How To Learn Sign Language

For deaf and hard of hearing people, sign language is an alternative form of communication to a written or spoken language. Different countries have their own versions such as BSL (British sign language) or ASL (American sign language). How to learn sign language can be done in a variety of ways.


Who is sign language for.

Sign language is a means of communication. Like all forms of communication it takes a minimum of two people to be effective, the person signing the language and the other to understand what is being “said”.


For deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate effectively with the rest of society, then others also need to be able to understand and be able to converse in sign language too. This consists of people such as families of the deaf and hard of hearing. Teachers, people working in public bodies, work colleagues and friends.


The more people who understand and can communicate in this language then the more inclusive and confident deaf and hard of hearing people will feel within the community and society at large.


What is sign language and what does it consist of.

Most people believe that sign language is simply the spoken language of that country with hand signs. This is not the case. It is a completely different language with it’s own grammar and sentence construction.

BSL fingerspelling chart
BSL fingerspelling chart


For example, in English you would ask, “What is your name?” A sign language user would sign, “Your name, what?”


There is no sign language equivalent for some words such as people’s names, addresses etc… Instead they use a finger spelling alphabet to spell the word out.


Sign language, just like any other written language can take years to perfect. It is a combination of hand gestures, facial expressions and body language. Even learning the basics such as the finger spelling or doing a beginners course is a great way to learn to communicate with someone who is deaf or hearing impaired.


Where can you learn sign language.

Learning to sign can be achieved through 3 main methods. Just like any language, the level of competency you want to get to will be a deciding factor on what method you choose.


Books on sign language.

There are hundreds of books available to help you learn how to sign. These will range from basic finger spelling through to complex signing comprising both book and DVD packages.


Your local library should be a good source of information in relation to beginners books and how to get started. The other way to source books on learning sign language is through companies such as Amazon. Simply go to the site and type in sign language books and you will get a vast variety at different prices.bsl-graffiti


The best way to judge the quality of these books is to look at the reviews. Again Amazon will generally provide this information, but you can always find a review of the book elsewhere online.


Online sign language courses.

There are a lot of sign language courses now available online. They can range from beginners courses from as little as £10 through to advanced courses costing several hundred.


The main advantage these courses have over book based courses is that they are mainly interactive. Rather than just a picture of the sign you are learning, you can actually see someone making that sign. This will help you to get the detail right more quickly.


Some of these courses even offer one on one tutoring which can help you to progress quicker than simply reading signs from a page or reading them from a screen.


As with books, you need to do a bit of homework on these courses. You need to decide what level you want to achieve and make sure that the course will meet those needs. Check the course to see if it has been reviewed anywhere independently. Check fully the conditions to see exactly you are getting for your money. You can also check with some of the national charities that deal with the deaf and hard of hearing community to see if they have online courses themselves.


Community college or voluntary run courses in your area.

Most communities will have an active deaf and hard of hearing help organisation that run courses on learning sign language. These courses are usually catered to various levels from beginners to more advanced signing.sign language symbol


Some of these courses will be free but formal courses at community colleges can cost a few hundred pounds but there is usually some form of formal qualification at the end of them.


These type of courses are the one I would recommend most. Whilst the others have their merits, I believe that these community courses are the best way to learn and develop the best understanding of sign language.


Generally speaking you will be learning with other people at the same level as yourself. You will be learning in a live environment and in real time. You will be interacting with others in real life.


You will also get a feeling and a sense of belonging within these groups. You will be meeting people with the same goals as you and perhaps with the same difficulties as you. Whether it is yourself who is deaf or hard of hearing or you have a family member or a friend you want to be able to communicate with better, then you will almost certainly be learning with others who are in the same position.


Learning to sign is more than just another way of communicating. It is also a statement that we are prepared to reach out to a section of our community that we have previously bypassed. The opportunities for learning this new language are almost limitless. Whether you want to learn in the privacy of your own home or with other people then take the plunge and just go for it.

BSL thank you
Thank you.


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