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    Chinese deaf students learn American Sign Language
Xing Yangjian
2006-03-10 08:36

Qin Xia, a deaf student from the Special Education College of Beijing Union University, was very excited after an English class at the newly opened Deaf Community Development Centre.

"At the moment I can only speak three English sentences. But I feel I could become an interpreter one day for the deaf or for common Chinese people," Qin said in her broken Chinese.

Qin and the other seven deaf students in the classroom are all from the same college. She is a freshman, while her schoolmates are sophomores or seniors.

"I followed the seniors here as they were taught by the teacher before at our school. We all want to learn English and master this skill."

During the class, the students learned some English nouns, verbs, and basic grammars, and the American Sign Language (ASL). They also were asked to use the computer to make sentences with the words they just learned for conversation practices. Many of them couldn't understand much of the content, while Qin seemed to be learning quickly.

"The American Sign Language has more exaggerated movements, but the class is not so difficult for me because the teacher is very patient and we are quite relaxed in the class," she said. "She is just like our friend, very comfortable with us. I do wish she could come to our college and teach us there."

Like everyone in the class, Qin comes with a simple but important reason: to learn English and find a stable job.

"After learning English, my biggest wish is to find a stable job, where I will not be fired at will. Some deaf people from better-off families may find a job through the contacts of their parents; but for those children of no backgrounds, they can only depend upon themselves."

She also admitted that many deaf people dare not to think about their future, or the kind of things they wish to do in the future.

"They are very bright and capable young people, and they are learning very quickly," commented Lan Qing, the ASL teacher and also founder of the deaf centre.

"We want the deaf children to learn English and to be able to use the language so that they may find a job as an interpreter or in a foreign company."

Lan Qing's real name is Jennifer Maclean, an American deaf woman who has spent three years teaching in China. She first came to Shenzhen in 2001 to teach at the local deaf school and then spent a year teaching American Sign Language, deaf history and the sociology of deafness to an elite class of deaf people at Beijing Union University.

"Higher education opportunities are minimal for deaf students. Most of them are working hard to get to a higher level. The deaf population is huge in China and they need us very much."

With the initial funding given by the Kadoorie Charitable Foundation and individual members of the American Deaf community, and a whole year's efforts, Lan Qing finally opened her Deaf Community Development Centre in a small three-storey building in Fengtai District, south of Beijing. At present, they have only one classroom, one room as the boys' dorm and one for Lan Qing herself. There is no furniture except two sofas, but everywhere is clean and in good order.

"The kitchen is not ready yet, and we need it for cooking a meal for our fundraiser very soon."

In the next week, Lan Qing wishes to have some computers on the students' desks. She is still trying to find sponsorship for that, or at least a good discount.

Operating as a sub-program of Huiling Community Services within China, the Deaf Community Development Centre now offers courses in beginning-level Chinese Sign Language (CSL) and American Sign Language (ASL). CSL classes are aimed at teaching-major students, community service workers, aspiring interpreters, parents, and oral deaf, and also for those merely interested in CSL as a foreign language. ASL is offered for deaf Chinese learners and would-be CSL interpreters.

The text/manual has been created by intern deaf art students at the centre and provided at no cost. Classes run for 100 minutes for eight sessions.

"All the lessons will be taught in English using the American Sign Language," said Lan Qing. "The first two lessons will be the most difficult because the students will learn many new words in the new sign language, however it is the time they are learning the most."

The deaf students need to pay 80 yuan (US$9.7) for a registration fee, which includes the centre activities fee for one year, and 200 yuan (US$25) for the lessons.

"This fee will be used for paying the landlord as well as future activities in this self-sustaining project. In the future, we want to add other projects like art and dancing. The next phase is to train some of them as project managers and get them employed when they are ready."

For the past four years in China, her son Guthrie has been her loyal companion and followed her everywhere. Guthrie is not deaf, but he often sits in his mother's class and now shares the dorm with two boys from the class.

"He was involved in many activities and helped a lot. He speaks very good Chinese and his sign language is also very good. They (the students) look at him as their little brother."

"I am very proud of what she is doing. I really like it here as there are a lot of things I can do and I am learning more signs," responded the thirteen-year-old.

Deaf Community Development Centre, 43, Wuyue Building, Wu Jian Lou, Fengtai District.

Text: 135-2279-1274

E-mail: or

(China Daily 03/10/2006 page16)


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