Silent Classroom


This is the first post I will write about my college experience, and not only because it’s about the first courses I attended.

In 3 days, I’ve trekked (boy, I did) to 3 faculties: Classical Studies (looks like the place where Kent Hovind got (read bought) his Ph.D in), Languages (a branch of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities here at BIU, in a building that kind of reminds me of Prague) and Life Sciences (for my Biology B.Sc.

The first thing that popped into my head when I entered the classroom this Sunday was: “Hell, each and every one of these people is just like me, a hearing person with access and affiliation to the deaf world”.

I remember thinking that I find it much easier to feel special and my signing to be a sign (ha) of my exotic background while interacting with the hearing, but I felt helplessly inferior with this population. With these guys, I’m just another peer. In fact, it’s the first time in my life I was really in a place filled with my peers, since I belong to a very unusual minority, this is quite an extraordinary occasion. Sometimes, the classmates had to sign to each other. It was the first time in my entire life I have ever used sign to communicate with the hearing.

There’s much to tell about my experiences (it was 10 hours straight, sheesh), but frankly, I’m not interested in writing a journal entry and document the whole thing. I am, however, interested in recording just one amazing aspect of studying Sign in an academic institute.

Firstly, we have 2 teachers who are 100% deaf. Moreover, one of our hearing teachers is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who’s married to a deaf person, and also someone I’ve known in person ever since I was a pup.

Thirdly, and this is the big whopper for me:

Two classes out of five were conducted in a foreign language. It is the first time in my life I ever sat in a class that was taught in a language other than Hebrew (or English and Hebrew, in cases where the subject was “English”).

In fact, the most amazing part about studying sign language interpreting is the fact that the classes themselves are in sign language. It’s an extremely exhilirating experience, and more so, an incredible phenomenon:

20 students sitting in a class, for hours on end, that is completely silent. Not a squeak, not a peep, but throughout the entire session, people were livid, burning with passion, teasing and gossipping, voicing (hur, hur) their opinions, and generally: behaving like your garden variety young and enthusiastic students, except everything was in brain-dead silence. It almost brought me to tears.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than a silent classroom.


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5 Responses to “Silent Classroom”

  1. watercat Says:

    “It was the first time in my entire life I have ever used sign to communicate with the hearing.”

    I find this an intriguingly strange comment. As a student of ASL I’ve been in a lot of silent classrooms, and they seem normal to me, just using a different language than the usual English. At my first college several teachers were deaf, and I had a circle of deaf friends. It came as a huge surprise several years later to read a news article about one of them and learn that she was deaf. We’d always signed to each other, and the issue never came up.

    ps; I’ve been following this blog a while now. It’s good.

  2. freidenker85 Says:

    Gosh, an atheist signer! You just made an instant new friend.

    Since the subject matter of the program is “sign language interpreter”, it’s no surprise at all that every single one of my classmates is hearing, and I would definitely notice if that weren’t case. At any rate, I never had a circle of deaf friends, only customers, and it was always a bit hard to have a real relationship with them because being employed by them is a problem. I do have deaf friends, though, but it’s rare. At least in Israel, it’s hard for the hearing to simply assimilate into the deaf. It happens, but it’s not easy, especially not to a relative “outsider” like me. Namely because I have very few links to the young deaf world, and I’ve often been told by young deaf people that I sign like their parents (since I learnt sign from aged deaf parents, their sign is the only one I have 🙂 )

    P.S – I’m putting you in my aggregator, kudos on the blog.

  3. jeffsdeepthoughts Says:

    I took on class on signing that was taught by a deaf instructor, immersion-style. We weren’t allowed to speak through the whole thing. I have a brain like a black hole for languages, whether spoken or signed. I didn’t learn much about sign language through the whole thing. (One of the worst grades of my grad. school career.) But it did give me insight into the whole idea of immersion as a way to teach foreign language. It confirmed my initial reaction that immersion is a lousy method because it leaves the learner feeling so vulnerable and disconnected that they are to stressed out to actually learn much.
    I hope it’s not too narcisstic that I copied the poem I wrote about the experience below. As I read your post, I was struck by how my experience was sort of an utter reversal of yours.

    “Voices off” you remind us

    by joining your finger and thumb at your throat

    at the beginning of every class.

    Your voice is forever offexcept that your dancing fingers and deft hands,

    moving arms and shifting body positions, your animated, eloquent expressions

    these speak for you.

    To me they seem a surrogate voice

    I think to you they are a much-loved first born.


    as I am

    in this silence

    I fear that I might drown in it.

    Sometimes I find the mucky bottom

    of this river of noiselessness

    and I kick up off it

    emerge from the waters and gasp for a moment above it all.

    My fingers are mush-mouthed

    and my hands are clumsy

    my arms and body move in two separate directions

    my expression is only ever wonderment and confusion

    regardless of the message I am trying to send.

    There is no direct route

    from the message part of my brain

    to these tratorious hands

    “Don’t you understand”

    I want to shout

    I am not allowed to shout

    “My hands are for other things.”



    skipping stones

    Interesting. Ironic.

    I am the one rendered mute here

    and yet and yet

    When you brought them in

    representatives from your deaf community

    for the class pannel discussion

    a strange, silent discussion

    I catch only some of what they “say”

    Isolated words and phrases

    Like a broadcast from a half-tuned radio station,

    one with compelling news

    from the other side of the world.

    We share these little moments

    this commanality

    One is a high school teacher like me;

    another loves poetry

    Later there is this admission to wondering about some sounds

    the sound of a tick-tocking watch

    or the Star Wars soundtrack

    it helps me to see what I’ve taken for granted

    And at the end of it all,

    miraculously I understand all the signs

    when the old guard, reminds us solemnly,

    that those deaf and not-deaf,

    really we are all the same

    This all makes me feel


    I stand next to a brick wall

    and you are on the other side

    and my hands, my traitor’s hands

    are about as likely to convey meaning

    as they are to smash down a literal wall

    of rock and mortar

    between us.

    I felt diminished today

    immersed in that silence

    but also awakened.

  4. jeffsdeepthoughts Says:

    Arrgh! I hate it when blogs don’t honor the breaks between stanzas!

  5. The Power of Sign Language « Obsessed with reality Says:

    […] me. I’m constantly reshaping my view on sign language and interpreting for the Deaf. When I started studying ISL, I was determined to acquire the skills and credentials of an ISL interpreter because of a […]

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