Though people filled half the tables scattered about the room, it was nearly silent. Periodically, laughter would punctuate the silence. Silence. Laughter. Silence. It seemed like the response to some unspoken joke. It was.
At the front of the class, dressed in jeans, a red flannel and baseball cap was Landon McCarl, seating backward on a hiked-up swivel chair. A sophomore studying business finance, who happens to be hard of hearing.
Through school, church and serving a mission, McCarl has taught American Sign Language for eight years and now acts as the main teacher of the ASL workshop at BYU-Idaho. Without a word, he quickly connected with the other people in the room with his jokes and fun-loving personality.
The ASL workshop is held every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Gordon B. Hinkley Building, 286. All levels of sign language learners are welcome to attend the class as teaching is divided to accommodate beginners as well as experts.
Mattie Stringfellow, a junior studying social work and first-time comer to the workshop, said she was surprised they learned useful signs for day-to-day things like prayer.
“(ASL) is one of those languages that isn’t as well known, but it’s important to communicate with everyone,” Stringfellow said.
Stringfellow and her friend, Lydia Summerhays, said they were looking for something fun to do and found the workshop posted on the school event calendar. Since ASL was something they’d always wanted to learn, they thought they’d give it a try.
“I was always fascinated with how they used their hands to create a language,” Summerhays, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, said. “I always thought it was kind of a dance when I was younger.”
The class began when McCarl climbed atop a chair, arms raised like Moses at the battle of Rephidim, so everyone was able to see him. For the next several minutes, the room was filled with a flurry of quiet motion as the beginners reviewed the previous week’s word list.
The group of advanced learners clustered in a back corner while led in conversation by Brooklyn Price, a sophomore studying child development who also serves as a workshop teacher and campus interpreter. Price calls ASL her first language. Though neither of her parents were deaf, they both knew sign language and taught her and her siblings.
After involvement in deaf wards and following her father’s footsteps through serving an ASL mission, Price became an active participant in the deaf community at home and school.
“The way you can express things in English, you can express better in sign language,” Price said. “It’s not just words —it’s a picture, it’s a story, it’s a movie instead of just words you’re saying. I also love the people, they’re the sweetest most blunt people ever, but I love them for it.”
Tanner Michaelis, a sophomore studying software engineering and fellow interpreter with Price, agreed to say everyone becomes best friends at the workshop.
Both Price and Michaelis encouraged everyone interested in ASL to give it a try. Price said it’s easier to learn than most people think, as long as they’re committed. Rather than the gift of tongues, she told the class, sign language becomes the gift of hands.