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Tutor teaches American Sign Language and deaf culture

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Tutor teaches American Sign Language and deaf culture

Sherri Thornton American Sign Language Tutor

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POSTED July 11, 2015 12:05 a.m.

Hard of hearing from birth, Sherri Thornton’s first language was Exact Sign Language (ESL), a manual communication that strives to be an exact representation of English vocabulary and grammar.   While typically children learn their first language from their parents or family members in the home because Sherri was the only family member with hearing difficulties, her family didn’t know sign language and opted not to learn.

Instead Sherri’s parents enlisted teachers Mr. and Mrs. Zagata to teach Sherri at the age of two how to communicate through Exact Sign Language while the rest of the family focused on communicating with Sherri through speech, some of which she was able to understand while some of which she couldn’t.

“My family didn’t take the time to learn my language and it was very difficult for me” says Sherri.

Sherri’s situation is not that uncommon as studies show that 75 percent of hearing parents of deaf or hard of hearing children never learn sign language for one reason or another.  On the flip side some hearing parents do indeed learn sign language yet for whatever reason choose to ignore the need to interpret the hearing world to their deaf child as was the case with Sherri’s best friend growing up.

“My best childhood friend was deaf. I never felt that it was right for her family and certain hearing people to assume she understood them, when she didn’t. Therefore I would interpret and make sure she understood everything that was being said around us. Don’t get me wrong, I have had moments that I didn’t understand either because someone was talking too fast or not speaking loud enough.”

Despite various challenges, Thorton learned Exact Sign Language as her first form of communication through the Zagata’s until she was old enough to attend a deaf school where she then learned American Sign Language (ASL), a complete, unique language with its own vocabulary and grammar that differs from English.

During her elementary and high school years, Thorton  attended California School for the Deaf in Fremont where she lived on campus during the week and went back home to her family on the weekends.  Through California School for the Deaf, Thorton continued learning American Sign Language from teachers, deaf roommates, counselors and friends.

The school allowed Thorton to be surrounded with people she could naturally relate to and it made a huge difference in her life. Connecting with like-minded people who understood the challenges she dealt with helped Thorto gained inner confidence.  A confidence she did not have as a young, shy child with hearing challenges growing up in a fully hearing family.

Thorton learned many features for surviving in the hearing world from her school that she had never know before. She learned about TTY typewriter phones, a special device similar to that of texting today, that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate.  She also learned about close-caption boxes that allowed her and other deaf or hard of hearing viewers understand the story line of the movie clearly.  In addition she learned the relevance of flashing lights as away to draw attention in an emergency situation or even in a causal one.  The school also provided the opportunity for students to learn how to go on a interview and how to write a resume and other various relevant tools needed that the hearing world tends to take for granted.

“If it wasn’t for this school lot of deaf children wouldn’t be where they are today” Thorton admits. In time, Thorton attended a mainstream school where she continued learning alongside her deaf and hard of hearing classmates while also having the opportunity to socialize with hearing students while using her hearing aid.

One of Sherri’s many teachers believed in the importance of hearing students learning sign language and made a point to pair deaf and hard of hearing students with hearing peers who were willing to learn ASL.  This is where some of Sherri’s desire to teach others her language began.

After high school Sherri began teaching ASL but really developed a passion for it a few years ago when she began to recognize how hearing and non-hearing would benefit if they understood sign language and the deaf culture more.

“Being hard of hearing or deaf doesn’t mean we are stupid we just can’t hear like a normal hearing person does.  I feel that the more hearing people learn our language, the more they can help us if they find us frustrated at times and the more they can understand about our community.”

Knowing full well how deaf and hard of hearing people have been forced to learn how to speak in order to be a part of the hearing world. Thotron now has a strong passion to teach others her language and help them be a part of her community.”

Thorton offers private tutoring for American Sign Language at a reasonable rate of $13.33 per hour with a 12-hour minimum.  Students receive discounts when they enroll in her full 8-week course or when they bring a friend who also enrolls which according to Sherri is, “great for practicing together.”

Private lessons are offered  Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Manteca Library and other local libraries as needed.

For more information on American Sign Language lessons with Thorton send email to: or call (209) 451-3935.

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