Do's and Don'ts for new BSL Signers
Updated: Feb 17
If you are about to start learning British Sign Language, first of all, congratulations! To learn a new skill is always exciting!
When learning a new spoken language, you would immerse in the country’s culture, wouldn’t you?
The nuances of the Deaf culture are complex and could be hard for new sign language learners, but don’t panic, you have already taken the most difficult step; to “go for it”!
Below you will find a list of tips and insights that will help you along the way towards learning and perfection:
One of the golden rules is to maintain eye contact. To stare at the signer's hands looks unnatural and can hinder effective communication. Remember that maintaining eye-contact in the Deaf community is not considered rude.
Your facial expression is just as important as using your hands for communication in sign language and it might have a huge impact on the meaning of what you want to convey.
When introducing yourself simply fingerspell your name. Your sign name will be given to you by the deaf community. It could come from an aspect of your personality, your appearance, it could be originated from a hobby, etc… The choice is theirs, not yours! (Learn how and when you receive your sign name here)
Wear muted clothing that contrast with your skin tone.
To attract the attention of a deaf person, a gentle tap in its shoulder or waving your hands should be fine. Don't be rude! Certainly never throw anything!
Chewing gum is a no-no in sign!
It is OK to ask! Just as it is in any other language in the world, your honesty will be much appreciated.
Don't block the deaf person’s clear line of sight. This means they can't see what is going on or who is talking.
Don't be dismissive: "Never mind", "It's nothing", "Forget it", "I will tell you later", "It's not important". A deaf person will feel marginalised from the conversation and they have a right to inclusivity and equal access.
It is okay to use words such as "Heard, Listen, Hearing, Said, Say, etc." Like: "I heard about...." These terms are not offensive and are used by deaf people too.
Last, but not least, remember always to show respect. Put yourself in the deaf person’s situation… If you were abroad, you wouldn’t appreciate a foreign national mocking your language, your accent or pronunciation, would you?
I hope these tips can help you dive into mastering this wonderful language and enjoy its benefits.