British Sign Language Taster at LinguaMania
Creative Multilingualism’s LinguaMania event provided a stimulating forum for a taster session on British Sign Language (BSL).
I find learning foreign languages interesting and rewarding. In my front-facing role at the Blavatnik School of Government, I am lucky enough to engage with our students on a daily basis and it gives me occasional opportunities to practise a little of a language I know, or to learn a few phrases of a language I don’t know. Two years ago, I decided to take an evening class. I had done A level Russian at evening class some years before and had loved it. However, I felt I wanted to learn something a little different, but still in keeping with the language theme. I therefore decided to learn British Sign Language (BSL), which I started in September 2014. My mother (a retired physiotherapist) learnt and used a system of sign language called Paget, which she used with a child who had cerebral palsy and hearing loss. She taught my sisters and me a little bit of Paget when we were children so we could communicate at a very basic level with this boy.
Learning BSL has been fascinating, fun and useful. BSL is a visual means of communication using gestures, facial expression and body language. You can really unleash your creative closet actor! It has also given me the opportunity to meet new like-minded people. I had the chance to use BSL when I showed a group of architects around our new building last year. One gentleman was deaf and relied on sign language. I was therefore able to communicate with him a little bit using BSL and he signed that he really appreciated being able to use his first language with me. This really brought it home to me how important it is, as responsible citizens, to try to reach out and bridge the gap with people who may feel isolated and cut off from the world at large.
At LinguaMania, I was pleased to have the help of Helen, a friend who had learnt some basic BSL in the past. The first part of the BSL taster session was an interactive task: I wrote down some phrases and asked participants to get into small groups to convey the meaning of the phrase using facial gestures and body language only – no lip pattern. This is a little bit like charades, with which everyone is familiar. The aim was to show people the challenge of communicating without using speech. Some people admitted they were somewhat out of their comfort zone, perhaps a little self-conscious even (I encouraged them to really exaggerate their facial expressions). The feedback they gave revealed that it had been an eye-opener. We then taught the BSL alphabet and a few basic greetings.
I hope people who came to the taster session will be inspired to learn more British Sign Language. I believe BSL should be part of the school curriculum in the same way MFL is. There are approximately 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, so the more people who know BSL, the more we can break down communication barriers.
Anne Wynne works at the Blavatnik School of Government. She speaks French and also has a good working knowledge of Spanish. She has been learning British Sign Language since 2014.
Image credit: Cowplopmorris at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons