How To Say Thank You In Sign Language

Min Yuan created many great designs for the BC Alliance.  

Min Yuan created many great designs for the BC Alliance.  

by Nancy Lanthier

Last month, the BC Alliance was fortunate to have a student intern work with us. Min Yuan is a graphic designer who attends Vancouver Community College. Every day, Min would come in to the office, we’d exchange “good mornings” and then, as with others here, we communicated mostly via email. Min was assigned a number of projects off the top, and because we all loved her work, we asked her to do a few last-minute, unscheduled designs, too. Min was really good at translating our words about a project into suitable graphics. 

But at staff meetings, Min, herself, required a translator. That’s because Min is deaf. Her program at VCC provided an ASL interpreter anytime one was needed—which, for us, occurred almost exclusively during our weekly meetings. Almost everything we said at these gatherings was interpreted into sign language to our attentive intern, who would nod enthusiastically, but didn’t sign back that much. And here’s another thing: English is not Min’s first language. Or her second. Raised in Shanghai, China, where she used Chinese Sign Language, Min attended her second university program in Korea, where she learned Korean, and Korean Sign Language. Two years ago, Min moved to Canada and picked up American Sign Language more quickly than English—but she’ll conquer this language (for reading and writing), as well.

Part of a brochure Min Yuan designed for BC Alliance

Part of a brochure Min Yuan designed for BC Alliance

At work, I was surprised to note how rarely I needed to consider Min’s deafness. Once I memorized a number of key ASL phrases—“good morning,” “cool,” “thank you,” among them—we exchanged these messages all the time. Min had also told us right away that her preferred communication is email. To all of us, what was more remarkable about Min was her talent and positive attitude. She was willing to take on anything and delivered exceptional work. We scored.

Min applied for employment at the BC Alliance shortly after we presented Landon Krentz’s popular workshop Deaf Culture Without Borders. It was about ways to include deaf artists and audiences in theatre and was just part of one of BC Alliance's key values: to be truly inclusive, providing a platform for everyone, including diverse and marginalized groups, to work together and unite through a common passion.

A magazine ad designed by Min Yuan.

A magazine ad designed by Min Yuan.

Min, who is a swift learner, flexible, and can draw and paint beautifully, tells us that her internship at the BC Alliance “was another turning point in my life. I learned a lot about teamwork.” Happily, she thanked us for piling on the work, “providing me with more and more new opportunities and projects so that I could experience many aspects of the BC Alliance. I felt lucky to be trusted by my colleagues.” 

My colleague who really got to know Min was member services manager Beverly Edgecombe. They “talked” via email and texts, on paper, a little bit of ASL, and even more non-sign language. “If hearing people altered their communication techniques just a little bit to be more inclusive, a workplace can easily adapt to a deaf person on staff,” says Bev.  

A while ago, Min wrote a beautiful passage about what she would like to tell hearing people about her experience of being deaf. 

"I am living in a world of silence, but my life is uniquely colourful. My eyes are my ears. I use my eyes to listen. My hands are my mouth. I use draw brushes in my hands to express my emotion and thought."

Should you ever wish to say "thank you" to a deaf person, here's how: Put your fingers to your chin and wave them once towards the person. I won't forget this because we said it to Min so many times. 

Want to hire Min? Please contact her minyuan@live.com.

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