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Sign language ties strengthened with Polish Erasmus-Plus Teaching Mobility trip

This was a very successful Erasmus-Plus Teaching Mobility trip. I am very grateful that the UK-Poland partnership between the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) was established which provided me with the opportunity to go. It is very rare that a deaf sign language user has this type of opportunity and I am extremely grateful to my colleagues at Adam Mickiewicz University for their generous hospitality during my stay.

I was welcomed warmly by the Vice-Rector and by the disability services team. My colleagues from AMU extended their generosity by travelling around Poznan, and out to Lublin and Warsaw with us; this added a special collective element to the trip, for which my students and I are extremely thankful. I was very fortunate, as a deaf lecturer, to have the financial support available in England from the Department for Work and Pension's Access to Work scheme. This paid for a sign language interpreter, and their travel costs, to attend the events and interpret all my teaching and liaison work, which I did in sign language. This was only possible due to the additional funding and I am grateful to the Access to Work scheme for this. The participants at the partner institution had never seen a deaf academic from the UK give lectures and work at this level before, and this was an extremely valuable experience for them.

On the first day, 9 March, I gave the open lecture on Post-secondary Education for Deaf and Hard of hearing students in China and Great Britain at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU). I was honoured to have two Vice-Rectors present at my lecture: Professor Zbigniew Pilarczyk, Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Professor Jacek Witkoś, Vice-Rector for Research and International Cooperation. Director of the AMU Language School, Dr Mateusz Kaszyński, and 35 participants attended. This lecture was introduced by Mr Roman Durda, Rector’s Representative from the Support Office for Students with disabilities, and was attended by many deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people and was made accessible to all through a complex arrangement of interpretation from British Sign Language to English, English to Polish, Polish to Polish Sign Language through interpreters, and Polish speech-to-text operators. This was a valuable event in terms of awareness raising.

At the end of the lecture, many of the participants raised questions and we had a good discussion and ended with time for socialising together. Afterwards, I met with staff from the disability service and lecturers to discuss future collaboration and bidding ideas. I was very impressed with the disability services provided at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, which is equivalent to the high-level inclusive service provided at UCLan, my home institution and this provision was a great help in facilitating the event. My British Sign Language/English interpreter did not know Polish, and the team at AMU found some people who were willing to work voluntarily to interpret from Polish into English (and vice versa) so that communication was effective.

Prior to my trip, the visit here to UCLan made by the Polish partners, Anna Nabiałek (English Teacher of Deaf and hard of hearing students at AMU) and Ewa Domagała-Zyśk (English Teacher of Deaf and hard of hearing students at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin), were also very valuable, as it gave me the confidence to feel I could function effectively during my trip. Anna and her colleagues also helped me to plan and organise my part of the exchange and this was a great help. 



On the second day, 10 March, I attended two Polish Sign Language (PJM) classes with their teacher Joanna Nehring. I taught British Sign Language lessons to two groups of hearing students from Audiology and Hearing Protection Department, so they could compare the two languages. The students had been learning Polish Sign Language for six months and were fascinated by the differences, particularly in the basic vocabulary, syntactical structures of sign languages, and the fingerspelling alphabet. The students were surprised by the experience of being taught by a Deaf person, as they are used to having a hearing person teach them. They were amazed to learn that British Sign Language is taught mostly by Deaf people in UK, and that hearing people are not expected to teach it. They had the opportunity to ask questions about British Deaf Culture too through my sign language interpreter.

During the afternoon, I spent three hours in a class where deaf and hard of hearing students were being taught English as a foreign language in the Multimedia Foreign Language Teaching Centre for students with hearing impairment and disabilities. I lectured about the British Deaf students’ university experiences through the use of a video with English subtitles that had been compiled here at UCLan. I used the subtitled video because the deaf/hh students would have struggled to hear the voice-over from the interpreter and the subtitles provided better access. This session also created an opportunity for the deaf students, who had attended my plenary lecture the day before, the chance to ask questions, and a good discussion was held. A small group of deaf students gave individual presentations about their experiences of growing up deaf in Poland and I watched this with great interest. Klaudia Wereniewicz explained English learning and teaching strategies at AMU. We all were impressed by her excellent presentation. Her English teacher, Anna Nabiałek, is very proud of her.

The following day, 11 March, I delivered another three-hour lesson at the same venue. I showed the students a DVD called Power in our Hands, a documentary film produced by the British Deaf Association (BDA) with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which the project coordinator, Jemma Buckley, kindly gave to me with permission to show. This English subtitled film provided in-depth information about British Deaf history and the students really enjoyed watching this and learnt a lot from it.

In the afternoon, I went on a field trip with the students and their teacher to a history museum in Poznan. This was a very interactive and modern museum, with information screens that provided Polish Sign Language access on the screen. The trip was a great opportunity for the students to practice speaking English and was thoroughly enjoyable. The trip was very valuable, as it provided real experience of using different languages for communication purposes and we were all able to benefit from this opportunity to practise actual language use.



On the Monday of the following week, I visited Warsaw University where the Polish Sign Language Corpus led by Professor Paweł Rutkowski is currently being compiled. PhD researcher Joanna Filipczak and her colleagues explained their research work, the corpus based online dictionary of PJM, and PJM translations of national curriculum textbooks for deaf students.

After this, I travelled to Lublin, where I had arranged to meet the deaf and hard of hearing students from Lublin with their English teacher Ewa Domagała-Zyśk. We had a very informative seminar in the English teaching resource room for deaf and hard of hearing students at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (KUL). Later on, students from AMU, Poznan with their English teachers, Anna Nabiałek and Izabela Komar-Szulczyńska, and the Deaf Studies students and two lecturers, Dr Luigi Lerose and Frank Harrington, from the UK, all arrived for the first multi-language workshop at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin.

The next day, the three groups met again, this time for a second multi-language workshop that involved more in-depth information and discussion with Dr Aleksandra Borowica, Polish Sign Language teacher at KUL. The three groups also went on field trips, and visited deaf schools and museums in Lublin, Warsaw and Poznan. The third multi-language workshop took place at in the Multimedia Foreign Language Teaching Centre at AMU, Poznan. We read English texts, discussed in small groups and produced creative dramas based on the reading assignments. There were a lot of conversations and laughs. The three university groups interacted well during the five-day field trip in three cities. There were student-centred workshops and some lectures where students were able to learn about cultural differences and other interesting information regarding Deaf Studies and interpreting. They also provided an opportunity for us all to get to know each other and develop friendships. The trip was a very beneficial educational experience for all.