When I was around 10, at primary school, we were each given a homework diary and in the back, there were some pages of information. One of the pages was diagrams of how to do the alphabet in British Sign Language (BSL). I decided to learn it, and have been able to do the alphabet ever since. I have often thought that learning more sign language could be interesting, and have picked up the odd sign over the years.
What really made me keen to learn more was reading a book called A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard (I really recommend this book, it is a good read – full review). The book centres around Steffi, who is a selective mute. A family member encouraged her to learn BSL and it certainly becomes useful when she meets a boy at school who is deaf. The book has instructions for a few words and the endpapers contain diagrams for the alphabet as well as some numbers. Reading this story prompted a keenness to learn more when I realised that sign language can offer options for people other than those who are deaf and is something that not many people know which makes it difficult for those who do use it. The book prompted me to think about so many things and taught me a lot of basic things that I would never have even thought of. For example, when having a conversation that includes a deaf person, you need to be facing them at all times whilst signing even if you are speaking to someone else. Otherwise they will not be able to see your hands or your mouth to understand what you are saying. I could talk so much more about what I learned from this book, but instead I will encourage you to read it.
When I began at university a few months later, I decided to search for a sign language society as this would offer free teaching of sign language and would also be a good social opportunity. I did not get to a lesson until the second semester started when I went to a taster lesson, but I am so glad that I decided to go. I have found languages interesting and enjoyable for years and so learning BSL appealed to me greatly. Also, BSL is physical language spoken with your hands as well as much more expression which is different to any other language I have learnt before. I am enjoying learning BSL a lot and I would really recommend it. Learning about the need to be expressive was fascinating as I had not really thought how you would convey tone without using your voice – turns out, your facial expressions and whole body are important when signing, as is mouthing the words.
Unfortunately, I was only able to do a few weeks of sign language lessons this semester, but I plan to go back next year to learn more because I have become fascinated and am loving learning the language. My best friend has decided she wants to come with me this time too which will be really fun and I’m glad that my talking about BSL and showing her some signs has made her want to learn it too.
Hopefully more and more people will learn some sign language and maybe one day it will be taught more widely and possibly in schools.