A Brief Look at Sign Language: Why we Should all Learn it!

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Photographer: Daniel Monteiro | Source: Unsplash

Sign language is a dialect used by the deaf to communicate. Unfortunately, not many people see the point in learning the language. Nor can they find the time.

I'm going to talk about some interesting facts surrounding sign language. Why we should learn it, and what the impact would be as a society trying to learn sign language.

A brief look at the different types of sign language

Communicating through hand gestures has a collective name known as sign language. However, sign language can be broken up into many different forms and variations. Depending on the culture and country you're in. No two signs are the same. For example, in England, they use British Sign Language. (BSL) Whereas in America, they use American Sign Language (ASL) which, has a completely different way of gesturing. One example being that BSL, unlike ASL, uses two-handed fingerspelling.

We can see differences even closer to home because there are also differences between Irish Sign Language. (ISL)

There are also differences between communities in terms of the way they use sign language. For example, in America, they have ASL but, then you have Black American Sign Language. (BASL) Which the Deaf Black community uses. Because Deaf schools were segregated and were not accepting black pupils until 1952. Meaning the black community came up with their own way to communicate.

The main difference is that BASL uses two hands to finger-spell. Unlike the one-handed fingerspelling of ASL.

They also finger-spell many individual words differently. Such as Christmas and hurt.

Like any language, sign language and the ways different communities use it has different jargon, slang and dialects, which we should always remember.

If you try to learn Sign-language through YouTube tutorials, an accredited course, or other people who are Deaf. Make sure it's in the language you commonly use and communicate with others.

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The benefits of learning sign language

According to the World Health Organisation, over 5% of the world's population (430 million people) are deaf. And, 70 million deaf people require sign language to communicate in some capacity. Whilst, they know Sign language and can communicate with close family and friends with sign language. (Yes, some people who are deaf have cochlear ear implants, hearing aids and can lip read. But, for those that can’t, or to have an extra option.) The wider world is much less accessible. For example, when ordering at a drive-thru. Many deaf people have to resort to writing it as a note on their phone. Whilst many are okay with that, and it's fine to do.

It would make it faster and easier for the workers and the person with the hearing impairment to sign the order. Again, if you do prefer typing it on the phone, that's fine and is valid. It provides an extra option for those that want to be able to sign.

Plus, many people have said servers have thrown orders in the bin. Due to the idea, they are ‘faking’ their disability. I feel like having some experience with sign language would break down these barriers.

Other benefits to learning sign language

I want you to imagine a child on a playground talking to a mate. And one is struggling because they don’t know sign language. Yes, the child that has hearing loss could have a special device or translator, but they weren’t given access to those things, or the parents refused those accessibility options because they wanted the child to be ‘normal’. Or those options don’t work for the child. Imagine how much easier and humanising communication would be if the class were taught sign language. Suppose it was a part of the curriculum alongside French or Spanish.

The assistant would still be needed because it might be hard for a teacher to sign and teach simultaneously. (I mean, it's possible, and I would certainly be all in for trying it.) But, many barriers would be broken. It would lower isolation, plus improve communication and accessibility all around.

Plus, if it was taught to people at a younger age, much like learning any language. It is easier to repeat, remember and retain.

Also, sign language is essentially another language. (as you could guess by the name) If people were enabled to learn sign language, it would count as being bilingual because you are learning another language. This would enable people to have better job opportunities because of that skill set.

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Some things to remember when looking for a teacher

When looking for a way to learn Sign Language, always double-check it's from someone trained. So you learn the right way and aren’t being taught the wrong thing. As it can cause a lot of miscommunication and makes it more difficult.

Also, make sure you learn the proper dialects, jargon, slang and nuances, as they are an important part of communication. It will enable you to be a more genuine and fluent speaker of sign language.

Final words from someone who has a physical disability and is not Deaf

My disability is physical and not to do with hearing. However, I have spent a lot of time with people that are Deaf in Special Educational Needs units and whatnot, and have always wanted to learn their way of communicating but never had access to it. Hence, I’m talking about Sign Language today. Because I wanted to communicate with my friends more easily. Plus, I want to make things more accessible. Although I’m not deaf, talking about ways to make the world more accessible will help out a bit. (I hope!)

This is a note to say listen to people that are deaf and not just me as they know more intimately than I do what they need. As I can only give a brief oversight of what I’ve heard from the many Deaf activists. And observations on how the world treats accessibility. I am aware that I only have a very brief knowledge and pool of research into the different slangs, jargon and dialects within sign language. As always, if you want more in-depth knowledge, please speak to those that are deaf. Or, go to proper government pages.

I hope you enjoyed reading. And that you enjoy learning your first round of sign language in whatever dialect it may be! Here’s to a more accessible future.

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