Learning the Language of the Deaf


After university I was left with no employment and so wanted to fill my days as best I could. Voluntary work was fantastic but, after so many years of exams and essays, I missed the challenging learning environment.

I decided I needed to get back in there, and so took up a course in something that had always fascinated me.

Sign Language

Although expensive, I began a British Sign Language Course.

I’ve always been fairly confident when it comes to going to places and doing things on my own, because, of course, for someone with restrictive disabilities and lack of social life, it is inevitable.

It began brilliantly…

I pushed the doorbell and waited. No one came to the door. I am obsessively early for everything and so had time to check that I was in the right place, at the right time. I was.

Then the door opened and an incredibly enthusiastic woman opened the door. I started apologising for being early, and although her lip reading ability was fantastic, she still had to stop me in order to point of the fact she was deaf. I felt so embarrassed. I had been hammering at this woman’s door, peeking through her windows and tapping on the glass. Being uselessly loud.

She invited me in and through the garden where a small and very well equipped building, that was now the classroom, waited. Inside stood the teacher, also deaf.

And so now I’m stood, the too-early-bird, looking at two deaf people who are happily signing to each other, having a full conversation whilst I’m stood in between the pair of them watching… and waiting for someone else to turn up, anyone really.

And then they did.

They say the pupils make the classroom.

I got on well with two individuals, as well as the teacher who turned out to be very funny.

One of the two was a middle aged gentleman with a young deaf daughter. He was taking the course out of desperation, desperation to communicate with his daughter. He was originally from Slovakia and still held the accent quite heavily. He laughed at my ‘Queen’s English’ accent. Even surrounded at home by the traditional East London twang, I still spoke unintentionally like part of the monarchy. And I laughed at the Slovakian spelling of almost everything.

We both found the other’s sarcasm funny, which was a requirement in a signing partner. In fact after all my cynical sarcasm, he turned up one week with a Slovakian/English Translation Dictionary, and three of us started giggling like school children as I tried to pronounce the words he pointing out. Impossible.

The third in our group was another middle aged man, who, although not quite as sarcastic as myself, was polite in a friendly way, non-confrontational, able to laugh at himself and just easy to be around. Another good choice for a signing partner when the teacher separated us up to practice.

Back to prompt in hand – Learning.

I did pass the course and did gain a Level One Qualification in BSL. But it was one of the only courses that, when awaiting the exam results, I genuinely thought to myself ‘I’m not going to pass this’. It was genuinely difficult. Worse than my ‘Olde English’ modules at University. Not even just remembering the hand movements, but also what order to use them in.

To be honest I was shocked I passed. Proud of myself, but shocked nonetheless.



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