Children put their hands up for Auslan
When it came to learning a new language, the students at Diamond Creek East Primary School put up a big show of hands for sign language, writes Tina Luton.
One person really can make a difference. There are 402 students at Diamond Creek East Primary School and each and every one of them learns Australian Sign Language, known as Auslan, as their Language Other than English (LOTE) subject. The school introduced Auslan as its official LOTE subject in 2008 after teachers noticed that some of the students had begun to use sign language to talk with a classmate, Sarah, who was born with profound deafness.
Sarah, who is now in Year 4, began to teach some of her friends simple hand signs at lunchtime. Other students soon wanted to learn and teachers began to pick it up, with several taking night-school courses in order to become Auslan proficient.
Teacher Cathy Currie says this ripple-on-the pond effect has had an incredible impact on the school and wider community. “It amazes me that this one thing has changed so many peoples’ lives,” she says. “Auslan is a visually beautiful language and it is so lovely to watch the students embrace it. Plus, it has opened up their eyes to the deaf community.”
Students from Prep to Year 6 study Auslan for one hour each week. They learn finger spelling and numbers and play standard classroom games using basic hand signs. “The Years 3 and 4 have really absorbed it,” Ms Currie says. “It is a more dramatic form of communication, with a lot of miming and facial expressions and body movement, so you can play games straight away and apply it in
some really fun ways in the classroom.”
Ms Currie said the children have embraced their new language skills wholeheartedly and with a certain degree of creativity; they now ‘whisper’ in class using their finger spelling and have also been known to use Auslan on the sports field to baffle their opponents!
Teachers now incorporate Auslan into their regular meetings and will build on the program this year through professional development. Response from parents has also been extremely positive with many expressing an interest in learning how to sign so that they can communicate with their children who continue to use it at home.
What is Auslan?
Auslan has its roots in English, Scottish and Irish sign languages but is different from American and French sign languages. It has its own grammar and vocabulary that are also very different from English. Auslan can communicate a rich variety of concepts and subtle meanings through the use of finger-spelling, body movements, facial expressions, mime and gesture. It is a naturally evolved language and new signs are always being created.
For more information about Auslan, visit www.auslan.org.au
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