Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post: The Beauty of Signing

The following guest post is from Isabella Woods. For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here

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There are literally hundreds of different types of sign language around the world and these languages aren’t just used by the deaf/hard of hearing: there are military sign languages, sign languages for people with learning difficulties and a number of religious sign languages. However, they all represent a form on non-vocal communication that is expressed by the hands. As movements,
they are beautiful in themselves but they can provide a lifeline for people who would otherwise be unable to communicate: in effect, they are a bridge to the outside world.

Whilst children born with a hearing loss learn sign language from an early age, non-deaf children have traditionally only been taught to speak; to express themselves with words. And yet, there is so much to indicate that everyone would benefit from learning some basic sign language.

In recent years, baby signing has increased in popularity across America and Europe. It has been suggested that babies and toddlers can learn to communicate with sign language before they can talk and these simple signs can be an effective form of communication between the child and their carer. Whereas a young child can be frustrated when they can’t make themselves understood, signs for things like food, milk, sleep and toys can liberate them and make it easier for parents to understand what their child is trying to tell them or to ask for. Baby sign works in collaboration with a child’s developing speech and it can actually help them to talk sooner, as they become used to expressing themselves and articulating. If they need a drink or a snack or want to take a catnapper in their cot, signing is an effective and efficient way to tell someone.

If it works for babies, then surely it could be a good communication tool for everyone, regardless of any hearing loss. By looking at different forms of communication, people become more attuned to simple signs and signifiers that can cross language barriers. Signing can open up sensibilities and it encourages people to think in a more creative way, connecting movement to meaning. Some nurseries and schools now teach basic signs to children for precisely this reason. A lot of children (and adults) can find it particularly hard to express themselves verbally, whether for social or physical reasons and signing can help to engage them in potentially difficult situations.

Aside from developing social skills and providing a viable means through which deaf/hard of hearing children and adults can communicate with each other, sign language could be included in mainstream education as a way in which both hearing and deaf people could have a common means of communicating. If everyone learnt some form of basic international signing, it would help to break down the barriers and misunderstanding surrounding hearing loss. With so many different sign languages, it would never be possible to have a comprehensive international language. Plus, cultural nuances make it necessary to have different signs for the same things in different languages. However, a basic set of signs that everyone could use and understand would unite people with hearing problems, those with learning difficulties and those with social issues relating to speech and language. Everyone could communicate on the same level and appreciate the beauty of talking to each other without the need for words.

If baby signing continues to gain in popularity and schools are encouraged to introduce children to sign language, as another form of communication, then who knows – we might all be able to sign to each other in the future and language barriers will be a thing of the past.

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