Whether or not D/deaf children should be brought up using sign language or speech is a huge debate among people with various levels of hearing loss.
My parents thought because I was born into a hearing family in a hearing society, it would be a sensible and practical choice to teach me to speak. Also, nobody in my family or friend circle knows sign language, so it would be so difficult for them all to learn the language when it would be easier for me to learn to speak. But recently, I decided sign language was something I wanted to learn.
My decision to learn sign language wasn’t because I disagreed with my parents’ choice to raise me with oral communication. If I wasn’t raised this way, I wouldn’t be speaking as well as I do, and I probably would’ve struggled in mainstream school, as I would have needed an interpreter all the time. I also most probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do the different jobs I’ve done in the past, such as in retail or working with the public.
Additionally, I feel that even though I was brought up to speak, there’s always the option of learning sign language later in life, as I’m doing now.
As I’ve gotten older, I have many D/deaf friends, as well as my deaf boyfriend. I’m also realizing that working with D/deaf people is my career goal.
So, when one of my social media followers, who happens to be my British Sign Language (BSL) tutor, shared this local BSL introduction course on my Facebook page, I thought why not join!
I was nervous at my first sign language session, as it was a new experience for me and I didn’t know anybody.
The session began with 16 of us sitting in a horseshoe with the tutor at the front. I have never been in such a quiet room full of people in all my life! Nobody was allowed to speak, only sign. The tutor wrote everything he wanted to say on the board, which was sometimes really funny!
We started off with finger spelling. I found this easy as I’ve always known the BSL alphabet from a young age. I was quite surprised that some people got some signs muddled up with others!
We learned simple sayings, such as “What’s your name?” If someone signed it wrong or if it looked like something else, the tutor would mimic what they did in a funny way. It was hilarious. It was great that we were able to have a laugh while learning.
We then worked in pairs and groups, which was a fantastic way of interacting and meeting other people who were in the same boat, trying to learn a new language. For once I felt that I understood everything (without the struggles of lipreading!)
“For once I felt that I understood everything (without the struggles of lipreading!)”
I think everyone in the group, except myself, the tutor and his assistant, had normal hearing. Most people worked in the medical or social work sector so they were learning sign language for their job. Others wanted to learn in the hopes that they can communicate with their D/deaf friends or family members. One lady told me that the course just sounded interesting! It was great to see all these people willing to learn sign language, which could in effect make many Deaf people’s lives easier.
During the break, I was chatting to the tutor and his assistant, whom I thought I recognized him from somewhere. It turns out that I went to school with his brother and we both seem to have mutual D/deaf friends in common!
The session ended (too quickly!), with homework to learn the BSL alphabet (easy!) but the hard part is yet to come! I am really enjoying it and I look forward to the next sessions. If it all goes well, I’d love to do BSL level 1 and 2.
If you are thinking about learning sign language I would suggest getting in touch with your local D/deaf group or charity or search online for nearby courses. It’s a great way to become more deaf aware, to make new friends and to learn a new language.
Like learning any language, sign language is an investment, but I personally think it’s worth it in the long run, especially if it leads to a job or better connecting with family or friends!
Do you have hearing loss and use both oral communication and sign language? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!