Next week is Deaf Awareness Week. I have written before about being deaf aware, and so this week I decided to write about sign languages.
Many people believe that there is one universal sign language used by deaf people all over the world, but this is not the case. Different countries have different sign languages which are mutually unintelligible. French Sign Language is as different from British Sign Language as French is from English.
Just as spoken languages belong to families – eg the Romance family which includes French, Spanish and Italian, and the Germanic family which includes German, Dutch and Swedish – so do sign languages. French Sign Language is related to American Sign Language; British sign language is related to Australian Sign Language.
Another common misconception is that British Sign Language (BSL) is the same as Sign Supported English (SSE). This is not true…..
BSL is a language in its own right, with a rich vocabulary. There is no one-word-to-one-sign relationship: some words need more than one sign to explain, and some signs can convey concepts which would require a whole sentence in English. Sign Supported English is, as it sounds, spoken English with accompanying signs. SSE also has signs to indicate prefixes and suffixes. For example, “I will walk to the shops” in BSL would be three signs – shops me walk – whereas in SSE it would be 6 signs – one for each word.
If you fancy having a go at learning BSL, you have lots of options. Many Adult Education Centres offer introductory level up to at least level 3, and there are also lots of private tuition companies. You can’t beat face-to-face learning, but if you really want to learn from your own home you could look for Skype sessions or look at websites such as spreadthesign where you can learn some words.
Another way to learn a few signs would be to purchase a pack of Flashsticks and learn a few each day. It wouldn’t help you to speak fluently, and you wouldn’t learn any grammar, but it would help you to use Sign Supported English.
Whichever route you choose, it’s definitely worth learning some. It’s an extra skill to show off to potential employers, and it could open up a whole new circle of friends to you.