Learning sign language via Zoom

Our local community college, Linn-Benton Community College, is offering a beginning sign language (ASL) class, which is taught by Zoom. I’ve been hoping to take a class on this subject for some time now, so this is my chance! At first I was a little disappointed that it was being taught by Zoom, but now that we’ve had our first class meeting, I discovered some interesting advantages of that format.

The instructor is Dr. Jonah Eleweke, who holds two Ph.D.s (!) and is a vibrant, energetic, friendly, and fun instructor. (I admire how he keeps the energy level high even via Zoom – I know how hard that can be!) So far, there are just three students, including me, which gives the class a chatty, intimate feeling. Dr. Eleweke plunged us right in, signing repeatedly, “GOOD EVENING!” as we joined the session, smiling and grinning in welcome.

Here’s where the Zoom format came in handy. Dr. Eleweke alternated between typing into the chat window and signing, so we could make the connection. It felt like being immediately immersed, although it wasn’t technically a full immersion since we were able to read translations and make connections that way. But it was an interesting experience, to have _everyone_ on the Zoom call muted, and this continual silence, with avid attention on visual cues and smiles and nods. I wondered, indeed, how he would have taught the same content in person – maybe hand-writing on the chalkboard? Undoubtedly this was easier.

We covered the manual alphabet, then moved on to signs for greeting, asking people’s names, and some basic vocabulary. Dr. Eleweke had slides to both introduce content and to provide practice sentences for us to sign. We’d follow along slowly as he signed it first, then sign (simultaneously) while he somehow watched us all make our attempts. The slides were another useful aspect because he could just move his red arrow around to different words or sentences to prompt us about what to sign.

One downside was that it we couldn’t really get individual feedback or corrections. In person, you can face an individual and direct comments to them, but on Zoom we’re all flattened and you can’t see where someone’s gaze is directed. I wished we had had a chance to practice signing either individually (to Dr. Eleweke) or to each other. We had a 15-minute break in the middle of class, and right before class resumed, another student and I practiced the greeting dialogue with each other, which was fun :)


We also covered some interesting grammatical points. When signing a dialogue yourself (like doing both A and B above), you shift your body left and right to indicate who is communicating. Also, nouns are (often? usually?) signed “twice” in that, for example, “NAME” has you tap your hands together twice. It seems that this is a method for distinguishing related verbs (sign once) from nouns (sign twice). (Btw, I love this example sentence from that page: English: “I like to fly small planes.” Sign: SMALL-PLANES FLY LIKE ME)

Overall it was a very fun class. Dr. Eleweke was constantly positive, joking, encouraging, and patient. I’m looking forward to learning more!

1 Comment
1 of 1 people learned something from this entry.

  1. bill! said,

    April 5, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    that’s cool. my sister when she was back in college did ASL as her language credits, i should ask her what the course was like there.

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