British Sign Language

Imagine being trapped in a box, you can see the outside world crystal clear; people watch and try to talk to you but it falls upon… deaf ears. It is an isolating feeling. Unable to communicate fully with those around us; our peers, family and friends, but for an estimated 9 million people it’s a daily ordeal. The gift of hearing and speech is taken for granted by many, and communication with each other occurs every second of every hour. But how many people can communicate with the British deaf? The figure based on official statistics is 151,000, of which 87,000 are Deaf (figures do not include interpreters and translators).

How do I communicate with the deaf? One of the many ways (and most appreciated) is through BSL- British Sign Language. The British Deaf Association describe the language as “fully functional and expressive; at the same time, it differs profoundly from spoken languages. BSL is a visual-gestural language with a distinctive grammar using handshapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language to convey meaning.”.

For many people BSL seems daunting, confusing and difficult but I assure you with a little spare time and the correct resources you will be able to communicate confidently with people! Personally, I believe many people are put off learning sign language because of the variation in syntax- for example instead of: “What is your name?” you would ask “Name you what?” and it can be very confusing for learners. Please do not let this put you off. There is also a variation of sign known as “Sign Supported English” (SSE) which allows you to use the BSL signs but in the English syntax.

A way to reduce the anxiety towards learning BSL and increase the ability to communicate with the deaf is to introduce BSL into the school curriculum; in the past year, huge steps have been made pushing this idea forwards in society. The prospect of placing BSL on the National Curriculum in England has repeatedly been raised in the Westminster Parliament. Recently a petition to Make British Sign Language part of the National Curriculum attracted more than 35,000 signatures, and was debated in Parliament in March 2018. The Government does not currently plan to introduce BSL to the curriculum, although schools may choose to offer it themselves. Academy schools, which make up more than two thirds of secondary schools, are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum and some are starting to include BSL as a topic. This is great step forwards, however many people hope that one day BSL can stand by itself as a GCSE (it has been recognized as an official language).

For now though there are still many resources that you can use if you want to learn: one of those being the internet. YouTube and google are fabulous ways to introduce yourself to BSL and sign language through instructional videos and tutorials from teachers and learners alike. One search of “basic BSL signs” will display a plethora of videos, images and articles for you to learn from.

My one request is simple, take a minute; maybe your break from school or work and learn the alphabet in sign language, it will allow you to open the door to the world of signing and create fun phrases and words such as your own name. I personally have had the opportunity to surprise people when I sign to them: the look on their face is priceless and worth the 25 minutes of learning to make someone feel more connected.

George Veditz (former president of National Association of the Deaf of the United States and was one of the first to film American Sign Language ) once said “As long as we have deaf people on earth, we will have signs. And as long as we have our films, we can preserve signs in their old purity. It is my hope that we will all love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to deaf people.”. It is our right and a gift to communicate freely, why not take the time to bestow that gift in the form of sign? recommends a number of sources.

Article by Young Reporter Alex Greenwood.

First appeared in the Grimsby Telegraph on Tuesday 16th April 2019