This week, I saw a video of a young deaf refugee named Hamza in Aleppo learning sign language. As well as it bringing me joy, seeing the excitement on his face as he learned the sign for ball and shoe reminded me how and why hearing people should learn sign language in the first place.
The primary factor regarding the why is, of course, to break down the language barrier. As for the how, that’s something I think needs to change in the future.
I learned sign language to communicate with new friends I had just met through a charity, after realising that using pen and paper wasn’t entirely practical and fair if these people were to become my friends for life (which they are). A passion for learning new languages, breaking down this barrier and – quite simply – communicating in a way they would prefer all combined to drive me to become somewhat decent at British Sign Language two years later.
However, in this post I want to talk about fascination, as the need to learn BSL to call your best friend a piece of s*** or tell them to f*** off is still of fundamental important to some hearing people (I should stress, that is some hearing people). It’s not the fascination that’s the problem, it’s more the desire to learn.
To go back to the example of Hamza in Aleppo, we need more people who light up when they are taught such a beautiful, visual language. The fact that there is a language which is so expressive and unifying should be which fascinates us about British Sign Language – BSL should not be seen as a gimmick or something shrouded in mystery.
It’s something which has me on the fence regarding Ed Sheeran’s music video for You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Whilst I will always value deaf awareness, there is a part of me which agrees with some people’s concerns regarding it being seen as a party trick. It shouldn’t be ‘I can sign this song in sign language’ – the individual should appreciate the language and visualisation behind the lyrics.
In other words, it’s time for a shift in intrigue. The language’s visual beauty should fascinate us, not the fact that it could be used as a simple party trick or way to insult our friends. The fascination should return to the wonder and excitement possessed by six-year-old Hamza from Aleppo.
This post was inspired by the fact that this week is Sign Language Week. For more information, you can visit the British Deaf Association’s website.
Photo: Ollie Cole.