THE founder of an online sign language school has become the first person from Europe to deliver sign language training in Iran.
Tessa Padden, who is deaf, launched Signworld, an interactive online system revolutionising the teaching and learning of sign language.
As part of a government-backed drive to improve the lives of deaf people in the Middle East, Padden recently led sign language training and linguistics awareness sessions to hundreds of Iranians at locations across the country. As well as taking in sites like the Green Palace of Tehran and the ancient city of Persepolis, the trip also saw Padden give a keynote address at the first-ever Iranian sign language interpreters’ conference in Zanjan and meet with a group of female volunteers at the Deaf Association in Isfahan.
“Iranian people are really lovely,” she said. “They smile much more than we do and have a great sense of humour.
“At one point I caught my head scarf in a door and accidentally pulled it off; I was worried I’d offended people but they all found it very funny.
“All they have to teach sign language with in Iran at the moment is still photographs in books which aren’t the best way to learn as they don’t demonstrate movement which is key to sign language, especially when you’re trying to convey the differences between things like heavy rain or soft rain using the same gesture.
“The best way to learn sign language is through interaction, which is what we’ve tried to achieve with Signworld and the message I tried to give the Iranians.
“They’re much more animated signers than British people; when they argue, they really argue! I had a go at learning to finger spell in Farsi while I was there, but with a different alphabet it was very difficult indeed.”
Newcastle-based Signworld was established by Padden and business partner Linda Day to bring sign language education into the 21st Century by using software technology.
It is inspired by their 20 years’ experience of teaching the language at universities across the UK. Aimed at learners, teachers and interpreters, Signworld uses interactive technology to offer users one-on-one virtual tuition.
Signworld is being assisted in its growth by Sunderland Software City, the regional initiative supporting and driving the growth of the North East software industry.
Chief executive officer David Dunn said: “North East software is now being used in every continent on earth and that’s because our region’s software industry specialises in creative solutions to universal needs.
“The fact that Tessa’s expertise is being sought out by people as far away as Iran is a testament to the quality of the Signworld product, and she was clearly a wonderful ambassador for both the North East and our software industry.”