theatre productions in an effort to make the arts more accessible for all.
After learning more about Deaf culture and the Deaf Community we put our new skills to the test. Signing our ABC’s and introducing ourselves in Auslan to the class instead of the English we were so dearly trying to hold onto. It was a great lesson and one where I learnt a lot, coming home to my housemates with my new favourite (and perpetually relevant!) sign “the milk has run out.”