At the age of 5, Fergus Falls resident Melissa Frank began to lose her hearing. In an effort to maintain open communication Frank, along with her parents, began attending meetings and classes to support individuals with profound hearing loss and deafness. The first step was learning to communicate using sign language by fingerspelling and signed English.
Sign language is an overarching term for the use of hands to communicate. What oftentimes isn’t understood is that there are as many variations of sign language as there are spoken language. For example, Signed English and American Sign Language (ASL) are two different languages. Signed English is using sign language to communicate in the same, but a simplified version of spoken English. ASL follows its own set of language rules, following a communication pattern that is different than signed or spoken English. In addition to ASL, many countries have their own versions of sign language, such as Mexico, Australia, and France, among many others. Fingerspelling is the use of the signed alphabet to manually spell out every word.
For Frank, learning to sign changed everything. “I think it opened a whole new world for me,” shared Frank. “I’ve made friends among the hearing and deaf communities and I’m still friends with them up to this day.” Frank taught herself to read lips, but that does not eliminate communication barriers entirely. “Being deaf has its challenges and still does to this day. At home and in public I can only get about 50% of what people are saying.”
With a desire to serve and a unique skill set, Frank uses sign language as a tool for community service dating back to high school when she taught her choir class how to sign a song for their Christmas concert. She has also gone into schools to teach sign language, an opportunity she takes as often as she is able to. She has also taught at an assisted living apartment building and Inspiration Point Bible Camp. She has performed a song in sign language at A Center for the Arts and regularly interprets with the worship team at Hilltop Celebration Church in Fergus Falls, which she does by signing song lyrics off of a screen or sheet of paper.
COVID-19 has put a pause in Frank’s ability to share her skills, but that has not stopped her from working toward her goal of serving. “I’ve been keeping busy (making) videos with my dad to help me reach out to the kids in the community, working on PowerPoints for my next class, or sharing my testimony so after (the pandemic) is over, I’ll be ready!”
There are a number of websites available to those who want to learn to sign. YouTube provides a wide variety of videos that contain various amounts of information. ASLU at lifeprint.com also has a beginner level American Sign Language course that is taught by a college professor.
If you are interested in contacting Frank regarding her teaching, you can contact her by email at email@example.com or by text message at 218-332-0805. Please use text message and do not call.