The Question: Should family sign language courses be expanded?

Posted on July 16, 2014

If there is one thing that learning sign language is known for, it is being expensive.

To become a competent signer can cost many hundreds or thousands of pounds and the result of that is that families of deaf children, arguably those who may need it most, will not be able to afford to learn.

Not that learning it would be much use for most families with small children. The level one BSL qualification is about the mode of transport you took to arrive at where you are now; how long it took; how the rooms are arranged in your house; what you do for a job and how to spell.
It’s a good introduction to the language, a spur to learn more, but its attuned to adult life and doesn’t help parents play with or educate their deaf children. Deaf children that are in desperate need of language.
So if money is tight and you need sign language relevant to your deaf-child situation, what do you do?
Some ‘Family Sign’ classes are available, but they are sporadic and limited. Family Sign is the sign language of the nursery, of toys and fairy tales; but sadly courses are hard to find despite being most needed by families around the country.
Remembering teaching my son sign language, the first signs we mastered were family names, then animals and colours and foods.
At age three he had acquired hundreds of signs but we were just lucky that I already knew it and could teach him.
It’s a very different situation for many other parents figuring out what to do and while thousands of pounds will be spent on equipment by the NHS, none is available for the family to learn sign language. Its just not seen as being important enough.
There is demand though. Many parents I have spoken to just want to know the basics of sign to make a start at home, but not in a structured or pressured way, with big exams looming on the horizon.
The objective here is not to get a certificate – its far more important than that. Its about connection with the ones we love. About the mundane and everyday.
It’s about being able to share the joy of a nursery rhyme with a deaf child. It’s making sure that parents and kids don’t grow up without a lingual bond.
I say its important and a glaring hole in the provision of healthcare for deaf children and their families – but what do you think?
So the question is: Should there be widespread offering of family sign courses? Should the NHS be as keen to offer family sign as they are hearing aids or cochlear implants? Are BSL current courses prohibitively expensive and irrelevant for families of deaf children?
Let us know your views in the comments.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. 

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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