16 May BSL in Schools
There has been a vigourous campaign lately to teach British Sign Language (BSL) in schools. This is a subject I feel quite passionately about. Back in the 1990s I remember writing to the government and signing endless petitions for BSL to be recognised and given the status of a ‘language’. Finally, this did happen and has definitely raised the profile of sign language.
My interest these days is not just with deaf people but also with hearing babies. Since I started teaching babysign I have seen the benefits it brings. Higher IQ levels. Wider and more varied vocabulary and of course the fact that babies are able to sign way before they can talk. This gives your baby a step up in life. Amazing yet so simple to learn.
If a baby learns signing from an early age it has the added bonus of keeping open the ‘language centre’ of the brain. This gradually closes by the age of 5 unless another language (such as BSL) is learned and then it is able to remain open. This also means that other spoken languages are a breeze for them to learn as they get older.
I am lucky enough to run a club for older children where they can come and learn sign language. They love it. It doesn’t matter how clever they are in school, sign language is a great leveller and is easy for EVERYONE to learn. I have seen youngsters who were nervous and shy, absolutely flourish and ooze confidence with their newfound signing skills.
Many children find learning spoken languages quite tricky, (as do many adults!) but BSL is different. Learning sign language uses the same areas of the brain as a spoken language, it’s just easier and more visual to learn. Imagine how a child’s confidence would soar to be able to master another language.
When you think about it, we all sign every day. We wave to our friends, ask friends across the other side of the bar if they want a drink by gesturing lifting a glass to our lips and blow kisses. Learning sign language is really as easy as that.
You may have heard of Martha’s Vineyard as an idyllic holiday venue. But previously, it was a simple fishing island that had a few residents, some of whom were deaf. The deaf fisherman would sign to their wives on the quay the size of their catch so they knew what size baskets to bring to the shore. The other fisherman soon realised the benefits of signing and began picking up the signs. Over generations this evolved into every family learning signing and new babies were taught sign language alongside spoken language. Sadly, this culture disappeared when the rich and famous took over but I can’t help thinking…. wouldn’t it be a perfect world if everyone really did speak sign language?