By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15
I went into the session knowing two words in BSL.
I came out realising BSL is far more than words.
The session was led in sign language and was translated into spoken English for those who couldn’t read BSL. As I watched the exuberant signs and facial expressions, I found that, although I needed an interpreter, the visual impact of BSL translated much of the meaning of the words.
The session was all about tigers. We learn two different signs for tiger: one where we made our hands into vicious claws and another where we ran our hands along imagined horizontal stripes on our bodies.
But it was more than just what we did with our hands. I always thought BSL was simply signed with hands, but we used our facial expressions as well. Through our expressions, we showed what sort of tiger we were, with fearsome snarls for scary tigers and placid smiles for sweet ones.
We started off by saying our names and then our favourite animals became our signed names. We had dogs, dolphins, rabbits and monkeys. I, of course, chose a turtle, the sign for which is one hand flat on top of the other and wiggling my thumbs around to look like flippers.
Then we acted out different emotions, happy, angry and tearful. It was amazing how easy it was to read other people’s expressions simply from how they looked at you.
Using this, we created and acted out our own little stories, using expression and actions, but absolutely no words. It was very hard to think of the right facial expression, but it really made me think about how we all communicate in ways other than our words.
As we grew better and more confident with our wordless acting, we added different elements to our stories. It started off with a story that was simply about tigers. Then we had to add another animal and finally add a human. The last one was hardest as it also required us to use size. We had to show large and small characters and act out both.
I’ve done a lot of things as part of this festival, but never did I think I would be acting on my hands and knees, pretending to be a tiger. I had to act a tiger with its tail being pulled, a tree and a ship’s captain thrown overboard because she lost control of the ship when a mouse bit her foot.
There were some brilliant stories created in very little time, including tigers scared of chickens and tigers having a snowball fight.
We finished with a narrated story, acted out in BSL. Everything we had learnt explained the performance as Matt signed a tiny, sweet kitten and a ferocious, big tiger. Everything from changing from a sweet to a snarling face and a change from soft, flowing movements to sharp angles in his hands told the story.
It was a really fun, as well as being a very important lesson. From the oldest to the youngest, we all learnt something about BSL.
Afterwards I interviewed one of the leaders, Matt, on the workshop and the importance of BSL.
How important is it for children to attend these sessions?
I think it’s really important because they’re attitude for the future, if they see deaf people out in the streets, it’s going to be normalised to them – like in Wales they speak Welsh, in Scotland Gaelic, in Britain and England, English, and really British sign language is part of British culture. It’s part of the citizens that we have here today, so really I think it’s very important for their future attitude towards deaf people.
I think we should encourage children in school more, [make BSL] a part of the curriculum to make it more immersive and just future where they meet deaf people. Maybe children might have this workshop and they encourage more people to come and then they know in the future how to have that initial first step with building relationships with deaf people because it could be that they look back and think, “Hang on I had that workshop and actually it was absolutely fine” and, if that happens, then I feel the aim’s been achieved.
What sort of thinking went into this workshop?
Really, the workshop was lovely. It went really well today. It was sort of a taster because it was something that it’s the first time it’s ever happened and also for a lot of people maybe they don’t know any sign language, so it was just for them to have a fun way of learning the language and learning how we do things in terms of body language, facial expression and just for them to pick it up. And at the end having a story and thinking “Oh, so that’s what it’s about” in terms of the grammatical structure, how we use our facial expressions to express certain words in English into sign language and it was just like really for a taster for them.
I grew up in Wales, so there were a lot of Welsh speaking people and I wasn’t really privy to that because I’m deaf, but the structure I was able to recognise and it became normalised for me, so I was part of that culture and part of that language and that’s what I wanted here for people to pick up, “Okay that’s how sign language is represented, that’s how they represented it in words, so that’s what I wanted.”
What was your favourite part of today?
Okay so really to see them create their stories at the end – I loved that. You know they had the animal, they had the other animal and the person and just looking at it, it grew and grew. They had their facial expressions. They were more confident. They moved about more. Obviously for children it’s very normal for them to be very active, but it was just nice how they learnt the grammar, the different words. Obviously English we’ve got past and future tense whereas in BSL, sign language, you move about and have facial expressions to show those tenses and it was just great to see it all come together at the end, so that was my favourite part and that’s a skill that hopefully they’ll take home and use in the future.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No, I just think it’s important that children are aware – well adults and children – to see BSL and I want to see it grow and become more popular in the media, so more people become more intrigued, they want to be more involved and think “What is that? I want more of that.” And I would encourage more people in the future to see something accessible –maybe meeting more deaf people, maybe having more workshops with deaf people running the workshops because obviously as you know we’ve had more equality for women and gender, before it would be a man that would teach, now it’s more women that are teaching and leading. And that’s what we want. We want hearing and deaf people to have more equal opportunities and have more equal opportunities to do things like this and to have that attitude that actually deaf people can. Hearing and deaf they’re equal and they’re the same and they’re role models for the future.