Though I love languages, language learning, and language teaching, I have come to realize that language on its own can be limiting. Most communication requires much more than spoken or written language to serve its purpose. Context, imagery, tone of voice all contribute to the messages we wish to convey. These are important elements in content creation because they help you link to others through empathy and other emotions.
I showed Caro Babbo to two of my students from the editorial design course today.
I hold Natalie and Karol close to my heart. Having them in the classroom has been an extremely enriching experience. These students are deaf, so I have needed an interpreter to engage with them and another one of their classmates in this and two other courses.
Boy what did I get myself into by showing this film today? Voice-over in Italian and English subtitles meant little to nothing to Natalie and Karol, whose first language is Honduran Sign Language, or LESHO. This meant I had to simultaneously interpret from Italian to Spanish, with a little help from my English subtitles to keep the pace. Meanwhile, the interpreter signed for them. Of course, this was no easy task. I pressed pause plenty of times!
What does Caro Babbo look like in sign language? It was beautiful. It gave brand new meaning to the closing lines in the film.
Using content to connect with my students
Editorial Design is one of my favorite courses to teach. The final project in the class, called “Top 20,” is a short book project. Students choose a topic that will aid them in telling an autobiographical narrative or narratives in 20 chapters.
In prior sections of the course, the challenge was to create the Top 20 without the use of representational images. Textures and geometric shapes were fine, but students were to rely chiefly on typography and the treatment of text to convey their messages.
This term, students can use photographs and illustrations, provided they are the creators. This change in the rules came about in response to having the LESHO students in the group.
Context is extremely important.
The way deaf students use language is quite different to what a hearing student might use. For example, the interpreter explained that users of LESHO keep most verbs in the infinitive form or in the present tense.
Context is extremely important to understand “tenses” in sign language. (For example: “I eat pizza yesterday.”) For this reason, writing in Spanish can be frustrating for deaf students, and this was the number one concern for Natalie and Karol in understanding how to navigate the Top 20 project.
On the other hand, my concern was that they understand the objectives of the project. One was that they practice the typography and layout skills required in editorial design. A second objective was not having to rely on literal imagery to convey a message. Finally, the third objective was that they practice developing their self-awareness.
For a graphic designer, developing self-awareness also means embracing a growth mindset. Being self-aware leads to finding ways to strengthen your areas of improvement, which happens to be how good graphic designers become excellent ones.
While language can be limiting, we can link to others through empathy and other emotions.
By showing the film, I was trying to make a point to Natalie and Karol about how autobiographical projects can help us understand how to express our ideas to others. I also demonstrated that they could use creative strategies to represent themselves without having to rely solely on selfies or other forms of self-portrait.
That’s where Caro Babbo came in. I didn’t have to explain that the two main characters in the film were representations of me, because Natalie and Karol connected to them quite easily by the end of the film.
As visual communicators, designers must be able to connect with others. Showing this film was a practical way to tap into these students’ emotions and help them understand two of the project objectives that didn’t derive from our textbook.
And the best part? I got to send my dad his letter in yet another language.