Overcoming the language barrier


  • Education
  • Sunday, 03 Nov 2019

(From left) Nurul Akmar, sign language interpreter Goh Soo Leng, Nur Saadah and Tengku Arman Harris communicating in BIM on the online course.

NOW, everyone can learn Malaysian Sign Language or Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (better known by its Malay acronym, BIM).

This is because the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf (MFD) has launched an online version of its Level One BIM course on OpenLearning.

Its education development officer Nurul Akmar Abdul Aziz says there has been no BIM course offered online in Malaysia to date.

“We are delighted to get the public to learn BIM through an easily accessible medium, ” she explains, adding that the course covers the basics of BIM.

“We feel that we can reach more people who are far away via an online course. The content is exactly the same as our face-to-face classes, ” she says.

“MFD conducts BIM courses on-site throughout the year. However, due to the limited number of instructors and other logistics issues, not many people can benefit from these courses, ” says Nurul Akmar.

In Malaysia, BIM is the standard sign language used in schools, government agencies, as well as formal events involving the deaf community.

Nurul Akmar says a benefit of learning BIM online is that someone can always play back the video if they have forgotten or need to review something.

“We created the course to be easy, ” she says, adding that she is one of those who created the course and monitors the participants’ progress.Sign to us

MFD strongly encourages society to learn BIM as the deaf should not be marginalised because of communication issues.

Nur Saadah Zulkefli, who is one of the instructors at the federation’s centre in Puchong, says she has faced countless problems when dealing with people over the counter.

She says they would scribble their explanations to her and sometimes, she can’t understand what is written.

Even when she visits the doctor, she finds it hard to get a proper consultation due to the doctor not being able to explain clearly what he is trying to convey.

“Even when they ask ‘What is the problem’, they can’t understand what I am trying to tell them, ” she explains.

“For me, communication is very important and learning BIM will help a lot, ” adds Nur Saadah.

“Teachers and parents especially should learn sign language so that our education system would be more inclusive and accessible, ” says Nurul Akmar.

“The same goes for employers as a lot of deaf people work in the food and beverage industry and in factories.

“I think the issue with educating the deaf is not a cognitive issue but a communication issue, ” she says.

“If we can overcome this language barrier, we can tap into their potential, ” she explains.

She adds: “Communication is the first step towards making our society more inclusive towards the deaf.”

MFD president Tengku Arman Harris Tengku Ismail says there are around 38,000 deaf people registered with the social welfare department but believes the numbers are actually higher.

He adds that the online course makes it much more accessible for everyone to learn BIM, so that they can communicate easily with the deaf community.

BIM is unique in that it is its own special language, says Nurul Akmar.

“There is no “Bahasa Malaysia or English version of sign language, ” she adds.

Although it is a language that is understood by the deaf community, it is not exactly the same around the world.

“Each country has its own sign language.

“So in Malaysia, we have BIM, in the United States, we have the American Sign Language and then we have the British Sign Language and so on, ” she says, adding that there are some similar signs among the different sign languages.

Nurul Akmar says they started with the project to create the online course in February and launched it in September.

She adds that there are five people on the team who created the videos and also monitor the course.

The entire online course is conducted by instructors who are deaf and consist of 12 topics ranging from alphabets, numbers, places, greetings, colours and others.

“It took us a while to make sure the content and our explanations are correct, ” adds Nur Saadah.

She says that it was challenging to come up with the content because they needed to make sure the participants could understand and learn BIM without having an instructor in front of them to immediately correct their mistakes.

“Creating the course was very challenging because it has always been a face-to-face class, ” says Nurul Akmar, adding that teaching sign language is literally “hands-on.”

“It was a challenge to convert it to an online format and it took us quite some time to come up with the best format so that we can capture what we want to deliver in terms of the signs and how the students can respond to us, ” says Nurul Akmar.

She adds that interaction between the student and the instructor cannot take place spontaneously in the online course.

This is where they have made it interactive with participants able to post questions and comments, and receive replies not only from their instructor but other participants as well.

She says that there are now 38 participants enrolled with some already having completed the course.

She adds that one participant, who is studying dentistry, finished the entire online course in 24 hours!

While others, mostly those who are working, can take up to three months.

“We have university students, parents with deaf children, people who are friends with deaf people and also employers working with deaf people.

“There are also those who want to learn the language because they have seen deaf people signing to each other, ” she explains.

“It’s very heartwarming as an instructor when we hear why some of them have enrolled in this course, ” she says.

Currently, the online course is only available in Bahasa Malaysia but Nurul Akmar says they are planning on launching the English version soon together with Level 2 and Level 3 of the BIM course, and also Islamic Sign Language.

An interesting feature of the online course is that participants have to record a video of themselves at the end of every topic.

Nurul Akmar says the course is “open and self-paced” and electronic certificates are given once a participant completes the online course.

“You can register and complete the online course at any point of time.

“The good thing about an online course is that you will always have access to it.”

The course can be accessed via https://www.openlearning.com/courses/malaysian-sign-language.

The online course costs RM250 with unlimited access to the course content, and an electronic certificate will be given upon course completion.

The face-to-face class is priced at RM300 and those who complete it will also be given a certificate.

There is a special price for students.

Those interested can e-mail infomfd@gmail.com or call 03-8070 9308 for more information.


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