Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Uprising Man

I started learning sign language, this is why you should too

Back in August of 2023, I decided to learn British Sign Language (BSL). The thought of gaining a very practical skill was what first drew me to sign up. Now, after almost completing Level 1 training, I know that there is a lot more to it.

BSL continues to thrive as a language, serving as a vital means of communication for Deaf individuals

BSL has existed for centuries, but its importance has only recently been recognised. Did you know that only in 2003 was BSL recognised as a language by the British government? Since then, support has increased in education, interpretation, and access to information for the Deaf community. Today, BSL continues to thrive as a language, serving as a vital means of communication for Deaf individuals.

To start this new skill, I signed up to ‘bslcourses,’ which has been registered and approved by the British Sign Language Awarding Bodies, Signature, and IBSL. All qualifications are nationally accredited and recognised by Ofqual. The lessons and assessments are all held online, and everything is done at the individual’s own pace. One-to-one tutorials (conducted via Skype) give you the chance to meet with a professional instructor who will give valuable feedback on what you’ve learnt so far.

One of the first aspects of the language I learnt was the alphabet. Fingerspelling is an essential skill in BSL, something that eventually becomes natural after practising it over and over again. It started with spelling out my name H-A-N-N-A-H, where I was from, K-E- N-T, and where I studied, W-A-R-W-I-C-K. The vowels were a bit tricky, all being very similar hand gestures, but I eventually got used to it. Before I knew it, I was provided with a basic tool for exchanging information and engaging in conversations, all from just learning the alphabet.   

If you want to start learning sign language, but don’t know where to start, I would encourage you to start with the alphabet. Just having this basic skill will allow you to communicate with Deaf individuals, and can be particularly useful when exchanging names, technical terms, or unfamiliar words that don’t have specific signs. In a viral YouTube video, actress Margot Robbie gained much respect for communicating with a Deaf fan by spelling out the alphabet for them. Small acts of kindness can go a long way.

My next lesson was numbers. Learning the signs from 1 to 100 might seem basic, but knowing how to sign numbers is essential for describing quantities, dates, times, prices, and other numerical information in everyday conversations. Knowing the signs for numbers has many practical applications, such as shopping, banking, making appointments, and even telling the time, making it a baseline skill for navigating these situations more effectively, whether that is with Deaf or hearing individuals.

These lessons have provided me with an insight into Deaf culture, customs, and perspectives

The course I’ve signed up for encourages a lot of independence, which I love. Resources as simple as YouTube and various BSL dictionaries have massively assisted my learning. Using these tools has helped me find new vocabulary and specific signs to suit my needs. For example, when learning about describing my family, I used these highly accessible resources to find out the sign for ‘twin sister,’ and subsequently showed my tutor what I had learnt.   

If you don’t have the time or motivation to sign up for an entire course, remember that these resources exist. YouTube has a wide variety of tutorials, free to access by anyone, and there are many social media influencers (on TikTok and Instagram) who teach the basics of BSL. Now that my algorithm knows I’m interested in BSL, it often suggests videos of people teaching their audience sign language. A common one I come across is ‘sign of the day,’ where each video teaches a new word daily. This slow and easy pace could help you too.  

I have recently completed my 7th tutorial for ‘bslcourses,’ and am very proud of my progress. As my Skype calls with my tutor are recorded, I can look back at the very first lesson I had: signing the alphabet. Seeing how far I’ve come in 7 lessons has truly proved to me how quickly one can pick up the language. These lessons have provided me with an insight into Deaf culture, customs, and perspectives, improving my awareness and respect for diversity.

In an article by the BBC, I found that British Sign Language will be taught as a GCSE in England from September 2025. Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, said the subject will “open so many doors for young people,” and Susan Daniels, Chief Executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said the GCSE will celebrate “the rich culture and history of British Sign Language.”

I am disappointed that this was not introduced whilst I was at school, but I am very pleased that this opportunity will soon be offered to many young people. Having sign language be part of the curriculum promotes inclusivity and enhances students’ communication skills. Whether you’re taking your GCSEs or not, learning sign language can better prepare you for future career paths that involve working with Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals.

I’ve always been seen for what I can’t do rather than what I can do.

Rose Ayling-Ellis, first Deaf contestant to win Strictly Come Dancing

Going into learning sign language, it is always useful to explore the personal experiences of those in the Deaf community. Someone who particularly inspires me is Rose Ayling-Ellis, former EastEnders actor, and the first deaf contestant to win Strictly Come Dancing.  

Media representations of Deaf individuals help encourage our society to be more inclusive and challenge stereotypes and misconceptions. In an interview with the BBC, Ayling-Ellis stated: “I’ve always been seen for what I can’t do rather than what I can do.” Ayling-Ellis began learning BSL at 18 months old. Research suggests that learning sign language from birth can help children find it easier to learn spoken English.

When asked about what Ayling-Ellis thought about others learning sign language, she commented: “There’s a problem at the moment where a lot of people think there’s no point learning BSL because so few people know it. But if hearing children learnt the basics of signing, then people would start to see the benefit.” It can be challenging to start something new; I often find myself lacking motivation or wondering whether my effort will be worth it. But, as Ayling-Ellis puts it, “Once you learn, it stays with you forever.” I couldn’t agree more.

I am currently in the process of completing my Level 1 Training for ‘bslcourses,’ and am very excited to move on to the next stage. I would highly encourage anyone reading this to give sign language a go, you never know where it could take you! This could be as simple as following a few TikTok users who specialise in BSL, watching a few YouTube clips, or signing up for an entire course. Even just learning one new word a day will help you make progress in no time.

I urge you to join me in taking this opportunity to learn sign language, the benefits of it extend far past communication. So, why should you learn  sign language? The answer is simple, to connect with other human beings. 




Comments (1)

  • This is such an interesting language and this article has really shown the importance of communicating with others that struggle to be heard on a day-to-day basis. And you’re right; the benefits are so much more than just communicating! 🙂

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