Sunday, 17 July 2011

What Signs Do We Use? And Does it Matter Anyway?

When I was setting up Sign2Music I made the decision early on to use NI regional British Sign Language (BSL) signs, the language used by most members of the deaf community in Northern Ireland. This was a very personal decision. I had studied BSL in Northern Ireland up to Stage 2 and was aware that, like regional accents, BSL differs throughout the UK. The differences are particularly significant in Northern Ireland. One of the reasons I sought and gained accreditation with Sign2Me, the international Baby Signing organisation based on the work of Dr Joseph Garcia was that it strongly endorsed the use of local signs.

People often question this decision as it did immediately create obstacles and a lot of work! It would definitely have been easier to use makaton or English BSL signs as these are the signs used in existing baby signing resources. For a start the graphics pack I purchased was created in England. Luckily the developer agreed to draw Northern Ireland regional signs and over a number of years we have created the huge bank of additional graphics needed for our programmes. I am very grateful to her for the amount of work she put into this on our behalf!

Does it really matter what signing programme we use if it is only used to communicate within the home for a short time?

Yes, it matters a lot to me for number of reasons:

1. I have a great respect for the Deaf community and the signed vocabulary we borrow from their beautiful language. I feel it is my responsibility to promote the use of this language in its correct regional form. And if you are learning to sign you may as well learn signs that are accurate and potentially useful! 

2. The signs we use are the basis of a second language used in NI that can be used to by you and your child to communicate with local sign language users.

3. Many of our parents fall in love with sign language and decide to complete Stage 1 at their local college. If we didn't use NI BSL signs in class they would have to start afresh and relearn the signs. We are very proud that we are 'doing our bit' to promote this beautiful language. Although we don't teach sign language (which has a different sentence structure and grammar than English) we do introduce class members to basic signed vocabulary.

4. Some children stop using signs when they no longer need to but others continue to sign well into primary school. My daughter Cara is now 4. She loves to sign and it has continued to benefit her. I have a deaf friend and I think it is great that Cara has the ability to communicate with her on a basic level. Had she been using makaton or English BSL signs she would not have been able to do this!
I feel that it has been important for the integrity of Sign2Music that our teachers have training in Sign Language. Some current teachers have actually undertaken sign language training in order to fulfil the essential criteria to become a Sign2Music teacher! I have been approached by many potential teachers over the past few years who hadn't a signing qualification and decided not to join us because of the requirement to undertake this. Some may say I'm daft to miss out on potentially great teachers. Maybe they are right but I do feel it is important if you have principles to stick to them!

I am will finish with some words from Dr Joseph Garcia, the first person to research the use of sign language in facilitating preverbal communication. In his words:

“By using American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) or the signs of a specific region, we open the doors to communicating with a much broader community of people – and we lay the foundation for our children to continue learning and using ASL throughout their lives”

“I think ASL is a gift from the Deaf community. I can’t think of a better way for us to honour this gift than by using to facilitate early communication and bonding”

Deirdre :)

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