Staci Nichols and Deena Armstrong host sign language classes from 6:30 to 8 p.m. each Thursday at Calvary Baptist Church, 1050 Yampa Ave. The classes are free and open to anyone.
For more information, call Nichols or Armstrong at 824-2547.
Staci Nichols likes working with her hands.
On Thursday nights in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church, she teaches a small group of Craig residents how to communicate through sign language.
Nichols, speaking through interpreter Deena Armstrong, said the need to teach sign language in Craig is greater than most people believe.
“There are more deaf (people) than we think in this town,” Nichols said. “There was one man who thought he was the only deaf here. He is far from it.
“People hide themselves because they’re deaf.”
Nichols, 28, has lived in Craig for four years. She has taught sign language to more than 60 local residents over the last three years.
The free classes she teaches take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at Calvary Baptist Church, 1050 Yampa Ave.
Nichols, who is deaf, was born without cochlear hair cells — microscopic hairs within the cochlea that transmit sounds to the brain.
“My mother found out I was deaf when I was six months old,” she said. “My mother didn’t know what to do.”
After the initial shock, Nichols’ mother learned sign language.
“I’m really blessed to have her,” Nichols said of her mother. “Like a hearing mother would talk to a hearing baby, my mother signed to me.
“It was language input for me, the signing.”
Nichols, a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College, has taught sign language throughout the state for 11 years.
During her classes in Craig, she teaches a hybrid of two different sign languages.
“I teach a mixture of two basic languages — ASL, American Sign Language, and SEE, Signing Exact English,” she said. “I grew up learning SEE, but I started learning ASL in about 2004.
“SEE follows the English language word for word. ASL summarizes the English language. … For communication, ASL is much better.”
Nichols demonstrated by signing the same sentence, “I am going to the store,” in both SEE and ASL.
Nichols’ hands moved in a near blur when signing the sentence in SEE, because the language requires signers to perform each word — including articles and prepositions.
In ASL, however, the signer elides words that can be gleaned from context.
The sentence, when literally translated from ASL, reads, “I go store.”
To someone who can hear, the shortened ASL sentence seems choppy. However, to someone deaf — someone who communicates through sight — ASL is more fluid, even lyrical.
Surprisingly, ASL is rooted in a foreign language.
“It’s from France,” Nichols said. “It’s based on the French language, in word order. It’s really different from the English language. Nouns and verbs are switched.
“But, it’s fun to learn.”
Nichols said ASL began in the 1800s, but the number of speakers grew substantially beginning in the 1950s.
However, Nichols said sign language dates back much further.
“How long do you think sign language has been going on?” she said. “Forever.”
Body language and hand gestures predate spoken language. Even today, hand gestures add emotion and depth to speech, Nichols said.
Nichols said her students over the years have been a mixture of hearing and hearing-impaired learners.
The class Thursday included a man whose hearing is deteriorating, and two women with hearing-impaired grandchildren.
Two other students, Lindsay and Amos Hall, said they are taking the class so they can interact with deaf people within the community and Calvary Baptist.
“There’s a deaf ministry at the church, so it would be nice to be able to communicate better,” Lindsay said.
Nichols said that sentiment is a big part of her desire to teach.
“A lot of people aren’t willing to try to communicate with the deaf,” she said. “The deaf want to communicate.”
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