Kate Foggo: Learning BSL and feeling closer to my own deaf identity

Posted on March 13, 2013

Some nine years ago, at the tender age of 15, I decided to look into learning British Sign Language.

DSC00308I was raised orally, probably because once I had hearing aids in, and had some speech therapy, I was able to cope with normal life in a hearing family and hearing school. Yet there was always a curiosity – a what if?

So at the same time as doing my standard grades, I did my Introduction and Level 1 in BSL, popping up to the headquarters every Friday afternoon.

It was great to learn something, however it was very rare that I had to use it outside the classroom.

There was a particularly memorable incident when I went through to Glasgow to attend a workshop for Deaf children not long after finishing this, my mum in tow, and when faced with the receptionist who could only communicate through sign, suddenly what I had learnt became useful. My mum was suitably impressed, saying she didn’t have a clue what I was saying but it seemed to do the trick as we got to the workshop!

For some reason at the time, stopping after level 1 seemed to be the right thing to do as I concentrated on finishing the last two years of school, and then moved away to university, and onto my first job after that.

There was briefly a sign language club at the university, but this consisted of two older ladies who wanted to learn to sign because they were going deaf. It wasn’t particularly what I was looking for!

Then last year after eight years away, faced with the spectre of unemployment again, having just completed my postgraduate degree, I decided to head back to Deaf Action and enquire about classes again. After an initial wobble it was decided I could go straight into Level 2, despite all the years away, which I was glad to hear.

This last year of learning has been so much fun. The class tutor, George, has a lot of funny stories to tell, and of course he tells them all in sign, and I can understand, thanks to his very good teaching skills.

There are a few points to note though. I may be deaf and learning BSL, but this does not mean I gain any entry into the Deaf community.

Me and many of my peers were mainstreamed, where once we would have been sent to Deaf school. I used to meet local deaf children who were also in mainstream schools every so often at events organised by the local paediatric audiology service, but that petered out as well.

I feel like sometimes it would be nice to be with my own kind, those who would understand these sometimes painful, sometimes funny stories we’ve all got of times when our deafness has added an extra dimension to things (or rather, not).

The other thing is that just because I’m deaf, doesn’t mean that sign comes naturally to me, nor that I don’t have to try as hard as everyone else does to acquire a language in later years. It is something I feel like doing instinctively sometimes, but it goes to waste with everyone I know outside of the two and a half hours I have in class every Monday.

And lastly, why do I learn this? Why bother if no one I know in everyday life is using BSL, and I don’t believe I can make it into a career as an interpreter? As much as it would be fun to try, I wouldn’t be able to do the usual interpreter set-up where they sit next to the speaker, because I need to look at the speaker as well to lip-read!

I learn it because it is fun, George is an excellent teacher and it is an excellent skill to have, especially in some of the public facing jobs I have had.

It also makes me feel that little bit closer to my own deaf identity, even if it is as a lone ranger in a hearing world.

Kate Foggo is a twice-graduate from Edinburgh who is looking to get into television or IT. She runs her own blog at www.katefoggo.co.uk, which mostly relates to TV (there is a slight addiction). She believes that being open about her deafness is the best way to ensure people become deaf aware. She tweets @ketisfolk.

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