Sign language is something I have always considered an essential when it comes to education, as well as an important life skill. Even just knowing the basics can mean you can communicate and include somebody in conversation who would otherwise be pushed to the sidelines. I truly believe that sign should be part of the national curriculum and the current mandatory teaching of French and German is incredibly outdated.
Is Sign Language Universal?
Short answer – no. A common misconception is that sign language is just one, big, universal language but this couldn’t be more from the truth. There are actually countless different variations of sign, no single form of sign language is universal. Each country has their own sign language for example, British Sign Language, or BSL, is not the same American Sign Language (ASL). There is also Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN), French Sign Language (LSF), LIBRAS, or Brazilian Sign Language all of which are different. I see a lot of people sharing, pinning, and googling signs and going with whatever page they land on but this is like learning words in various different languages, putting a sentence together and expecting everybody to understand.
Even Baby Sign Language is usually not BSL, it is Makaton which is a completely different thing altogether.
What is Makaton?
Makaton is generally what is taught at Baby Sign Language classes such as Sing and Sign. Makaton tends to be used by hearing people with learning or communications difficulties such as children and adults who are non verbal or very young children and babies. It is made up of signs and symbols which are used in word order to support spoken language. A good example of Makaton in use is Something Special on Cbeebies.
What is British Sign Language?
British Sign Language is primarily used by the deaf community in Britain. It is a completely unique to itself and isn’t strongly based on the English language having it’s own unique syntax and grammatical structure. For example: “my name is Georgina” would be signed in BSL as “name my what Georgina” when compared to spoken English. BSL uses hand movements, gestures, facial expressions and body language to communicate.
Another variation of BSL is Sign Supported English or SSE. This uses the same signs as BSL but in spoken word order. This is particularly useful for children in a school or other educational setting where they are learning English grammar as well. It’s also useful for people who mainly mix with hearing people.
Why do I teach my children sign?
The main reason for teaching our girls to sign is that Ben, their Dad, is deaf so we have had first hand experience with the communication struggles of those affected by deafness and the accessibility issues when it comes to simple, every day things. He relies on hearing aids and lip reading to communicate in spoken language. His deafness is also hereditary so the chances of any future children being deaf is quite high so we made it a priority to teach the girls British Sign Language. Teaching our children sign enables them to communicate better with their Father as well as giving them an invaluable life skill.
On to the first lesson…
For babies and toddlers I have started a little series of videos over on YouTube where you can learn baby and toddler appropriate signs to teach both yourself and your baby at home.I’ve adapted words slightly in order to find the simplest sign, for example, tired is more complicated for a child to sign than bed, so I went with bed. These are similar to the ones used in Baby Sign Language classes but using BSL signs rather than Makaton. The first lesson I go over some very basic signs –
Lesson 1 – Mummy, Daddy, Thirsty, Eat, Bed, More
Other Basic Signs
If you are wanting to learn BSL yourself or have a school aged child then learning BSL fingerspelling is a great place to start. Fingerspelling is basically the alphabet in BSL. I have created some resources below (with the help of Eloise who was appointed hand model) to help get you started.
Free BSL Resources