As Auslan interpreters take centre stage, more Australians than ever are learning the language

A Melbourne Auslan training program says they have seen around an 80 per cent spike in people looking to enroll in their lessons since the beginning of the year.

Auslan interpreter Emma Roeschlein decided to learn the language four years ago to better communicate with the deaf community.

Auslan interpreter Emma Roeschlein decided to learn the language four years ago to better communicate with the deaf community. Source: SBS News

In a year with catastrophic bushfires and a global pandemic, Australian Sign Language interpreters have become a daily feature of news broadcasts for the first time.

As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews delivers his daily coronavirus update, he is flanked by multiple interpreters conveying crucial information to Deaf Australians.

Months earlier, interpreters also stood alongside fire chiefs as they updated the public on the developing crises across the country.

Advertisement
Director of Expression Australia Brent Phillips.
Director of Expression Australia Brent Phillips. Source: SBS News


This visibility has led to a sharp increase in people looking to learn Auslan, or Australian Sign Language.

Training organisation Expression Australia says they have seen an about 80 per cent increase in people looking to enrol in Auslan classes since the beginning of the year.

“The more I see people learning Auslan the more proud I am of the language,” Expression Australia director Brent Phillips told SBS News ahead of the International Day of Sign Languages on Wednesday.

“It means people become more open-minded, they have an open attitude toward the Deaf community, they’re willing to be inclusive, they are willing to work with us.”



Mr Phillips attended school without readily-available access to Auslan speakers. It’s this experience that has spurred his passion to encourage more Australians to learn the language.

Among those taking up the call is Melbourne resident Emma Roeschlein, who chose to study a Diploma of Auslan at Melbourne Polytechnic to assist Deaf people to access council services and contribute to inclusion in her local community.

While the decision has allowed her to move into a new career with Expression Australia, the 27-year-old said the process hasn’t been without its challenges.

"Auslan being a visual gestural language has some extra challenges," Emma Roeschlein said.
"Auslan being a visual gestural language has some extra challenges," Emma Roeschlein said. Source: SBS News


“Learning any language as an adult is challenging, but Auslan being a visual-gestural language has some extra challenges,” she told SBS News. 

"[But] there have been so many positives from learning Auslan. To start with, I have been introduced to the Deaf community and have gained the knowledge and skills to communicate with people who are deaf and hard of hearing."

According to the 2016 census, more than 11,600 people speak Auslan in Australia. It's also the fifth most taught language in schools, Mr Phillips said.



Next year, for the first time, the census will refer directly to Auslan as a language option, as opposed to respondents recording it under "other", a move advocates hope will see more accurate data recorded. 

Mr Phillips said he ultimately hopes to see Auslan used more widely in the community - not just during times of crisis.

“We wanna know about the good news and the bad news, I’d like consistent access to information from the government,” he said.

“I think everyone should learn Auslan it enables better communication and access for Deaf people in everyday life."


SHARE
3 min read
Published 23 September 2020 at 4:39pm
By Ilias Bakalla