SignWriting in Germany
Osnabrück School for the Deaf


Teacher's Introduction
Stefan Woehrmann
...taken from the SignWriting List Archives...

Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999
From: Stefan Woehrmann
Subject: letter of introduction Stefan Woehrmann
To: SignWriting List

Hello to everybody on the SignWriting List.

I 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.

First 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 hand.

Other 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

How 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.

I 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!

So 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 with me)

Valerie 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.

Most 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.

Learning 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.

Still interested in how I got in touch with this SW - thing?

Back 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 time.

At 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.

This 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.

Now 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 Sign Language.

So 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 skills dramatically.

One 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.

Being 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.

One 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.

When 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 of course!!)

Unfortunately 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 now.

Too 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!"

In 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 education successfully.

My 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.

Step 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.

SW 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?

When I listened to Penny Boyes Braem I felt happy-: Yes, that is exactly what I'm looking for.

On 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.

My 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.

I'm 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 ...

With 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."

Hopefully You know now, why I joined the SW -List. Don't want to bother anyone. Would appreciate any feedback

Thank you very much for your attention! ;-)

kind regards

Stefan Woehrmann
Teacher of Deaf Children



SignWriting in Germany
Osnabrück School for the Deaf


For more information about
SignWriting in Germany, contact:

Stefan Woehrmann
Teacher of Deaf Children

GebaerdenSchrift Web Site
by Stefan Woehrmann


Verlag Birgit Jacobsen
Fachverlag für unterstützende
Kommunikation und Gebärdensprache
Bei den Höfen 11a
22043 Hamburg
Birgit Jacobsen
Tel: +49 (0) 40 – 69 70 40 - 26
Fax: +49 (0) 40 – 69 70 40 – 87


Lars Majewski
SignWriter Python Developer

SignWriter Python Web Site

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