As you may already know, reports in late 2021 showed that interest in learning sign language spiked by about 250 per cent after the drop of Marvel’s Eternals. This, unsurprisingly, is connected to the fact that the film featured hearing-impaired actress Lauren Ridloff in the role of deaf superhero Makkari, and so, displayed the use of sign language (specifically ASL or American Sign Language) regularly.
This was followed by similarly important examples of representation in Only Murders in the Building (which had an almost entirely silent episode run from the perspective of its deaf character Theo Dimas) and Marvel’s Hawkeye, which stars deaf actress Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez/Echo.
Finally, at the 2022 Academy Awards, CODA – a film with a predominantly deaf cast – took home the award for Best Picture in a history-making moment.
Characters like Makkari, Theo, Echo and Frank and Jackie Rossi (of CODA) are particularly exciting to see not only because they showcase the sheer power of representation, but significantly, they also highlight that being hearing-impaired is just one part of their stories.
Off the back of the surge in interest around learning sign language and taking courses, we reached out to educational service Learn Auslan to see how it’s impacted businesses like theirs.
Darren, who has been teaching Auslan (Australian Sign Language) professionally for 18 years, explained that the influence of Makkari’s character in Eternals has been huge, but also that COVID (and assumedly, multiple lockdowns) has also resulted in a boost in interest.
He shared that over the last 17 years, he would struggle to fill even five community courses with 20 students each term. Now, online enrolments have jumped up to as many as 10 per day.
In addition to that, he shared that Learn Auslan is now also educating kids through school programs, “staff in disability organisations, in churches, in homeschooling, in special schools and the many families with deaf children, as well as hundreds of university students from Melbourne Uni, Swinburn, Victoria, ACU and Notre Dame in NSW”.
It’s pretty incredible.
If you’re interested in starting an Auslan course to learn sign language in Australia too, here are some tips, as shared by Darren.
What can I expect from taking a course in sign language?
Here, Darren explained that most people “find learning Auslan quite easy” – which is certainly encouraging when it comes to learning any language.
Naturally, “it takes time to master Auslan due to the enormous number of signs to learn and their context variation,” Darren shared. But the key takeaway here is that spending a few months to learn the basics can go a long way.
“…all students can be expected to be able to sign at a reasonably proficient level upon completion of the course and to be able to understand a deaf person signing in a range of workplace, educational and social settings,” Darren shared.
What kind of sign language courses are available?
Depending on what you may need to learn Auslan for, there are different courses available. This can be as simple as courses categorised by difficulty level, but you can also find classes dedicated to things like learning to sign with children or for work. There are even Auslan courses for learning nursery rhymes.
There are also resources available like Auslan Signbank, which offers an online dictionary, the ability to search for signs related to medical and health topics and videos of deaf people using the listed Auslan signs.
Can you explain the difference between ASL and Auslan?
If you’ve seen terms used like ASL and Auslan and are feeling unsure about the difference between the who, Darren has offered a quick breakdown for you.
“Auslan is Australian Sign Language and derived predominantly from British and Irish sign languages,” he explained.
“We have a two-handed alphabet and mostly sign with two hands. America has American Sign Language and is predominantly signed one-handed as is the alphabet and both the alphabet and the signs are very different from Auslan. If you watched someone signing British Sign Language (BSL) (knowing Auslan) you could understand 90% of the signs whereas with ASL perhaps only 5-10% of the signs. Some Auslan signs are taken from ASL, mainly the signs for states, towns or cities.”
What that likely means is that there will be cases where you may see ASL used in major shows and movies, and it won’t really translate for those who use Auslan.
What are some simple terms or phrases I can use in Auslan?
There are a few places where you can find basic terms that act as a great starting point for learning Auslan. The Deaf Society has a sheet you can refer to including signs for hello, how are you, where, deaf, no, yes and a list of numbers.
Expression Australia also a video that walks you through 19 different phrases. You can check that out below.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
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