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Neighbourhood learns sign language to talk to six-year old Wout

15:47 05/10/2020

An entire street of residents in Wuustwezel, in the far north of Antwerp province, has decided to learn sign language in order to be able to talk to six-year-old neighbour Wout. The neighbours are taking a collective class – and got many other members of the community to sign up, too.

“We really have the most fantastic neighbours,” Wout’s mum, Tessa Leenaerts, told Radio 2 Antwerpen. “We talk to our neighbours all the time, know each other really well and visit a lot.”

But Wout doesn’t understand any of the neighbours. He has been deaf since birth and is having trouble with speaking at the moment as well. All of the neighbours decided they wanted to learn sign language, but they didn’t have enough people to get a teacher from Doof Vlaanderen to come to Wuustwezel.

So they put out a call through the city for other potential students and ended up with nearly 40. That was good for not just one class, but two.

Normally Doof Vlaanderen only offers classes in Flemish sign language in the province’s larger cities of Antwerp and Turnhout. But it heeded Wuustwezel’s call. It is sending one of its instructors to the town of 21,000 to teach all 39 students in two separate classes.

Leenaerts admits that her neighbours have their work cut out for them. “My husband and I started when Wout was eight months old, and it was a bit of a slog,” she says. “You really have to practice it a lot so you don’t lose it. My husband is even going to follow this as a refresher course.”

And Leenaerts is going to the first class tonight with Wout so they can say: Thank you.

Photo courtesy Stad Wuustwezel

Written by Lisa Bradshaw