I am a western dragon living in Japan.
This my first blog, so it make take me a little while to hit my stride with it, but I hope I can share some interesting information from my not completely unique but at least uncommon life situation. I'm an American, female, 31 years old (at the moment), living in Japan, where I teach English at a high school and a school for the deaf.
Many people ask, as soon as I say I teach at a school for the deaf, how exactly that works. Maybe a lot of people think deaf children can't speak and can't hear so learning a foreign language might be awkward if not impossible. I agree in that, when I found out I'd be teaching at a school for the deaf, I wondered exactly how that would work. I've never known a deaf person myself, and really wasn't sure how I'd go about teaching there.
There are around fifty students total at the school, from preschool up through high school. Some are just deaf, but perfectly bright and functional in all other ways. Others have additional learning disabilities. Almost all the students wear hearing aids because almost all of them can all hear at least a little. All the regular teachers use Japanese sign language--which is a combination of the finger-spelling used in American sign language and the more symbol-based British sign language (neither of which I really know much about). I only teach there once a week, so it's difficult for me to pick up a lot of the sign language, but I can use some.
It's also so true that communication is much more than words. Whether it's working with deaf students or just being in a country where few people know my first language, I've learned how to be extra-expressive with my body language and facial expression. Even though I know how to say "I don't understand" in Japanese, I can also say it with a little uncertain tweak of my head and face. In a society that values subtle, non-confrontational communication, a facial expression might even be better than spelling it out with words.
So, communication with my deaf students, although challenging sometimes, actually isn't that hard. I have a few signs. I understand a few more than that. I have facial expression and body language. I can draw pictures (I really like drawing, and I'm not bad at it). They can hear sometimes, and read my lips if I use Japanese, and sometimes they can hear or lip-read English. I can also write out what I need to say in Japanese or English. If none of that works, a regular Japanese teacher can step in and translate.
Maybe teaching English to deaf students doesn't sound useful or easy, but some of them are better at English than my regular high school students. They certainly try harder. Some of them have more obstacles than just deafness to overcome, and they're still better and try harder than some of my high schoolers.
I'm making my high schoolers sound lazy now. That isn't totally the case. Some students at my high school really do make an effort. For others, sleeping in class is more important than English. Others have decided long ago that English is too hard, and don't make much of an effort. Learning a foreign language can be difficult, and the more I teach English and learn about it myself, the more strange and counterintuitive English appears to me. There's lots more to write about that topic, but I'll close for now and come back to write more later.
Mata, ne. ("See you later" in Japanese)