Sign Language courses teach individuals to ‘listen with their eyes’

Basic knowledge of American Sign Language is now being recognized as a valuable tool for those working in the social services industry, school teachers, and anyone working with hearing impaired or autistic students or customers. Penn State DuBois Continuing and Community Education, through its “Listen With Your Eyes,” series has offered an introductory level class for the last two years and more than 40 people in our region have increased their knowledge and skill in communicating with this important part of our community.

This spring, in addition to the 10-week introductory class, Penn State DuBois will also offer a six-week intermediate class for those who would like to increase their sign language skills or have specific needs for their job. Marla Jo Ball is the instructor for both classes being held in DuBois. They are both Act 48 approved for continuing education credits. Students applying for Act 48 credits must attend all the class hours and complete any independent projects in order to receive credits.

Instructor Marla Jo Ball has been a sign language interpreter for more than 20 years.

Instructor Marla Jo Ball has been a sign language interpreter for more than 20 years.

Credit: Penn State

Ball graduated cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology and a minor in sign language. She has been a sign language interpreter for more than 20 years and has worked in local school districts, hospitals and other nonprofit organizations providing interpreter services in many settings. Classes over the last three semesters have been very successful and Ball said that she has received many comments from students on the positive impact the new skill has had on their jobs.

The introductory class will meet from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, beginning on Jan. 31. This class teaches finger spelling, conversational phrases and a variety of commonly used signs. The class will also include introducing students to the deaf culture and a variety of web sites for independent learning.

Students will be introduced to the concept of “What does it look like?” as an approach to learning this language in comparison to learning a spoken language and how words sound. Class structure will include small group centers for practicing and improving skills. The goal of the class is to allow students to learn, recognize and reproduce more than 100 signs, while also gaining the ability to spell and read fingerspelling phonetically. At the end of the class, students will be expected to converse with others at a basic level.

Registration is $160, with discounts for current Penn State students and employees. Contact Penn State DuBois Continuing and Community Education for details and discount codes.

The more advanced class will meet Tuesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m. It is open to those with basic knowledge of American Sign Language. As part of the class, students will be required to conduct an independent study project based on a specific topic related to American Sign Language. This project will require time outside of class, in addition to the nine hours of class. This class begins on Feb. 12.

According to Ball, specific time will be spent with students to develop their own personal needs to help them learn phrases that will assist them as part of their job. The goal of this class is to expand on their current knowledge of sign language and ultimately allow them to learn, recognize and reproduce more than 200 signs.

Registration for this class is $100 and similar discounts to the introductory class exist for this class as well. Students wishing to register for either class can go to the Penn State DuBois website at: