Wed, 25 Aug 1999
From: Stefan Woehrmann
Subject: letter of introduction Stefan Woehrmann
To: SignWriting List
to everybody on the SignWriting List.
joined the list on Thu, 24 Jun 1999 at 16:41:18.
I would like to introduce myself to the List.
I know that casual communication is the usual
norm for the list so I apologize in advance for
too much information. I was very happy to get
support letters from Valerie. I would like to
tell you - that I need your help in your feedback,
and your support to become competent in SW.
of all - my personal background. My name is Stefan
Woehrmann, born October 3rd 1954 in Germany. I'm
married to a wonderful woman. We have three lovely
boys (Johannes 7, Christoph 5 and Gordian 1 year
old) . We are all hearing. About 2 years ago we
moved to our own house we were fortunate to build
in Hasbergen a little village next to Osnabrueck.
(you will find that on your map of Germany) Hobbys:
I used to be an engaged parrot breeder (African
Greys, Senegal Parrots) but during the last two
years my involvement with this is slowly fading
out. There are still about 15 parrots in my house.
It takes time to take care of them - especially
at times when there are young babys to feed by
interests are : intensive discussions with competent
deaf adults, photography, creating black and white
coppies with my computer to make learning German
easier for my pupils. Reading books to my sons,
watching Sign Language -Videos , Learning - -
right now : Learning SW
comes that I am so much interested in SW? Well
it happened to me that I listened to a report
of Dr. Penny Boyes Braem at a symposium in Frankfurt
on June, 11th 1999 "Gebaerdensprachforschung
im deutschsprachigen Raum". Almost by the
way she mentioned that teachers for the deaf in
the US start to teach children SignWriting in
order to improve their reading and writing skills.
got excited about that and asked Penny for more
information. She wrote her email address on my
folder and promised to give me the address of
the SignWriting Organisation. This might have
been the most important note in my papers of this
weekend. I never ever heard of SW before!
this is the beginning. I subscribed to the SW
- List hoping to get information about the question
of how to learn SW and so on. As you may imagine
- have a look at the emails in the beginning of
July - I couldn't follow at all. What are these
experts talking about? (I have to admit that I'm
not a specialist in computers. Writing my texts
in Microsoft Word, putting some nice pictures
on my worksheets for my pupils, - thats it - who
wrote this quote "DOS - Idiot -" same
was very very helpful. When I wrote to her personally,
she answered my SOS the next day in a very supportive
and friendly way. I felt very impressed and touched.
Thank you once again, Valerie - your encouragement
helped a lot.
of the issues I learned in my life are connected
to people, who managed to impress me by there
personal engagement, their personality and their
respect for the learners (my) problems. Same with
German Sign Language (Proper name is DGS) . I
was lucky to attend my first DGS (German Sign
Language) course at Bremen. Jean Piere George
and his wife Kae... he opened the door to this
important highway to the mind of my pupils. I'm
still a beginner but friendly accepted by the
other drivers. I get the bonus of understanding
- no problem.
is one of my hobbys. Coming from a teachers family
with 5 brothers and sisters each of us was eager
to find his/her place in an academic surrounding.
I studied at the University of Osnabrueck (sports,
handycrafts) and became a teacher. I got in touch
with counselor issues and became so fascinated
that I decided to study psychology and became
a psychologist 5 years later. 10 years of studying
is a long time ! I allowed myself a trip to the
US . I stayed there (Connecticut, Philadelphia,
Florida) for almost a year. I met some wonderful
people, learned a lot of the American way of life
and went back to Germany.
interested in how I got in touch with this SW
in Germany it was difficult to find a job as teacher
or psychologist. It happened to me that I became
aware of a job at a school for hearing impaired
pupils. So I got the opportunity to work with
hard of hearing pupils. Oral communication was
not any problem until I met deaf pupils the first
that time I felt very much like:" oh these
poor disabled human beings" I hadn't had
almost any contact with deaf pupils. I did not
know of any deaf adults. I was convinced at that
time that only specialists with profound knowledge
in Sign Language would teach these pupils.
job was limited at the time. So I had to look
for something else. I worked as a psycholgist
in the field of employment counseling - I tried
to support people in their need for job-orientation.
Some years later I found my way back to the school
for the hearing impaired. In order to become a
teacher in special education I had to go back
to University (J L) for additional 18 months.
I'm working as a teacher at a school for hearing
impaired. As many of you might know - the deaf
kids from hearing families have a hard time to
develop adequate social and communicative skills
that allow them to express themselves properly.
My experiences day by day show that compared to
hearing kids they are handicaped in so many ways
unless - yes - unless communication shifts to
I started to learn Sign Language (DGS). Some time
later the adult education classes in Osnabruck
were looking for a teacher for deaf adults to
brush up or to develop German Language skills.
I was asked to do this job. Within a very very
short time I realized that we can't get further
in our efforts unless I improove my Sign Language
of these adults a very bright young lady became
my SL- teacher. In the meantime we took advantage
of this vice versa . I was very lucky to meet
Anke. She has been a wonderful teacher. Later
on she started Sign Language courses. She quit
her job, passed examinations and is going to study
in Munich at the technical college. Her charisma
is immense and she enabled me to invest a lot
of energy to learn Sign Language.
in contact with her and her friends helped me
to gain a totally different view of DEAF culture
which on the other side has a great influence
on my educational point of view.
day I got in contact with a boy 15 years old,
who couldn't read any sentence, but obeyed without
any criticism (Seligman "learned helplessness")
copied the texts the teachers have written on
the blackboard. This is one of my sensitive issues
- I hate it.
this boy realized that we can talk to each other
in sign language he got motivated in learning
to read and write. He painted pictures or his
signs in between the lines (big distance) in order
to recognize the meaning of the words or the content
of the whole sentence. This was my first contact
with SignWriting. J (not knowing the terminology
we could not work together for long. So he fell
back in his way of life - being convinced that
he will never learn to read or write .- I feel
very sorry for him because he is not stupid at
all. More time and another way of teaching would
help him to develop reading and writing skills.
From that time on , I regularly encouraged my
deaf pupils to add their own drawings whatsoever
to the texts. In the meantime I had to realize
that there are close boundaries to these products
of arts. To draw the exact meaning of a word in
a given context is not so easy!! There are some
interesting highlights - but I'm afraid that here
is not the place to discuss that subject right
often pupils have no chance to catch on what is
meant in the written German form unless I explain
the content in Sign language (DGS) . Afterwards
we sign the text word by word - reading with the
voice (Signed German LBG). And this way they learn
step by step. "That is the way the hearing
speak. It is a hard job!"
my mind there are quite different advantages in
using SW. There is no doubt about that the deaf
kids have to learn to express themselves in written
German, if they want to run through their professional
hypotheses is that young Deaf would do better
in this if they get the possibility to express
themselves in a written form that fits their natural
way of comunication (sign language) During teaching
lessons we repeat some phrases once and again.
One of theses phrases is: "I cannot tell
that in German, but I know what I would like to
say. " Then the pupil tries to express his
ideas in DGS and I translate his idea back to
Signed German - while I type his comment in German
on the computer.
3 is that the pupil repeats his comment - now
in German . The words on the screen will help
to get the whole idea phrased in another form.
What if he would be able to express his ideas
in SW? Afterwards all of us (in the classroom)
can try to translate it into German. Everybody
could benefit from that procedure. To improve
this internal translation-process (German Sign
Language - Signed German) people need to know
many vocabularies and phrases.
Symbols could help here a lot. (As far as I can
imagine) With the help of SW - symbols my pupils
and me myself could work on our own on many different
work-sheets. Has anybody of you got experiences
with something like that?
I listened to Penny Boyes Braem I felt happy-:
Yes, that is exactly what I'm looking for.
the other hand I feel pretty much on my own. Do
not know about anybody in Germany who already
uses SW with his pupils. Sign language and bilingual
educucation is still pretty much under discussion.
There are not many teachers who are fluent Signers
(DGS) . The deaf pupils develop more or less mixed
up signing structures - but catch up amazingly
fast, if there are appropriate role models.
own first experiences with SW were discouraging
though. If Valerie wouldn't have been so kind
to encourage me and to help to keep up my spirits
- well I don't know.
longing for feedback of other (hearing or deaf)
people who started to learn SW from the very beginning.
How did you organize your learning process? Being
pretty succesful in organizing my own learning
subjects in the past, I look for hints, help,
materials and personal experiences ...
Valerie`s kind agreement I would like to quote
some lines of one of her letters "
You need to write a message and post it to the
SignWriting List, and introduce yourself. Tell
them what you told me - and then tell them honestly
that you feel nervous about teaching this new
idea and you need some moral support and also
ideas and suggestions. You may find that others
will respond and help you through email."
You know now, why I joined the SW -List. Don't
want to bother anyone. Would appreciate any feedback
you very much for your attention! ;-)
Teacher of Deaf Children