I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen foul to it myself. Having accepted that most accredited British Sign Language (BSL) courses were too expensive for me to enrol in, I settled for a cheap online programme. It was, I was told, a course which had been heavily discounted from hundreds of pounds down to double digits, and with a voucher code, I could bring it down to an affordable £12.
I ended up struggling to find the time to commit to such a course, but there was a far more important issue at play here. Despite it being branded as Level 1 and Level 2 (identical to the official structure of Signature qualifications) and offering the opportunity to pay for a certificate at the end of it, there was nothing to suggest that it was regulated or accredited. There was no indication that the fancy sheet of paper I could buy once I’ve passed the course would mean anything, either.
It should hopefully go without saying – or rather, typing – why learning sign language from an unqualified individual or organisation isn’t appropriate. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a worrying spike in hearing people taking to social media and, having no relevant experience or training whatsoever, start teaching BSL or deaf awareness. Someone who is hearing will obviously have had no experience of what life is like for a deaf person, so would be in no position to teach on the subject – yet they are, and I’ve seen them get it wrong.
Organisations are bad at it too. Earlier this month, a course surfaced online which proclaimed that BSL is a sign language used “to communicate with the deaf and dumb community” – an outdated phrase which is considered incredibly offensive today. It also goes on to use the term ‘hearing impaired’ which, although can be used by certain individuals to describe their deafness, is frowned upon by most deaf individuals. Often, unqualified individuals and organisations fail to teach ‘students’ about the culture which is such an integral part of learning BSL and respecting the Deaf community.
Think about it this way: a student, complete with a certificate which means nothing in principle, may approach a deaf person with some newfound confidence after finishing the course, only to sign words and sentences incorrectly. These unqualified individuals and organisations spread inaccurate signs which we deaf people have to rectify. At the same time as taking work away from qualified, Deaf professionals, they are creating more (unnecessary) work and distractions for them, because they have to go out of their way to correct the signing as soon as possible.
After all, that student could pass that incorrect sign onto others, and what happens is a ‘ripple effect’ of sign language inaccuracies which Deaf professionals are constantly rushing to put right, before BSL is further diminished as a minority and oppressed language.
There is a clear solution to this, and that is to take a regulated course accredited through Signature. While some courses are indeed pricey, as I mentioned recently, financial support is available.
At this point, I should also probably state the obvious in that this article is on their blog, but I have not been paid to endorse them; I truly do believe that high-quality courses accredited by Signature are the best way to learn sign language.
I say that because the alternative doesn’t benefit anyone. Students waste their time and money learning inaccurate signs only to be corrected later, while Deaf people waste time dealing with these bad signs instead of doing other more important work.
We can do better than that.