Friday, 13 April 2012

the one about sign language

The fault of this entry actually lies with fellow blogger, Alice (, who I sit next to on Wednesdays. We are together in our pedants’ corner and judge everyone’s usage of apostrophes and their spelling. Not that those things have anything to do with what I’m about to talk about but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I’m actually going to talk about the many skills that Alice says I should share with you that I possess. Namely typing way too fast on my keyboard so that she says she swears smoke flies off of my fingertips. There is also the fact that I can touch type. This isn’t a skill I really talk about because it’s just something that I do and don’t really focus on. If I do focus on the fact that I’m doing it, then my spelling turns out atrocious and I become one of those people we mock in our corner. I learnt to touch type because my mother used to work at a school for the deaf and blind.

How did this teach me to touch type? Well. She used to ask us to (read: make us) shut our eyes and imagine we couldn’t see. Then we had to try and do everyday tasks that we were so used to doing with our eyes open. So I decided to try typing. Obviously this was incredibly difficult to start with but I’ve never been one to back down from something once I’ve started. I’ve also had this fear that one day I would lose my sight and it terrifies me more than anything.

It’s been something like fifteen years since I first started doing it and now it’s just so much a part of what I can do that it doesn’t really occur to me that it’s happening until it’s pointed out to me.

Going back to the fact that my mother worked at the school for deaf and blind; she also taught me BSL at a young age. BSL stands for British Sign Language. I’ve probably just insulted some of you there but knowledge is power! I’ve been able to do sign language because my mother always said that her children would know what it was like to be less privileged than most, in the hope that we would then not pick on anybody who was differently-abled.

It worked because my friends in school were a mix of blind and deaf, and my closest friend in college was blind, but none of them ever let it get in the way of their lives. It was amazing to see it and I’ve always cherished the fact that I got to experience some of the difficulty they face in just being able to communicate. It’s very humbling.

            I was teaching Alice the alphabet and how to say various phrases in BSL. I’ve learned that teaching something isn’t as easy as learning it for yourself. However, once Alice grasped the point of one hand being your ‘paper’ and the other being your writing tool, it was a fairly easy ride from there to teach her the rest.

The other issue we faced was my tendency to use ASL signing (American Sign Language) in some of the letters/phrases. This is completely down to the fact that I self-taught ASL and now I can never remember which sign belongs to which. Why did I teach myself ASL? You never know when you might encounter someone from America who has been taught ASL and not BSL.

I used to work in TESCO back home and we would get a regular customer in the store who would come to the customer service desk. He was deaf – and American – and there were two of us who knew BSL working on the desk, but I knew some ASL. Through talking to him with sign language, and learning just those extra few signs, he became a regular customer at the store and always stopped by for a chat.

Not to say that I am fluent in either of these languages, but I know enough to speak to someone and sometimes, just letting them know that you have a means to communicate with them puts them at ease. I would recommend the alphabet and basic phrases, even if you don’t learn anything beyond that. You never know when you might need it!

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