Professor Paul Quinn is able to make learning a foreign language fun and relaxing, without ever speaking a word.
American Sign Language is a course that most students take not because they are eager to learn a new language, but because they were required to learn one for their major and they didn’t want to take Spanish. Be that as it may, students walk into professor Quinn’s class at Arizona State University stressed about the rest of their day, but leave laughing.
Quinn uses the teaching style known as immersion in his classes. He doesn’t allow any talking. This method forces students to communicate in other ways besides speech. He discovered this by “spying” on an ASU Spanish class. He applied the same style Spanish instructors used in their classes to teach sign language and found that it was more effective than explaining signs through speech.
“I’ve had students who transferred in here from other schools where their teachers talk and they’re not nearly as good,” Quinn says.
But how is Quinn able to silently teach a beginner’s sign language course? He makes it fun.
“I don’t like students to be bored,” Quinn says. He makes students forget that they’re actually learning because they genuinely enjoy being in his class. At first, he had to act almost like a mime in order to communicate with students. Walking into his class resembles a game of charades. He strives to make his lessons engaging and funny, and he’s good at it.
“He’s always in a good mood. A lot of my professors come in and they’re in a pretty bad mood and also there’s no talking so it’s kind of hard to pick up on if he’s in a good mood or not but you always know because he’s smiling and excited to teach the class,” says journalism major Jacob Lev.
Seeing Quinn’s passion for the subject when he’s teaching shows students that sign language can be fun. Consequently, students actually study because they want to have as much fun with it as he does.
Quinn is able to make class so engaging and enjoyable because he gets along with students very well. He makes them feel comfortable to try new things and welcomes questions.
“I like that he’s very outgoing towards his students and he’s not like one of those teachers that is not approachable so he’s a really good teacher to approach and get help. It’s pretty much the main reason why I really like this class,” says Stephen Brown, who is taking Quinn’s Sign Language 101 course this semester. Brown wants to pursue sign language more by taking ASL II because he liked Quinn’s class so much.
In addition to understanding students and their sense of humor, Quinn is passionate about sign language. He isn’t teaching students because he wanted to go into teaching. Quinn had no background in teaching before he came to ASU.
After withdrawing from a private business school where he majored in economics, Quinn enrolled in Cal State Northridge. This school had a large deaf population and Quinn decided to take sign language simply because it looked like fun. Immediately, he found that he could sign without evening having to think about it. He then earned his bachelor’s degree in deaf studies and became an interpreter. At the same time, he applied to graduate programs in audiology in hopes of becoming the one of the first audiologists who could sign.
While in the graduate program at ASU, Quinn was asked to teach a course in sign language. As the program grew, they needed more instructors and Quinn was asked to teach full-time.
“I saw it as a job while I was in graduate school and kind of fun and then it just became something that I was good at,” he said. “I always tell students figure out what you’re good at and do that, if you can. I know sometimes it is hard because sometimes you don’t know what it is but I was lucky that I locked into something in the beginning and I was up in front of a class and I just got it.”
He has now been at ASU for 21 years not only as a lecturer, but also as the director of the American Sign Language Program.