Andy Palmer: Ten reasons why you should learn sign language (BSL)

Posted on September 13, 2013

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Click on the video below to watch this article in BSL, signed by Tessa Padden courtesy of our supporters Signworld!

Everyone wants to learn a bit of sign language. Most people that I meet want to learn some, and it’s been that way ever since I can remember. Here’s ten reasons why you should!

1. Make friends with lots of cool people

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Loads of cool people sign and if you can’t sign, you can’t talk to them unless you’re prepared to pay for an interpreter or write everything down. There is an awesome section of society out there that you’ll never know about. Don’t let it happen.

2. Tell better stories

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Everyone loves a good story. Stories in sign language can create vivid and lasting imagery in the mind. My folks have been to a few places round the world and Dad tells an awesome story about being in a restaurant in Beijing. He told me about the flamboyant way the chef cooked the stir fry and I remember it like I was in that restaurant with him. It’s also like I was there facing the Red Army on the tarmac at Moscow airport in the 60’s or in that gypsy caravan being impressively pulled uphill by a Shire horse. All these pictures are painted in the mind without a single word spoken. Sign language takes you there.

3. Let your body do the talking and burn a few extra calories

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A common misconception is that sign language is all about the hands. Well, the hands are very important but there’s more to it than that. Much more.

So much communication for hearing and talking people is conveyed by facial expressions and body language. In sign language, those factors are even more important. With all additional exercise that comes with hand, body and facial movements, you’ll burn more calories than just by talking alone. I know you wouldn’t necessarily know it from looking at me, but imagine how porky I’d be if I didn’t sign?

4. Become a body language expert and read everybody like a book

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Like most things in life, the more you do something, the better you get at it and that’s no different for sign language. As we now know, much of sign language is based on body language and sometimes very subtle facial expressions. After lots of time spent in joyus sign language conversations, you might find yourself being able to instinctively work out what other people are thinking or feeling – just by looking at them! You’ll get tuned into people’s non-verbal communication in way a you didn’t know possible. Know what people are thinking, you will. You amazing BSL Jedi master.

5. Become irresistible to the opposite sex

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Ok, that’s a massive exaggeration. We know there is more to being attractive than being good with your hands, but sometimes, girls like a man who talks with his hands. I know because I’ve been told. Now, a bit like the calorie burning point I made earlier, I’m probably the exception that proves the rule but if you still don’t believe me, watch how women go a bit crazy for signers.

6. You don’t need technology to understand sign language

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This is a huge plus point in our gaff. There isn’t always a cochlear implant processor (or hearing aid in other households) around when you have something to say. There just isn’t. Sometimes hearing aids or implants don’t work, you might go swimming (in which case they have to be removed) or people just don’t fancy wearing them after a long day of listening or reading. As long as there is a light on, you don’t need anything else.

7. Become a famous interpreter or translator

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It takes years to get that good but if you’re committed then there is no reason why not. I have a friend who is an interpreter and she’s booked up until November at £25 per hour. Translators take English text and then sign it to video. This sort of thing can be seen on lots of websites these days and in the corner of the telly. It could be you! Can I have your autograph?

8. Confidently hold private conversations in public places

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There are couple of caveats to this: The first is that your sneaky conversations are only going to be private if they can’t be seen by anyone else who knows sign language. The second is that, if the conversation is about anatomy, then anyone watching is going to have a good idea what (but not who) you’re talking about. Apart from that – you can say what you want, when you want. People will look on completely clueless and in complete amazement.

9. Tell your kids off in the supermarket and attract no attention

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Parents know the feeling of acute embarrassment when children are causing havoc in supermarkets while fellow shoppers walk past and pass judgement on you, your child and your parenting skills. Well, one way to solve the problem is not to take kids to the supermarket in the first place, but another way is teach them some key disciplinary terms in sign language. They’ll soon learn exactly what you want to communicate when they keep grabbing things and the rest of the customers in Tesco can get on with their lives none the wiser. P.S. This one also applies to partners.

10. Sign Language is a beautiful thing

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This isn’t a reason why you need to learn it, but a reason to love it. Sign language is beautiful simply because of the way it looks. Sign language is also beautiful because it is the key that unlocks life and liberty for millions of deaf people around the world.

There are courses around the country, why not unlock your inner signer?

By Andy Palmer, The Limping Chicken’s Deputy Editor.

Andy volunteers for the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society on their website, deaf football coaching and other events as well as working for a hearing loss charity. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP (views expressed are his own).

Lo-fi sketches by Charlie Swinbourne, Limping Chicken Editor.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and blogs website, posting the very latest in deaf opinion, commentary and news, every weekday! Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our supporters here.