Facial expression and body language for BSL
It’s national Sign Language Week this week (March 2017). British Sign Language is used by the UK deaf community of around 151,000 people and hopefully this week will raise awareness of this officially recognized language which has not yet been given legal status by the government.
Here’s the BSL sign for “friend(s)” – the meaning is clear, but something vital is missing: the face!
Learning to sign helps hearing people to express themselves more freely and clearly. You have to learn to use the right facial expressions to go with the signs, and get more confident using body language. Among older hearing people it’s sometimes considered rude to be very expressive, especially perhaps if they’re British. I think it looks graceful and dynamic.
Where to watch sign language
You can watch signing on the BBC programme “See Hear” or on any sign language interpreted programme. Children’s programmes are fun to watch with sign interpretation. On the internet there’s the lovely http://www.signedstories.com. And for the little ones there’s always “Something Special”on CBeebies, with Mr Tumble.
Deaf children teaching hearing children to sign
A video by the journalist Hannah Gelbart appeared on the BBC website last week, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39274661 : “Should children learn sign language?” She filmed some deaf children teaching hearing children from a nearby school to sign, and her film also appeared on CBBC today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/39346960. The kids were helping each other and making new friends. The deaf children interviewed said that it made them feel “happy and confident” to play with hearing children who could use basic sign language, and they obviously loved teaching it. The hearing children would be able to communicate with other deaf people as well; it would be a skill for life. The hearing children said that it was fun to sign, that they enjoyed having a “secret language” and that it was useful when they were somewhere noisy.
I used to sign all day when I was teaching primary deaf children. We invited some local hearing children to play, and they invited our children to their school. All the children learned a lot about communication. I went on to teach in a secondary school where most of the students were hearing, but some had varying degrees of hearing impairment. We ran an after-school “signing club” and everybody was invited.
The benefits of sign language for hearing children
There’s been an online petition asking for BSL to be taught in schools. The government replied that there’s no time on the curriculum, but schools are still free to teach it if they want. I think it’s quite easy for primary children to learn basic sign, and you don’t need many sessions to learn the finger alphabet and a few signs. Children of this age are a lot less inhibited than adults. The signs for emotions are particularly useful because they help with “emotional literacy”. Kids can practise a whole range of facial expressions to fit the different emotions. I think there’s a link between learning to sign and having an aptitude for drama. Animal signs are fun to learn as well. And the signs can be used to teach the kids foreign languages. I worked as a primary supply teacher for a while, and sometimes only had one day with each class. I had a sign language lesson ready so that if we had time they could learn some signing and I felt I could offer them something new. This website provides some useful materials, called “Let’s Sign”: http://www.deafbooks.co.uk.
I did baby signing with my daughter, which involves using a few basic signs from BSL to help babies communicate while they’re learning to talk. She soon dropped the signs when she didn’t need them anymore, but we kept some of them going and she can still finger spell and use a few signs. This can be useful when you’re on opposite sides of the swimming pool and you need to communicate! Even if you get a bit “rusty” with the signing, I think learning to sign still helps kids and adults to express themselves more freely and clearly, and most importantly to communicate with deaf people.
What do you think? Can your child sign, and should all hearing children learn sign language?