Most people take hearing for granted, but not the Tyler Junior College’s Sign Language Interpreter Training Program students.

The program is set up to train students to become professional interpreters and prepare them to pass the State Board Exam.

“It’s not as easy as it looks, and not everybody can do it,” said Rhonda McKinzie, sign language professor and department chair. “It is a very complex profession, taking one language and making it into another.”

In September 2008, ASL Story Time at Barnes and Noble was created in Tyler. It was organized by the TJC Sign Language Interpreter Training Program along with The Apache Signers, a sign language performance group.

Children’s stories are read while being signed to deaf and hearing-impaired children. Anyone in the community is invited to attend. The students would like to reach more people each month. Besides performing a community service, these sessions also give public experience to students studying towards becoming professional interpreters.

The sessions are conducted on Saturdays at 11 a.m. in the Barnes and Noble store on South Broadway Avenue in Tyler.

Remaining dates for the fall 2009 calendar are Oct. 17, Nov. 7, and Nov. 21. “I love interpreting. Sign language has enhanced my life a lot and brought so much more to me than I had expected,” said Karla Watts, who signed the story “Beware of Tigers” at the last ASL Story Time.

Abigail Hunt, who read the story aloud, said, “it’s so much more than just learning a language. It’s more like you’re learning a new culture and a new way of doing things.”

The ASL program has been at TJC for 12 years, and the department continues to modify the curriculum to meet the demands and requirements of the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI) Exams.

“TJC has the best program in East Texas,” said Shaw.

Sign Language Interpreters assist communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. Individuals must be fluent in English and in American Sign Language (ASL), which combines signing, finger spelling, body language, and facial expressions. To become a professional interpreter, one must pass the State Board Exam in addition to at least an Associate Degree.

“It is a very visual language. You have to study and practice every day just like any other language,” said Randi Shaw, who is involved with the program.

Anyone can participate in the program as long as they are not in developmental classes. They also must be fluent in English and ASL.

Sign Language can also be recognized as a foreign language credit.

“There are so many more opportunities to teach deaf students, and it would be a good thing to share my enjoyment of subjects with deaf students who may not otherwise learn the topics,” said Shaw.

For more information on the Sign Language Interpreter Program or The Apache Signers please contact Rhonda McKinzie at 903-510-2774 or rmck@tjc.edu.

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