Helena College Junior School students have rapidly embraced learning to sign following the introduction of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as part of the curriculum. The move to add Auslan to our languages program was met with enthusiasm by the College community when it was announced in 2022.
Auslan is the native language of the Australian Deaf community and has been included as a an option in Western Australian curriculum for a number of years, as both a first and second language.
Helena Principal, Peter Coombs, said that the College’s decision to deliver Auslan in the Junior School (Kindy to Year 5) was carefully considered.
‘Incorporating Auslan into the learning program has numerous benefits, for both Deaf and hearing children,’ he explained.
‘Sign language can increase memory retention, stimulate brain development and mental flexibility. Because it is a visual language, it also stimulates the development of important neural pathways.
‘A key part of the program will be developing authentic relationships with the Deaf community, to build and perpetuate mutual understanding, as well as an increased sense of inclusivity. We want to reduce barriers to communication between hearing and Deaf children,’ he said.
‘It is important that as our students begin to develop their Auslan skills, they also learn of the history and significance of the language, as well as the culture, history, customs and achievements of the Deaf community.’
Auslan will be taught in parallel with English literacy, as the learning of each language assists with the development of the other. Research has shown that children who have been exposed to sign language build larger English-language vocabularies than non-signing children.
Just like with learning any other language, students will gain a new, handy skill, and expand their knowledge of how languages work. Auslan has unique vocabulary, grammar and syntax, and can convey nuanced and complex meaning.
‘Auslan is also inherently interactive and highly engaging, and we are already seeing how much joy the children are getting from the program, even after just a handful of lessons,’ said Peter Coombs.