If quarantine has brought one positive thing to my life, it’s that I’ve had so much more time to pursue some things that I have been aspiring to do for a while, and some that I hadn’t really thought about before.
One of those things was a British Sign Language (BSL) course!
My mum actually sent me a link that she saw on Facebook way back at the beginning of lockdown for this ‘Introducing British Sign Language’ course that was reduced from £50 I believe to FREE (incredible!) Of course, I had to jump at the chance of learning this new valuable skill; so after waiting in the virtual queue for three days, it was my turn to check out and I donated a little bit of money to help the cause as the company was providing such a considerate deal.
I’m not totally sure if this course is equal to a level certification, however I believe it is recognised as some kind of achievement (you learn a ton of topics and vocabulary!) The course typically takes about 10-12 weeks to complete, however you can do it at your own pace which is part of the beauty of it, and after each lesson you take a test that you need 85% to pass.
Throughout the course I covered fingerspelling, colours, interests, workplace, family, descriptions, hobbies, likes and dislikes, timelines and tenses, time, money, days, months, seasons, clothing, food and drink, directional verbs, questions, animals, school and work, home, medical appointments, shopping, countryside, facial expressions and body language, and finally conversation.
British Sign Language wasn’t actually officially recognised as a language by the government in 2003, despite the fact that 151000 people use it in the UK and it’s been around since the late 1500s where it was first spotted at a wedding in 1576. It really is an incredible thing to communicate visually that way and just as within spoken languages, it’s not universal – there are different dialects for every language – Irish, American, Spanish: you name it.
One thing that I really appreciated throughout this course is that along with the actual signs, there are sections that talk about the facts and figures as I shared above; and the section on audism was particularly eye-opening. If you don’t know what it is, audism is a form of discrimination, prejudice or lack of willingness to accommodate those who cannot hear. It was first raised by Tom Humphries in his 1977 Doctral dissertation “communicating Across Cultures (Deaf-Hearing) and Language Learning. It’s very important that we acknowledge audism and realise that like issues such as racism or sexism, it can present itself in many ways, for example:
- Refusing to use sign language when it is necessary and you know how to use it.
- Not accommodating to the needs of deaf people.
- Lowering expectations of deaf people in an education or working environment.
- Belittling deaf people, for example, using sign language when they don’t need you to use it/ it isn’t their preferred way of communicating.
There were also so many striking observations that I discovered throughout the course – sign language is not what it originally appears to be…
The language is actually very expression, body language and lip-reading orientated. Although this is ‘sign’ language, and you do use signs, it’s actually more important to focus on the person’s expressions and mouth to gauge the emotions and purpose being conveyed which is very useful when you forget what certain signs mean! (Plus, some signs have multiple meanings which can get quite confusing!)
Saying that, a lot of the signs are very self-explanatory: for eyes, you point to your eye; for butterfly, you cross your hands and connect your thumbs to form a butterfly shape; for me, you point to yourself.
The only improvement that I would have for this particular course is that when you complete the weekly test, if you get something wrong, you don’t get a correction which is quite frustrating but other than that, I can only praise this course!
Once I had completed each lesson, and passed each weekly test, it was time to take the final exam. I felt quite bittersweet doing it because I couldn’t believe that I had finished the course already. However, I felt ecstatic when I finally finished and received my certificate!
I would really love to continue learning sign language but I’m not too sure what level I would start at and where I would continue learning (if anyone has any ideas, please let me know!) However, if you have never learned sign language before, I cannot recommend this course enough – if you would like to participate yourself, click here!
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