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My sign language experience

Sign languages have caught my attention seriously after the Polyglot Gathering and Polyglot Conference. I was amazed to know a handful of people who know sign languages. I began to investigate sign languages because I knew almost nothing about them. My knowledge was so little, I could just wonder how people communicate in sign languages.
It was not an easy investigation given the numerous numbers of sign languages in this world. I thought that sign languages were just gestures based on the spoken languages that they represent. I also thought that sign languages functions accordingly to the grammar of spoken languages that they represent. However, I realized I was wrong, it is incorrect to say a sign language represents a spoken language because sign languages are separated languages from spoken languages. In other words, sign languages are independent languages.

Similar to spoken languages that share similar or same words with other languages, sign languages also share similar or same gestures with other sign languages. For instance, Japanese Sign Language is related to Taiwanese Sign language, New Zealander Sign Language is similar to Australian Sign Language.

First Impression

There was a time in a polyglot meeting where I witnessed two signers from Australia and New Zealand communicating by sign language. Both of them are proficient signers and have much knowledge of both Australian Sign Language and New Zealander Sign Language (anyway, both are related). They could communicate by sign language meanwhile the rest of us were talking. It was amazing to see two people communicate without interfering with the ongoing conversation of other people.

Soon I realized the advantages of knowing sign languages. Besides helping me to understand the deaf community, using sign languages also function as a better way of communication among people in a noisy place or among people in a far distance (as long as they can see each other clearly).

The difficulty of deciding which sign languages to learn is enormous. I asked so many people’s opinions about it. Some suggested I learn the sign languages of my country, some others suggested I learn sign languages from the country I am living in. I end up reading about as many sign languages as possible. I encountered people who know French Sign Language, Taiwanese Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, New Zealander Sign Language, American Sign Language, Peruvian Sign Language, Italian Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, and Indonesian Sign Language. I learned a bit of everything, and I read about their deaf communities too.

Learning Progress

I have an online Peruvian friend that I have known for a long time but I just discovered that she knows Peruvian Sign Language after many years of knowing her. Thus, the first sign language that I learned was Peruvian Sign Language. I took a free online course on Peruvian Sign Language on the Edutin website. Initially, I thought about practicing it with my Peruvian friend but we have a great time difference and it was difficult to make a schedule.

My second choice was American Sign Language because I encountered abundant resources on the internet. It seems to be the most popular sign language in the world. However, I couldn’t find anyone to practice it, so it was not a good choice for me. Despite not finding anyone to practice with, I still enjoy watching American Sign Language videos on YouTube. There is one of my favorite channels called "Learn How to Sign". I watch it almost every day during my lunchtime in the office. Its simple teaching method helps me learn faster.

In addition to YouTube videos, I also use applications to learn sign languages. I found an application for Indonesian Sign Language called "Belajar Bahasa Isyarat Indonesia", and it has the contact information for private tutoring. I contacted the teacher and I am taking her course once a week. She is the only person right now that shares so much knowledge about the deaf community and sign language with me. Indonesian Sign Language is not just one type of sign language; in fact, it has two types of sign languages: Bisindo and SIBI. Bisindo is created by the deaf communities in Indonesia, and SIBI is created by the government as the standard Indonesian Sign Language used in the media. If you are familiar with Arabic, the usage difference between Bisindo and SIBI is like that of Standard Arabic and Arabic dialects.

Indonesian Sign Language

Here is my first Indonesian Sign Language (Bisindo) video. I recorded this video after learning it for approximately 7 hours of learning (7 classes x 1 hour).

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