Radio Inspire

How To Learn Sign Language

Liam O’Dell – Respect sign language and the community


British Sign Language – it’s a language that
I was very lucky enough to start learning
back in 2014. It all started
when I was asked if I wanted to join
a charity’s youth board. And, at that point,
there was 18 of us from all over the UK
from the Deaf community, some of them
used sign language as a means
to communicate. However,
up until that point I wasn’t really that immersed
in the Deaf community. Sure, there were
a few people in my local area that were
deaf or hard of hearing that I could speak to, but this was the first time – and the first opportunity
that I could properly start learning sign language. So, over the course
of four residentials, I went from being quite
an awkward person that knew no
sign language whatsoever to the fourth and
final residential, where I was able to have a full-on conversation with people in
British Sign Language. And I ended up
learning sign language in a variety of ways: from people teaching me
on the Board, to learning from dictionaries, to having lessons in classes. For me,
I approach sign language with a sense of curiosity,
fascination and intrigue. I thought the Deaf community was such a wonderful
and amazing thing that I wanted
to be a part of. And I think when it
comes to hearing people wanting to learn
sign language, it’s that curiosity
and fascination that they should
also possess as well. And I say this because
although I am not fluent in British Sign Language myself, I do like to teach people a couple of signs
here and there. And what I find is that
for some people, they’re immediately interested
in learning how to swear, or learning how to say
inappropriate terms that kind of diminish the beauty
of the language somewhat. And let’s be honest here: as with any language, it’s important that
we learn the essentials rather than learning how to call someone
a rude word. And that’s the problem. If hearing people approach
sign language the wrong way, then it turns into this
gimmick or ‘party trick’ or something that they can
show off to their friends, and that kind of
diminishes the beauty of such a visual language and just turns it into
some sort of thing that you can possess
and show off to people – it just diminishes it entirely. And it’s not just the
use of sign language to swear that’s a problem. It’s also when BSL is put
into popular culture in this kind of inspirational or exaggerated thing as well – that can be just as harmful. And with this comes
an important question to consider: when is
learning sign language seen as this kind of
‘party trick’ and when is it actually properly
spreading awareness? And I say this because
if done right, learning British Sign Language can open so much
more opportunities, it can challenge stereotypes, it can lead us to meet
new and exciting people, But as much as we
rely on hearing people to approach learning
sign language with this right sense
of enthusiasm, there’s also a
responsibility on us, as deaf people, to teach hearing people
in the right way. And I say this because
I’ve seen recent examples where hearing people
go up to people who are deaf or
hard of hearing, tell them about
their passion to learn sign language, only for them to be treated
with contempt or made to feel stupid. And just as much as we
don’t like hearing people mocking the language
by using it to swear, it’s also important that
we don’t mock hearing people when they have
a genuine passion to learn sign language. Basically, I think
this is something that can be tackled
from both sides: the hearing community
and the Deaf community, and if we work together,
we can realise the beauty of such a wonderfully
visual language. We can help to
break down barriers, unite people, and
challenge stereotypes. Thanks for watching.

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