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How to learn sign language

Hearing Loss Awareness

In the hearing loss community, sign language is one of the major forms of communication used.

It consists of hand movements, hand shapes as well as facial expressions and lip patterns in order to demonstrate what people want to say.

Sign language is often used instead of spoken English in Deaf communities, as some people with hearing loss have been brought up solely using sign language  to communicate with family or friends. Of course, even those with normal or limited hearing can also learn this wonderful, expressive language! 

Here are my tips to learn sign language:

Take a sign language class

If you’re ever considering learning sign language, this is one of the best ways to do it! Often community centres, community colleges or other educational centres offer day or evening classes. Qualified sign language tutors can help you work toward sign language qualifications. Classes are also a great way to  meet new people and see the signs face-to-face.

Being in a class gives the opportunity to practise signing with different people. It is considered a good investment if the qualification leads to a job! If you’re interested, research for classes in your local area or contact your local education authority.

Learn online by watching videos

Like many things these days, you can learn easily online! There are plenty of resources, like YouTube or BSL Zone where you can watch videos with sign language. Any form of video is a great way to watch and you can replay it as many times as you like, in the comfort of your own home.

Read more: Easily learn sign language by studying these GIFs

Join a sign language group, deaf club or visit a deaf café

Many cities have deaf clubs, or groups of deaf people who meet regularly and quite often use sign language as their form of communication. It’s a fantastic place to meet new people, who share hearing loss in common as well as the chance to polish your sign language skills. You can contact a Deaf charity or organisation nearby, or search for a group using websites such as Meetup.com to find a group for you.

Take an online course

Online courses can be an alternative to day or evening classes that you take in-person. Some Deaf organisations provide these, so do some research to find the best course for you. Online courses are more flexible because they can be done in your own time, or in the comfort of your own home. You can practise as much as you need, and there is often no pressure to complete it.

Hire a private, qualified sign language tutor

If you want to learn sign language quickly, a private tutor could be the best way. Research local, qualified sign language tutors in your area who are willing to offer private tuition. Courses could be done in one-to-one sessions, or in small groups of your choice. You may find a private tutor more of benefit if you find a large class environment is too difficult to learn in. 

Watch and mimic interpreters

You can easily pick up signs by watching others, particularly sign language interpreters. You can often find them at deaf events or on TV during special, live events. Some TV shows also utilise sign language, such as “Switched at Birth.” 

Ask a Deaf friends and family teach you

Asking a Deaf friend to teach you some sign language is a great way of making new Deaf friends! If you know friends or family use sign language already, asking them to teach you some signs will also remove some stresses from the struggle of oral/spoken conversation with them – making the exchange beneficial for both of you. 

Just make sure your friend or family member uses sign language before asking them, as not all people who have hearing loss know sign language. 

Read more: Why I’m learning sign language as an “orally” profound deafie

Use an App

There are also a few apps available to learn sign language on! My favourite is the ‘Sign BSL’ app, which is a British Sign Language Dictionary app. If you don’t know how to sign a word, you can search for it on the app so it’s a great resource.

Read a Book

If you’re not a fan of online learning, there are plenty of books available at bookshops and libraries. There are varieties from Sign Language dictionaries, books for children, step by step learning and so much more!

These however may be more difficult to learn from, as the movements for the signs are not as obvious to see, in contrast to watching a video. 

Watch a DVD

Yet another suggestion is watching a DVD or pre-recorded sign language learning vide.. This is an alternative to watching TV and videos, as some organisations have created DVDs especially to help you learn the language properly. If you’re not sure which one to get, why not contact a Deaf organisation or visit your local library?

And last of all, a few tips!

Once you’ve found your preferred language learning method, you need to be aware of a few things to successfully use sign language.  

  • Facial expressions are key: Deaf people use facial expressions to determine the mood of the conversation or topic. It also brings more character to the sign language. Don’t be afraid to be expressive, as the teacher or video learner will show you. 
  • Utilise real-life situations: Real-life exchanges with other people who know sign language will help you learn more quickly! Join social groups to help you practice. 
  • You’ll need qualifications to be professional: If you want to be aninterpreter, you’ll need futher qualifications. Talk to your professors or community deaf groups for more information. 
  • Practise your fingerspelling! Fingerspelling is quite simple, and an easy way to communicate with deaf people without memorising all the word phrases. Even a little bit of sign language will be beneficial when communicating with deaf people!

Now that you’ve got a basis on how to learn sign language, I hope you can find local or online resources to do so! Remember to have fun while learning, and communicate with other sign language users. You will be well on your way to make new friends, communicate with others and grow your own language comprehension! 

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Ellie Parfitt
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn't prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, working as a Marketing Executive for a Spa & Health Club, Events and Promotions Staff for a local newspaper as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.

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