VIS-A-VIS Gebärdensprachschule Mannheim Unterricht
Foto: VIS-A-VIS, Studio für Gebärdensprache

Interview: Integration courses for deaf migrants in Mannheim

An interview with Georg Eberhard from the Vis - A - Vis Sign Language School

Last week I conducted an interview with Georg Eberhard. He is a teacher for sign language and teaches at the school for sign language "Vis - A - Vis" in Mannheim. There they offer something special: Integration courses for deaf immigrants.

He talked to me about these courses, about sign language in general and also about the effects of Corona on deaf people.  

Georg Eberhard - Vis-A-Vis Studio für Gebärdensprache
Georg Eberhard, our interview partner
Photo: VIS-A-VIS, Sign Language Studio


Mr Eberhard, please introduce yourself first. 

My name is Georg Eberhard, I was born deaf. I worked as an electrical engineer for many years. Since 2006 I am a state-approved sign language teacher. Since 2003 I am self-employed, in 2010 my company VIS-A-VIS was founded in Mannheim. I teach hearing people in sign language - in groups or individually. Also deaf people who want to improve their sign language come to me.


Your sign language school offers something special: Integration courses for deaf people in sign language. Can you briefly introduce these courses?

The integration courses at my school have been running since 2018. One course lasts 16 months. The courses are organized by Sprachschule Heesch. I work as a teacher on behalf of Sprachschule Heesch.

Vis-A-Vis Studio für Gebärdensprache
This is the school on Rheinhäuser Strasse in Mannheim.
Photo: VIS-A-VIS, Sign Language Studio



What is the content of their integration courses? 

The content is based on a standard work that is used everywhere for integration courses. There is (still) no textbook that is specifically aimed at deaf people. That's why I always have to adapt the lessons a bit. 



The participants of the integration courses probably do not understand German sign language. How do you start there? 

The lessons are held in German sign language. That is also my mother tongue. Some signs are the same in every language. In addition, a lot of work is done with facial expressions and gestures in the beginning. Or pictures are used again and again.


How many people can participate?

A maximum of 8 participants may attend each course. So far there have always been significantly more men than women in the courses.  

Unterrichtsraum: Vis-A-Vis Studio für Gebärdensprache
The integration courses take place in this room.
Photo: VIS-A-VIS, Sign Language Studio


Do the people who come to the course already know German or German Sign Language? 

This varies greatly: some can sign something, some can sign well, others cannot sign at all. But most people cannot write in German yet.


Does every country have its own sign language?

Yes, every country has its own sign language. However, deaf people can learn the sign language of another country faster than hearing people can learn a foreign spoken language. Even within Germany there are different signs for a word - just as there are different dialects.


To Corona: Especially at the moment it is important that all people are informed about the current situation. Is there enough news for deaf people?

In the beginning there was very little information in sign language. But that improved quickly. Now there are enough possibilities how I can inform myself in sign language. Unfortunately this available information is still delayed.

I very much hope that sign language interpreters will be available in the future. In other countries this is already normal. It is positive that the Corona crisis has shown that it is important to translate messages into sign language.


How do the deaf people feel who could not come to school for a long time? 

Of course I had to cancel or postpone all classes. But the people understood that. Some of them I have been teaching them online or outside for a few weeks now. It is good for everyone that the lessons can continue like this.


Because of the masks that have to be worn now, deaf people can read lips less well. How do you deal with a situation like this? 

The mask duty is part of our life at the moment. That is why it must be accepted. Of course it's difficult for deaf people right now. And it's possible that misunderstandings will occur more often. Fortunately, this situation is only temporary...


There are some deaf people who advertise masks with a window. What do you think about that? 

Not much! It is very difficult to breathe and the masks fog up quickly.


Where can I learn sign language as a hearing person? How quickly can I learn it? 

Apart from my school in Mannheim you can learn sign language in other schools in Germany - or in adult education centres. It is hard to say how long it takes someone to learn sign language. It depends on many factors. If, for example, you can practice with deaf people in everyday life, it will certainly be faster. Nevertheless, one has to practice sign language for many years, that's for sure.


Integration courses have been taking place again at Georg Eberhard's sign language school since 8 June. If you would like to register for them, you will find the link to the Language School Heesch.

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