By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN Students at HOPE Homeschool Co-op in Cokato learned a new language this past school year, but don’t ask them to speak it.
Instead, see if they’ll share a few signs.
Certified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Alysha Ravaska has been teaching sign language class at HOPE for the past two years.
The class meets twice a month during the school year, practicing their skills in between sessions.
“The best way to learn is to do it,” said Ravaska, who has been in the field for more than 10 years.
Growing up, Ravaska knew a few people who were deaf, and also had a family friend who worked as an interpreter.
She became intrigued by sign language, and earned a degree in ASL interpreting from Southwest Community College in South Dakota.
Now, Ravaska works part time for a video relay service (also known as a video interpreting service). The service allows people who are deaf and hard of hearing to have real-time phone conversations through video, via an interpreter.
“It kind of operates like Skype; the technology is fairly new,” Ravaska said, explaining that video communication has grown dramatically in the past 15 years.
Before video interpreting services were available, deaf people had to place calls using an assistive telephone device, such as a teletypewriter (TTY).
Ravaska said this method didn’t always allow deaf people to communicate the way they wanted to, because of the language differences. Signing is grammatically “opposite” of English, she explained, noting that TTY doesn’t capture idioms or other nuances.
“[Video relay service] was huge for deaf individuals to be independent,” Ravaska said. “They don’t have to be at home using TTY; they can be at the mall on their smart phone.”
Sign me up
When Ravaska teaches sign language at HOPE Homeschool, she emphasizes the differences between English and signing.
“I encourage [students] to forget about English, and let go of English words,” she said.
One of the participants, Anna Mielke, said she signed up for the class after her older sister was in it.
“I picked some up along the way, and I really enjoyed it,” she said, adding that “sign language is its own language, with its own grammar. It doesn’t use any articles, like ‘a’ or ‘the.’”
Mielke knows a deaf girl at her church, and said her sister had the opportunity to communicate with a deaf person at her job.
“The deaf community is really close-knit, and it’s really interesting,” Mielke said.
Classmate Lily Borg also likes learning the language, as there is a deaf girl on her swim team.
“I wanted to be able to talk with her in sign language,” Borg said.
Although the students at HOPE Homeschool aren’t fluent in the language yet, just knowing the alphabet can go a long way.
“With finger spelling, you can say anything,” Borg explained. “It just takes longer.”