YouTube Videos Create Unexpected Reaction for NTID Faculty Member

Jason Listman signing his version of Katy Perry's "Firework."
Story Highlights: 
  • Jason Listman is a member of NTID's American Sign Language & Interpreter Education Department.
  • Born deaf, Listman became interested in music in 1999.
  • More than 300,000 people have viewed his videos, and nearly 2,000 subscribed to him on YouTube.

What began as a project to make a couple of music videos in American Sign Language has turned Jason Listman into somewhat of a video celebrity on YouTube. His three videos (search for “LankyListman”) have been viewed more than 300,000 times and he has nearly 2,000 followers.

He has heard from fans in Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, Croatia, Canada, The Philippines and Indonesia. Sign language teachers say they show his videos to their classes. Others say they feel inspired to learn sign language.

“It has been overwhelming,” says Listman, a faculty member in NTID’s ASL & Interpreter Education Department. “I didn’t expect that.” Among the comments he’s received:

  • “Your version is so beautiful and moving. I am so inspired.”
  • “Your videos make me smile. I’m losing my hearing and slowly learning how to sign and you make it look so beautiful and fun. Thank you. I’m not as afraid now.”
  • “Your videos give me chills. They are awesome.”
  • “I did not even care for this song until I watched your video. I saw your video and completely broke down. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”

Born deaf, Listman hears some sounds with the help of a hearing aid. But he didn’t become interested in music until 1999.

It was January 2011 that he posted his first video, Firework, by Katy Perry. Done in black and white, he practiced a month in advance, asking friends and colleagues how best to convey the words. A friend recorded Listman over two days, and helped edit and caption the segment before it was posted on YouTube. The next month, he released his second video, Just the Way You Are, by Bruno Mars. And a month later came his third video, The Best Thing about Me is You, by Ricky Martin.

“People ask if I take requests or can sign a wedding song,” he says. “Choosing a song, I have to think a lot about the artist’s feelings, and I have to show it. I want to make it as beautiful as possible.”

In order to create his videos, he must read the lyrics, feel the beat and music and create body and facial expression to go along with the signing. But that’s easier said than done, because true American Sign Language does not follow English structure. He uses ASL but leaves some translation literal so the audience can interpret the meaning themselves.

“I tried to make the videos fit in both worlds, deaf and hearing,” Listman says.

His fans are begging for more from him, but he’s pursuing his doctoral degree hasn’t had time to make new videos this year. It’s something he thinks about, but making a video that is up to his high standards takes a lot of time.

He’s even had to resort to having his YouTube and FaceBook fan pages managed by a friend.

“I feel good about all the reactions,” says Listman. “I’m hoping people find inspiration to empower themselves. We all have bad days. But hopefully they can watch the video and remember that there are good things in life too.”

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