I am lucky enough to be able to hear. I am also blessed to be able to talk (although, I’m not sure my boyfriend would agree!) Because, I have learnt these skills, I have also been able to read and write this today. All forms of communication, that a lot of us take for granted.
I recently started a sign language course, you see. I have always been fascinated by it and have wanted to learn it properly. In my previous job, I knew a little of Makaton sign langauge. This is a simplified version and often used with younger children. The course I am doing now is British Sign Language (BSL). Some bits are the same as what I have learnt in Makaton – some aren’t. The alphabet is the same, though. I had previously learnt this but the course has helped me to ensure that I hold my hands correctly and make sure the other person can see the signed letter easily. I am a firm believer that we should all learn the alphabet, because then anyone could communicate with deaf and hearing impaired individuals a little i.e. by spelling out key words. Here take a look at it:
We are taught by a tutor who can’t hear or speak. (Deaf and Dumb – but I am pretty sure that isn’t accepted terminology anymore with the negative connotations!). This makes us learn more quickly really because he has to sign to us mainly so we pick up more signs along the way. Naturally, he will write on the white board too to explain certain things. It was funny on our first session, as we had to all write our names on the board – as it was obviously the only way we could tell him to start with. He quickly picked up on the fact that my sister and I (who is doing the course with me) had the same surname. He pointed at us in turn with questioning facial expressions. I knew the sign for sister in Makaton and was pretty sure it was the same. But you know when you just start a group and you don’t want to be the nerdy geek?! Ha! Well, I was more worried of him thinking I was my sister’s Mum instead and realised that I could live with being the class geek and had to clear it up, so I signed sister and he nodded in understanding! 😀
We’ve had four weeks of sessions now. The part I am finding the most difficult is the numbers. It isn’t just a case of counting on your fingers as I had hoped. It changes at 6, ten and for the teens – because it is done with one hand you see:
Funny story one week. We had to all have a conversation with the tutor in front of everyone else. He asked me if I had a car, what colour it was etc. I signed in reply. I then thought he asked how long I had been driving so I signed ‘4 years’. Everyone started to laugh and the tutor looked shocked! Turns out, he had asked how long had it taken me to drive to the session that night! Ha! So even in sign language, things can get lost in translation 😉
So yes, it’s all very interesting. We are doing just the beginner’s course and then there is a Level 1 – 6. It is a whole new langauge and it will take years to perfect the grammar (different from the written word as words like ‘are’ don’t exist – generally explaining why deaf people can’t always write in the same way), facial expressions and then the slang and informal talk. I’d like to go all the way with it but we will see how obstacles like time and money get in the way!
But as I say, if people just took a little time to learn the alphabet then it would bridge that gap of communication. I also fully recommend the Beginner’s course. You learn, in addition to the alphabet and numbers, family signs, question signs, colours and the other bits (which we haven’t done yet!). The course is 11 weeks long and only cost £68 and that is including £15 for the exam at the end. Obviously, it will vary depending where you live or where you study at. But it’s worth the money for such a valuable life skill.