Made up sign language causes confusion in deaf community

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Deaf Action staff say teaching British Sign Language is the best way for deaf children to be able to access the hearing world and for the hearing world to be able to communicate with them

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3rd February 2016 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

In a recent article (Teaching kids to sign naturally TFN 15 January 2016), Pauline Owen explained the work of See and Sign, the company she founded to teach young people sign language in families who have a deaf loved one. She suggested that people develop their own “signing vernacular” rather than learn BSL.

As people who are profoundly deaf, we use British Sign Language (BSL). We all work at Deaf Action, a deaf-led charity based in Edinburgh that is working for an equal and better future for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people we felt rather concerned that families with a deaf child/children may view this as a legitimate resource.

BSL is an officially recognised language and the preferred language for deaf people in the UK. Many people who are not deaf also use BSL. If children are to learn home signs (made up signs), this would not be understood within the wider deaf community and could lead to confusion and may delay language acquisition.

Made up sign language causes confusion in deaf communityMark McMillan, employability advisor, Deaf Action

If children are to learn home signs, this would not be understood within the wider deaf community and could lead to confusion

It is essential for deaf children to be able to access the hearing world and for the hearing world to be able to communicate with them, for example, to access their education, opportunities for work and accessing public services. The only way to do this is through a recognised language specialist which in this case is BSL. This is possible by using professionally qualified interpreters and other communication support workers who use BSL. There needs to be a commonly understood language in order to do this, unfortunately this is not possible if the child has only been taught and works with family signs.

Our organisation uses qualified deaf BSL users to deliver high quality accredited sign language classes through the Scottish Qualifications Authority. We also offer deaf awareness training delivered by native BSL users. We would encourage anyone wishing to learn sign language to do so through a recognised learning body.

The BSL (Scotland) Act has recently been passed to promote the use of BSL and has united the deaf communities throughout the country. It is a historical time for BSL and important that sign language learners are taught by legitimate qualified tutors.

We would strongly recommend that you look at the BSL (Scotland) Act and if you require any information regarding BSL or deaf awareness classes then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0131 556 3128 or admin@deafaction.org.

The above blog was written by Deaf Action staff members: Frankie McLean, operations manager; Colin Simpson, specialist equipment support worker; Leah Kalaitzi, adult learning and health access officer; Mark McMillan, employability advisor; Martin Robertson, specialist equipment advisor.

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