While volunteer teaching an after-school sign language class at Akanksha Abhyudaya Nagar for interested 9th and 10th graders, I was inspired by the intensity of these ten students’ zest for learning. They were curious, quick to absorb information, always eager to learn, and excited to use what they learned outside of the classroom.
As a rising 9th grader myself, I was at first very anxious to meet the students I would be teaching. I was sure the students would be interested in the class, as they chose it, but would that interest sustain? What would they be like? How old would they be? However, as soon as I met them, all of my nerves disappeared. They were funny, talkative, and welcoming. They all participated fully, were very engaged, and absorbed the lessons much faster than I had expected them to. On the first day, we had gone through what I had planned for that day and the next, and had reviewed too!
After the first day, they started asking me how to say specific words that they wanted to learn, so that they could use them in conversations with each other. Some words they asked about were: “smart”, and “beautiful”. They enjoyed sign language so much that they asked how they could use it outside of the classroom. I found this incredible! These students were eager to apply their learning in even the smallest possible ways; for example, communicating with each other outside of class, practicing by translating songs or movies into sign language, or interpreting for deaf people in the future.
On the last day, I wanted to make sign language something that they could feel more connected to, so I offered to teach them what limited Indian sign language I knew. They were interested in the similarities and differences between Indian sign language and American sign language. They were specifically interested in the signs for different animals in Indian sign language, as well as words like “friend”, and “family”. I found that as much as they enjoyed American sign language, they felt closer to Indian sign language.
After our last class, we had a conversation in which they asked questions about me and my life in America, which they were fascinated by. At the end, they asked me if I could somehow continue teaching them sign language when I returned to the US. I was so glad that they enjoyed this initial exposure and wanted to keep learning.
I look forward to returning to Abhyudaya Nagar to see how this group of Akanksha students use and spread their interest in sign language in their community. Also, perhaps the experience of learning a visual language will help them at school and with other activities. Their determination and growth mindset will inspire me as I learn new skills and pursue my interests.