Tyne & Wear

Newcastle woman teaches sign language in Iran

Mrs Padden (centre) with students
Image caption Mrs Padden (centre) attended Iran's first sign language conference

A deaf teacher of sign language from Newcastle has spent three weeks as a volunteer in Iran.

Tessa Padden, 55, taught the basics of sign linguistics, which are common across all sign languages, and explained the importance of sign language teaching.

With the help of an Iranian interpreter, she also gave talks and led question-and-answer sessions about linguistics in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz.

She said: "I told them about my own journey from leaving school and when I thought deaf people were consigned to working in routine and menial jobs.

"But through improving opportunities for deaf people through TV, university research and better interpreter provision, deaf people in Iran could aim to achieve more.

"I wanted to encourage and motivate deaf people in their own communities to take possession of their own language and culture and take the lead in working for a better future for the deaf community."

She was also asked to address the inaugural Iranian sign language interpreters conference in Zanjan which included about 200 people and ran workshops for groups of interpreters.

She said: "At the conference, the students that I'd been teaching were so motivated. Some of them came up on stage and said how much they'd enjoyed the three days linguistic training and wanted to share that and they wanted to promote this in Iran.

Image caption Mrs Padden at Iran's inaugural interpreting conference

"They were really positive and that's what I wanted to see, deaf people being confident and assertive enough to get on stage to talk to interpreters.

"One of the things I respect most is that many of the interpreters in Iran are volunteers.

"They do this work for deaf people because they come from deaf families or because they want to support deaf people and I was really gobsmacked by that. I admire that quality in Iranian interpreters."

After studying sign language teaching at Durham University, Mrs Padden has since taught the basics of sign linguistics in Spain, Ireland and Africa and runs a website that teaches British sign language.

Aside from the basic signs, the signs for other words can vary due to cultural or historical reasons.

She said: "Some signs for the words 'eat' and 'drink' are similar across different languages but can differ for cultural reasons since people round the world eat and drink in many different ways.

"Irish sign language derives more from French sign language through Roman Catholic deaf educators. American sign language is more similar to French sign language as well, for different historical reasons.

"Another feature of all sign languages is the use of facial expression, but the facial expressions don't always mean the same thing in different sign languages."

Stiff upper lip

Mrs Padden, who has been deaf all of her life, said that she can often relate to deaf people's frustrations with communication.

"With growing up in a hearing society, I always thought most deaf people feel the same, that hearing people are above us, they are superior to us," she said.

"When I went to Durham University, I realised I was equal. Our language was equal, we had a culture of our own and it was just a case of upbringing.

"That helped me, and if people lack information and knowledge I can pass that on to them and convey to deaf people that they can achieve the same as hearing people in different ways."

Image caption Mrs Padden (right) said the Iranians were "warm and approachable"

During her three-week stay in Iran, Mrs Padden stayed with an Iranian family and said she learned a lot about the Iranian culture.

She said: "I watched the way they were talking to each other and the way that they talked over each other and cut across each other was quite different to British culture.

"But they were really warm and approachable. Iranian men smile a lot more and they show their teeth a lot and you don't get that here.

"While I was teaching them about the cultural differences I mentioned this and they all laughed and asked what British people were like but they already knew about the British stiff upper lip."

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