Andy Palmer: 7 ways to keep sign language learning fresh in your memory

Posted on November 18, 2014



The way the brain works means that the less you do something, the less good you are at it. Sign Language is no exception. Unless you can find ways to keep practicing once you’re done with the lessons, you can look forward to a lifetime of saying ‘my signing is not good’ when you meet deaf people. So at least you’ll be good at that sentence.

Here’s some tips for keeping your hand in, keeping it fresh and increasing the chances that your flirtation with sign language will turn into a life-long relationship.

1. Do a bit of signing when you’re talking to your friends and family

If you’ve got an understanding family and friends, they’ll tolerate you occasionally signing when you’re talking. Yes, you may also get some banter but what the hell, you’re practicing a beautiful skill. Using the odd sign to accentuate what you’re saying is good practice too.

Don’t worry about the structure because practicing the signs and increasing vocabulary is the aim. You’ll quickly identify what signs you don’t know so then can go and find out what they are. One sign a day is plenty.

2. Sign, not sing, in the shower (and give it some) elvis in shower

People who can hear like to sing in the shower because the acoustics can make even the worst singer sound pretty good. Signing to your favourite song in the shower gives the whole experience that extra edge. It promotes use of non-manual features like expression and body language and makes the signs easier to learn because the chorus gets repeated a few times.  YouTube has plenty of BSL songs for you to have a look at and take some inspiration.

3. Text or email friends using BSL structure

Mix-up your written electronic communication occasionally and adopt a BSL syntax in your messages. This will help you consider the differences between BSL and English and how you might structure something if you were going to sign it rather than say it. It’s great practice between friends who know what’s going on!

An example might go something like this:

English text messages:

Where are we going for dinner tomorrow again?

Café Rouge

Have you been? Is it any good?

It’s good dude.

BSL version text message:

Tomorrow dinner where go?

Café Rouge

Been?

Been. Good like.

The more you get your brain thinking about the structure of BSL, the easier flowing conversation becomes. It’s not hard, just requires practice.

bbc news4. Watch sign language on TV or online

There are simply bucket-loads of opportunity for this. Watch BBC Breakfast on the News Channel so you can watch the interpreter and learn some new vocabulary or even see how much you understand. It helps having subtitles or the sound on to work it out and it’s interesting to see how the interpreter restructures the information to make it flow in sign language.

There’s also a goldmine of film available online on places like YouTube or BSLBT. Pause, rewind and clarify to your heart’s content. The odd deaf film here and there will do your sign language some good.

5. Watch people signing on social media

Since posting video on facebook became easier, deaf people have taken full advantage. There are groups on Facebook such as Deaf Opinions or Deaf Room where people post about all kinds of things in BSL. The vocabulary learning possibilities are endless let alone the interesting and sometimes controversial opinions expressed. The beauty is you can pause, rewind and watch again to figure it out. The comments posted below can also help you work out what the video was about if you weren’t so sure.

Often people who post BSL videos on social media are trying to make themselves understood to a wide audience with various abilities and hence can be easier to follow than someone in a film or on TV, but just like talking to a real person face to face, there won’t be any subtitles to help you out.

6. Glide your friendsglyde

Glide is a video texting app that some deaf people have begun using recently. The reason its so good is because it makes video messaging very easy to do. Glide also just gives you just the one take to compose your response which kind of puts you on the spot, but between friends, who cares if you make a mistake? Why not get everyone in the sign language class using Glide (available on Apple and Android) so when you have something to say, sign it instead. Frequent use will see your productive and receptive skills put to the test and inevitably improve.

7. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

Nobody is perfect so don’t beat yourself up or throw in the towel if you think you’re getting it wrong. That’s all part of the process of learning and expanding your horizons.

Mistakes are nothing to be afraid of and an integral part of developing a new skill. Imagine how many times an ice skater has to fall over on the way to an Olympic medal. The important thing is to keep it up.

By taking a few minutes each day to look up a sign, send a text message in BSL, watch a short online clip or settle down to watch a deaf film, you’ll improve, even if you sometimes only improve your knowledge of what you don’t yet know.

A few minutes of concentration or practice here and there mean that you’ll learn something new and keep what you already have fresher in your memory.

You’ll be better next week than you are this week and that’s all the progress you need.

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He 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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