The following sentence was, in the original draft of this post, four paragraphs long. I have replaced those four paragraphs with the following sentence: “they recently changed our custodian at work, and the new one is deaf.”
Most of the custodians at my work are either Hispanic or Asian, some of which speak little English. Just making up numbers, I’d guess half of our custodians speak conversational English, a fourth of them speak and understand enough English for me to communicate with, and a fourth I cannot communicate with. The margin of error on those numbers is +/- 20% at least.
In high school, I took two years of Spanish. After two years of straight A’s, my Spanish teacher told me I had the grammar and vocabulary of a third grader in Mexico. Now, almost 25 years later … I can ask where the bathroom is, order beer, and fluently browse most Mexican restaurant menus. Although my Spanish is very poor and extremely limited, it has occasionally come in handy, both in restaurants, flea markets, and occasionally, at work.
I have never been directly exposed to a deaf person. I didn’t know any deaf students in school, I’ve never had any deaf friends, and I have never worked directly with anyone who was hearing impaired. The person I know with the worst hearing is probably me. In retrospect, all those years of piling speakers into small cars and pushing my way to the front row of heavy metal concerts seems dumb.
The only direct exposure I’ve ever had to sign language has been through my kids. Since infants can communicate before they are physically able to form words, many daycares (including ours) teach children basic sign language. Before either Mason or Morgan could talk they could perform simple signs for things like “milk” and “more” and “please”. This will only come in handy if our custodian is parched and needs to politely ask me for a glass of milk.
I asked my friend Tamara (whose mother is deaf) for some advice on learning sign language, and she told me to check Youtube. For the record, I am a senior network engineer who spends anywhere from 12-18 hours a day behind a computer keyboard, and yet I did not think of this.
This morning I watched the following video twice. The third time through, I was able to do the entire alphabet at full speed. I have spent the better part of the day spelling words in the air. I can still type and/or write faster than I can sign, but I’m getting there.
I watched another one of this guy’s videos and learned some very basic words, including “hello” and “goodbye.” Now what I need is, “the men’s room is out of paper towels and the third stall back is clogged.” But, you know, baby steps.
I also checked iTunes and found several apps for learning sign language. The problem won’t be finding one; it’ll be finding a good one. I saw several free ones, so despite the fact that those will most likely be the worst of the bunch, I’ll start with those.
It’s got to be pretty miserable to go through your entire work day without anyone to talk to, so I’m hoping to quickly build up some basic conversational vocabulary.
Plus, if I don’t, that toilet’s not going to unclog itself you know.