Winner of the TAFE Regional Student of the Year Award for her accomplishments in Cert 2 Auslan was a huge surprise to Forster local Amanda Marshall, but is very well deserved. We spoke with Amanda recently about her achievement, and how Auslan has changed her life.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family, and how long you’ve been in the beautiful Manning-Great Lakes area?
Forster became my home when my parents moved here from Orange when I was about four years old. I attended Forster Public School, then Forster High (now Great Lakes College, Forster Campus) finishing school in 1999 and moving to Newcastle, where I studied Early Childhood and began my career in 2007.
I did a scuba diving course, where I met my husband and started my own family. We have two girls who are now nine and six years old. About six years ago, we decided to move back to Forster to be closer to my family. My daughters now go to the same school I did and also love the beach lifestyle. It’s comforting having those fun early memories of growing up, and knowing my children will grow up similar to how I did.
What drew you to begin studying Auslan?
I didn’t have a direct need to learn, as I had never met a deaf person before my course. The idea of learning Auslan popped into my head one day while at the local Rockpool with my cousins. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I know I couldn’t wait to start, so I called TAFE NSW while at the beach!
Unfortunately, I had missed the start date, but my interest didn’t fade. While I waited for the next course, I did whatever I could to surround myself in the language; I researched Auslan on the internet, attended a small Auslan group once a week run by an interpreter, and I watched Sally and Possum on ABC Kids.
Prior to the Cert 2, I completed a six month introduction course at TAFE NSW, and this was my first encounter with a deaf person. My teacher was amazing and so patient with students willing to learn. Being deaf herself, she communicates in Auslan, so you had to learn fast to keep up. I could feel myself improving each week. Back then I noticed I could communicate at a very basic level with my teacher, but I knew I needed more, and I commenced my formal Auslan studies at TAFE in 2018.
Thinking back though, there were some influences in my life that finally surfaced and sparked my interest to learn. I remember as a kid I would get so excited when Play School would have the deaf presenter, Sophia, on the show. I was mesmerised with watching her sign. Also during my Early Childhood studies I had work placement for a year at RIDBC (Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children) Hunter, where I had interactions with deaf and hard of hearing children, and vision impaired. Maybe both those experiences subconsciously had an impact on my future interest in Auslan.
How long is the course – what did it involve, and how did you manage fitting it into your “regular” life?
Cert 2 at TAFE NSW takes one year to complete, and involved attending one night a week at Great Lakes Campus, and four Saturday workshops throughout the year, which combined all students from Great Lakes and Port Macquarie campuses.
Auslan became so important in my life, so because of my motivation and determination to learn, it was easy to fit it into my weekly routine. My husband and two daughters support my passion, and it’s become part of their life too. I sign with my kids, and they have managed to learn some Auslan too.
You received the TAFE NSW Regional Student of the Year Award. When did you find out you had attained that, and how did it feel?
I found out that I was a finalist for my category of Career Pathways Aboriginal Languages and Employability Skills a month prior to the awards night. All the finalists were told of the possibility of winning Regional Student of the Year and to prepare a speech just in case. I won my category award and was so happy to receive that.
Then after everyone had received their award, The Student of the Year award was announced. It was a huge surprise that I had won! It is such an honour to receive the TAFE NSW Region Student of the Year award for Cert 2 in Auslan.
You made the decision to sign your speech – what was the reaction to that?
When I was told to prepare a speech for the major award, I made a conscious decision to sign my speech in Auslan, rather than speak it. It didn’t feel right to me to win an award for Auslan and voice my acceptance speech. I practiced with a deaf friend and was so nervous signing in front of so many people.
The impact it had on the guests was something I didn’t predict. They were the ones needing the interpreter to understand what I was signing, so many people approached me after and told me how that experience for them gave an insight on what a deaf person has to deal with every day. Some people were even in tears and thanked me for giving them that experience. I’ll never forget it.
Tell us about the additional study you’re planning, and what your future goals are.
Cert 2 is just the beginning of my learning. Becoming fluent in a language doesn’t happen in just one year, so to be where I want to be I need to continue my studies, and continue involving myself with the deaf community. Cert 3 is what I’ll continue on to next, then there’s Cert 4, then my Diploma.
Studying Auslan at TAFE NSW has given me the confidence to pursue my goal of working with people from the deaf community. Because of my completion of Cert 2 Auslan and my studies in Cert 3 Individual Support in Disabilities, I have begun casual work as a support worker at MidCoast Assist, The deaf Society Mid North Coast, at TAFE NSW supporting new students in the current Cert 2 Auslan course.
I have discovered there is a high need for more qualified Auslan interpreters for the deaf community to access, especially in regional areas. Becoming an Auslan interpreter is a future ambition that I hope to achieve, as I believe everyone should have access to language.
I already include a lot of signing where I work at The Oak Seed Early Learning Centre. I have discovered that there are many children in the community that want to learn Auslan, but don’t have anything available to follow their interest. I am also currently working together with a friend and her son who is deaf to develop a workshop for kids to learn basic Auslan.
Interview: Ingrid Bayer.