It is Sign Language Week in the UK on 13-19 March. This week is always celebrated in March to commemorate the first time British Sign Language (BSL) was acknowledged as a language in its own right by the UK government.
Last year we explored the importance of children being taught BSL in schools, this article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul 2022 issue of PosAbility Magazine.
By Rosalind Tulloch
I have recently signed up for an online course to learn British Sign Language (BSL). This has been something that I have wanted to do for years, and I am annoyed at myself for not having committed sooner. I know some basic Spanish, and I could probably get by with the little Italian and French that I know, all from what I was taught at school, so why do I not know any BSL, the language that is used by approximately 151,000 people in the UK?
The short answer is that it was not taught in schools, and despite my best intentions I never got around to learning it myself. I am finally getting around to committing to this and I feel very strongly that my children learn BSL too. I feel that knowing, even some basic BSL, will be more valuable to them than learning how to speak French, German or Spanish.
In just a week of this online course I had learned the fingerspelling alphabet, numbers, colours and greetings, and in turn I have then taught my husband and two young daughters. My daughters are aged five and eight, and the enthusiasm they show for learning sign language is amazing, and I believe it is indicative of most young children. They love learning something new, but more than that, they understand the importance of being able to communicate with someone who is d/Deaf or hard of hearing.
Children are like sponges, they soak up new things much quicker than adults, so why is it that in schools we focus on learning a foreign language but not BSL?
Teaching BSL in schools
Many d/Deaf children attend mainstream schools, but are reportedly under-achieving because communication is limited. School is not just about learning maths and English, it is also about developing social skills, fostering friendships, building confidence and resilience to help children thrive in later life. If a d/Deaf child attends a school where none of their teachers or peers can communicate with them, it will naturally have a negative impact on their development. How wonderful would it be if any d/Deaf child that uses British Sign Language could walk into any school across the country and know that they could communicate with any pupil or teacher there?
British Sign Language was recognised as a language in its own right in 2003 and 2022 has seen the BSL Act finally passed, meaning BSL is now legally recognised as a language in Britain. This will help incorporate BSL into everyday life as the government will have to actively increase BSL communication with the d/Deaf community.
Introducing the teaching of British Sign Language into schools from a young age will help normalise the use of sign language, help increase d/Deaf awareness and help break down barriers between the d/Deaf and hearing community.
The benefits of learning BSL are far-reaching, with research showing that learning sign language can help improve fine motor skills, vocabulary, reading, and self-esteem.
Matthew Kleiner-Mann is the trust leader for Ivy Learning Trust, and they have recently committed to teaching BSL across their 10 primary schools in Enfield and South Hertfordshire. Speaking to TES Magazine he explained the reason behind the decision to roll it out across all of their schools after seeing the classes implemented in Brimsdown Primary: “Whenever I visit Brimsdown, I leave feeling inspired by what I’ve seen there – the connection between BSL and respect in the school, the link to positive behaviour, the way the children talk to each other. Inclusion at the school feels natural.”
He goes on to describe the other benefits he has witnessed as a result of the pupils learning BSL: “Children who learn BSL are showing a much better capacity for retention and memory; for example, when sign language is incorporated into other areas of learning, like topic words, we’ve found that the retention of those words is markedly increased.
“With more than half of pupils at the school speaking English as an additional language, learning BSL has also helped them to communicate with friends and teachers more easily – something that is especially useful when they’re feeling sad or upset.”
Breaking down the barriers between the d/Deaf and hearing communities by having BSL taught in school would make huge strides towards a more inclusive society. It would not only, transform the lives of d/Deaf schoolchildren in mainstream schools and support their learning, but it would open up future education, employment, training and travel opportunities. Employers would be more open and understanding to d/Deaf culture, the media would be more concerned with representation of d/Deaf people on screen, and society as a whole would benefit from the respectful, inclusive and understanding nature that BSL promotes.
Sign Language Week
This year the theme for #SignLanguageWeek is all about protecting British Sign Language. You can find out more at: SignLanguageWeek.org.uk
If you are looking to learn BSL check out the following websites:Get your copy of PosAbility Magazine
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