British Sign Language Society
So British Sign Language society. What is it? And what do we do?
Last September our president, Lauren, started her university journey and decided to use this as an opportunity to explore her passion for sign language. Lauren had previously been teaching herself sign language with the help of books and the Internet (oh, isn’t the internet wonderful?). She went and spoke to the union of students and posted on Facebook pages to look for interest from other students to see if setting up a society in which we could learn sign language was possible. And it seemed it was!
So next, the hunt for a tutor began. In order to learn British Sign Language a regular tutor was needed who was prepared to come into the university regularly at a suitable time to teach BSL (British Sign Language) to the group of students who wanted to learn.
Eventually, a tutor was found, enough interest was gathered amongst students to have the minimum of 15 members in order to become an official Union of Students society, all of the necessary paperwork was filled in, funding was allocated, and classes were able to begin.
So what do we do? Well we have lessons at Britannia Mill on a Monday 4-5:30pm and 6-7:30pm and a Wednesday evening 6-7:30pm with our tutor; John. John is fab – he has experienced all levels of deafness at various points in his life and has worked in interpretation for the local deaf community as well as many years of work in deaf theatre.
We learn sign language, learn about deaf culture, and practise with each other. John also regularly brings in guests from the deaf community to help further our learning by giving us the chance to practise communicating with a range of Deaf individuals. This spectrum of learning is given so much more depth by John bringing his own experiences and understanding of the deaf world into the class.
We also do theatre trips to BSL signed performances and this year we are hoping to do a trip to a tourist attraction or museum for a BSL interpreted tour as well.
But what is BSL? Well it is a recognised language in its own right (other countries have their own sign language) and is the first or preferred language for approximately 50,000 people in the UK. This makes it a vital part of many people’s lives.
In my opinion, BSL is hugely misunderstood. It is not, as many people believe, simply a direct visual translation of spoken English. It is a visual language that is solely based on how things look, on visually demonstrating a word and the meaning it holds. However, it also has its own grammar and structures, jokes and cultures that come with it. It has its own ways of attracting people’s attention or of raising alarm, it has its’ own colloquialisms just like in English how we have so many different ways of saying bread roll!
Sign language is used by many members of the Deaf community, but there are also a lot of deaf people who do not identify with this community or use sign language to communicate. To recognise this, some people prefer to be referred to as ‘deaf’ with a small ‘d’ and others as ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’. Usually, those who are medically deaf but communicate with spoken language and do not identify as part of the Deaf community, prefer the use of the small d. On the other hand, those who are profoundly Deaf and use sign language or communicate using sign language, often prefer to be referred to as Deaf, because they see this as a huge part of their identity and culture.
I first became interested in BSL as a child when my dad taught me a ‘secret alphabet’, otherwise known as the BSL finger-spelling alphabet. I then pursued this after I had finished college by taking evening classes and gaining my level 1 BSL certificate. However, when I couldn’t afford to continue this study into level 2 I forgot about it. Until I saw last year on facebook Lauren’s post about wanting to set up a society to learn it.
Since meeting our tutor John and hearing him talk about sign language and deaf culture, meeting the guests he brings with him and learning alongside other university students who are equally interested in learning a language, my interest in the language has been brought back to the surface. It is a beautiful language that brings so much with it.