SYKESVILLE — A local church will be offering a free and useful resource to the public next month, presenting the opportunity to learn a new language.
Grace United Methodist Church, 32 East Main Street in Sykesville, will offer free sign language classes to the public each Monday in October from 7-8:30 p.m.
Jenny Gordon, wife of Pastor Drew Gordon, will be instructing the sign language classes. She’s also a psychiatric rehabilitation worker for the Community Guidance Center.
Jenny’s daughters are both hearing impaired — one is completely deaf and the other hard of hearing, she said. She started taking sign language classes in 1996 when her older daughter was diagnosed.
Jenny used to teach sign language classes in Reynoldsville, which began through the deaf ministry at First United Methodist Church.
“We found people were excited about learning sign language,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for fellowship and people to just be with one another. It’s a beautiful language, and it allowed people to learn in a really fun environment.”
American Sign Language — which includes signs made by moving the hands, combined with facial expressions and body postures — is the primary language for deaf and hard-of-hearing North Americans, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Sign language was developed around 200 years ago, and different forms of sign language are used in different countries.
She follows the sign language spark notes from Barnes & Noble, Jenny says, and aims to make the classes enjoyable. They start with basics like learning the alphabet, and having everyone introduce themselves.
They also do humorous activities, too, like learning sign language for animals, which can turn out to be very funny to watch, Jenny said.
There are already 40 people of all ages registered for the class, including children as young as 7 years old. The oldest person registered is in their 70s, Jenny said.
“Everybody’s motivation is different — some people are losing their hearing, or someone they know is losing their hearing,” she said.
When people hear of a sign language class, they may assume it’s only for deaf people or teachers or professionals who need to learn to sign, Jenny said. She has encountered other situations as well, though, such as an elderly couple who learned how to sign due to hearing loss.
“This will be the couple’s third or fourth time taking the class,” she said. They practice signing with each other because he is losing his hearing.”
Although ASL is a completely separate language, it contains the fundamentals, such as pronunciation, word order and grammar rules.
The earlier a deaf or hard-of-hearing child learns this language, the better, since their communication skills will improve sooner.
“Research suggests that the first few years of life are the most crucial to a child’s development of language skills, and even the early months of life can be important for establishing successful communication,” the NIDCD website says.
“The most important thing, in my opinion, is that there are no tests and there is no cost (for the class),” Jenny said. “This is a low-stress way to learn something new.”
For more information on sign language classes and how to get involved, call GUMC at 814-894-2784 or visit its Facebook page.