Free American Sign Language Class Offered in Denton

Want to learn another language? The benefits to yourself and others are manifold. Nothing can increase our connectedness to our world more than learning to communicate with others in their language. One of the most flexible and accessible languages to learn is American Sign Language (ASL).

A free ASL class available every Tuesday night from 6 to 7 pm at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denton, Texas, can be your first step on your linguistic journey.

American Sign Language is used by an estimated 1 million people, according to Communication Service for the Deaf. While it primarily benefits the Deaf, ASL is used to communicate with babies, people with autism, speech disorders, the hard of hearing, and simply as a convenient and silent means of communication. If you’ve ever put your index finger to your pursed lips to shush someone, you’ve used sign language! We all use sign language every day.

Dyi’eldra Jones, ASL Instructor. Photo courtesy of Dyi Jones.

Dyi’eldra Jones, a native Texan who has been Deaf from near birth, teaches the weekly one-hour class to mostly hearing individuals who all have their unique reasons for wanting to learn ASL.

“I love to use ASL to communicate with hearing people,” said Jones, who took Deaf education classes growing up while attending a hearing school. “I love to teach ASL and feel loved and encouraged by the hearing people around me and supporting me.”

Three months ago, Maria Freelove began attending Jones’s ASL class with her son and daughter, Zachary and Mersades. Her reasons for attending are varied. “We have family members with hearing loss, and many speak in ASL. We thought this was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about ASL, support our extended family, and build deeper relationships with them. Sadie, 14, is also taking ASL for her high school language next year and wants to deepen her understanding before the class.”

Zachary, Maria, and Sadie Freelove. Photo courtesy of Maria Freelove.

Freelove, an elementary school teacher, uses her sign language skills every day in her classroom. “My students love to learn about the new things I am learning, and I feel that it helps deepen my connection with them. I have taught them several basic signs, and the students use them with each other in and out of the classroom.

“ASL is like speaking any other language, and you never know what blessings may come from developing your talents,” said Freelove. “My son, a priest, struggles with sensory issues, and due to Covid guidelines, he must wear a mask when blessing the sacrament, which is very difficult for him. Because we are taking this class, he has been asked to learn how to bless the sacrament in ASL. This is a way for him to exercise his priesthood without affecting his sensory concerns. As a mom, this was a huge blessing, and I look forward to him being able to learn and grow.”

Sarah Clarke. Photo courtesy of Sarah Clarke.

Sarah Clarke, the ASL Coordinator for the Denton area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also attends the class. “I took one semester of ASL in college,” said Clarke. “The rest of my learning has been from observing, asking questions, and practicing in the ASL class that Dyi Jones teaches!”

Clarke, a mother of three, recalls the usefulness of ASL when she served as the children’s song leader at church, “I really enjoyed learning the songs in ASL. There were so many times when I felt the Spirit help teach me gospel truths more deeply through the ASL we learned in conjunction with the beautiful songs from The Children’s Songbook.”

Mark Bird, who attends the class with his three daughters, Sarah, Ashley and Anna, also credits his work as the children’s music chorister for igniting his interest in ASL. “Every song we sang …we also learned to sign. I could only imagine how lonely it felt to be Deaf, and I wanted the young kids to learn sign language so that they could include Deaf people in the program. My kids loved learning, so they came along with me when we started the class.

“I think in order to include all God’s children, we need to do our part to learn to communicate with those who are typically marginalized. I found that signing was a beautiful way to worship God as well, expressing in very different ways the feelings of hymns, primary songs, and so forth.”

Sarah Bird said, “I like the sign class because it is interactive, and it is a good skill to learn. I think it will help me serve others.”

Her sister, Ashley agrees, “It is fun to know a language that few others know. There’s a lot of other good people who meet with us there. It makes it fun.”

Their dad is having fun, too. “I think it has been beneficial in developing a new talent, coming to know several Deaf people and love them, as well as bringing my family together in meaningful ways. It also feels like it gives me a chance to step away from my own worries and connect with others,” said Bird.

Learning to sign has been a blessing to Bird in many aspects of his life. “I know that Heavenly Father loves all His children, and learning sign is one way to love our brothers and sisters. And as I have loved and served through sign, I have also been able to connect better with the youth I serve and even with my kids. I’m grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who provides me opportunities to grow when I listen to the Spirit. I’m grateful for those who teach the class and serve my family and me as well,” said Bird.

Dyi’Eldra Jones, ASL Instructor. Photo by Sarah Clarke.

Jones, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, also acknowledges the spiritual aspect of her experience teaching ASL. “God knows and has a plan for my exact life journey about teaching hearing people American Sign Language,” said Jones. “God blessed my life journey with people who come to grow as a big group in ASL class and are very eager to learn and practice to improve their ASL skills. I love to teach hearing people ASL and Deaf culture and many other topics. I love being involved in the hearing world and am very eager to teach ASL.”

Perhaps Freelove points out one of the best reasons to come to the ASL class: “We have only been taking this class for a few months, but we enjoy the fun, easy-going atmosphere, where you can learn at your own pace no matter what level you are on. We laugh, engage with one another, and enjoy our time learning.”

The free, ongoing ASL class is every Tuesday evening from 6 to 7 pm in the Relief Society Room of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 4501 Teasley Lane in Denton, Texas. All ages are invited to attend.

By Janene Nielsen

Janene Nielsen is a novelist, freelance journalist and Multi-Stake Public Affairs Assistant Director over Media Relations for the Fort Worth Coordinating Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints