Meet the people who are teaching Malaysian sign language online

Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia, or Malaysian Sign Language, has been recognised as the official language of the Deaf community in Malaysia since 2008. It’s a visual language that uses hand gestures and facial expressions to communicate, and was created back in 1998 by the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf as an alternative to the method of manually coded Malay.

This year, the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf is bringing their sign language to the public by going online!

For this article, we sat down with three of the course creators who are changing Deaf education for Malaysians everywhere.


What is Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia?

Akmar: Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia (BIM) is loosely based on American Sign Language (ASL), but it has a completely different structure. It’s similar to how Yoda speaks (subject-first). For example, “saya pergi ke kedai” is actually “kedai saya pergi” in Malaysian Sign Language. We also don’t sign “you’re welcome” in the same way as ASL. Instead, we use the sign for “me too”: sama-sama.


Who is the Malaysian Federation of the Deaf?

Nur Saadah: The MFD is a non-governmental organisation that covers 14 states, headquartered here in Puchong. We develop sign language courses, organise national activities and serve the Deaf in any way that we can. We’re a national organisation for the Deaf, by the Deaf.


Who is this course for?

Zaine: It’s for everyone! It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, anyone can learn sign language. For now, we’re focusing on local participants because the content is in Bahasa Malaysia. However, we have plans to offer this course in English, too, so that people from overseas can learn our language.


Why did you create this course with OpenLearning?

Nur Saadah: Many people have asked us to create an alternative class for those who are unable to attend the face-to-face session in Puchong. So, we said, “Why don’t we have both?” The OpenLearning platform is one of the things they can access easily without having to attend the classes face to face.


What has been your experience of using the OpenLearning platform?

Nur Saadah: Before this, I wasn’t a very technical person. However, after attending the OpenLearning workshop, I learned lots of new things. With an online learning platform like this, our team has had many interesting discussions on what to include, what modules to build, how to record videos—it was something very new for me.


What’s your advice for other course creators who want to teach Deaf students?

Zaine: Before the Internet, I only learned through books. That meant I had to go to the library all the time, which was very far from home. But now, I can just ‘click’ and there are so many things to choose from. Until now, I love reading—if there’s an issue that interests me, I’ll read up on it to find out what it’s all about. Sometimes, I’ll want to learn something on YouTube, but the video doesn’t have captions. So, the person will talk and talk, and I’ll just try to guess based on the moving pictures. For online course creators who want to teach Deaf students, it helps to insert captions or hire a sign language interpreter.


What do you hope to achieve with the learners in this course?

Nur Saadah: We want to get more Deaf people to be integrated into mainstream society, while encouraging hearing people to participate in the Deaf community as well. It’s not a teacher-student relationship, but a relationship between friends. That’s what I really want from the students. It’s important for them to really understand Deaf culture and connect with the Deaf community. As a result, maybe the next time I go out, someone will approach me and actually know how to communicate with me!


Have you faced many difficulties when communicating with others?

Nur Saadah: It’s difficult for us to communicate with the average Malaysian. Sometimes, we write to communicate, but written communication is challenging to some of us who have lower levels of education.


What would you say to other educators who are looking to go online for the first time?

Akmar: I would say that it could be very unfamiliar at first. Because, when we teach, we’re always thinking about being ‘live’, or the face-to-face interaction that we’re going to have: our intonation, our body language. But when it comes to online learning, we don’t have all that. It requires us to think in a different dimension, not just ‘outside the box’! Yet, I’d say it’s definitely worth it because online learning is more accessible. Not just from an accessibility standpoint, but also just in terms of being able to learn at your own time. It is a very valuable resource.


Are you thinking of incorporating the online course with a face-to-face element?

Akmar: We’ve mentioned it somewhere in the course guidelines that we’d like to have a live interactive session once a week. Perhaps learners could book a web call with us to practise their sign language, and ask questions. Not just about the course, but about the Deaf community in general.


Any final messages for those who would like to enroll in this course?

Akmar: I really hope that you would come and join us in the course. Hopefully, with your learning and feedback, we can get more Deaf people to be integrated into mainstream society and we can get you to participate in the Deaf community as well.

Now that you’ve gotten to know the instructors a bit more, we hope you’ll consider joining this introductory course on Malaysian Sign Language! The course is HRDF-claimable for eligible Malaysian participants.



Click here to visit Kursus asas Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia.


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