Have you ever watched late night/early morning TV and been fascinated by the person signing away in the bottom of the screen? Have you ever thought, ‘wow? I’d like to try that?’ Do you have a friend or relative who is deaf and want to communicate with them on a deeper level? Then why not take a part time or evening class in sign language?
Sign language arose within deaf communities and was developed over hundreds of years, although it has only been in its current form since 1846. Irish Sign Language (ISL) is the most common variant in Ireland. Did you know that an estimated 800,000 people suffer from hearing loss in this country but only 5,000 are fluent ISL users? Overall, about 30,000 people can sign at least a basic level of ISL.
Sign language part time courses take a holistic approach, exploring deaf awareness and culture, as well as the various practical techniques such as lip reading, breathing, patterns of speech and of course, the signs themselves. A wide range of courses enable students to sign efficiently, and to make smooth progress from beginner to fluency. Some practical skills assessment may also be offered. Skills in sign language can enhance career prospects and lead to specialised roles in areas such as media, TV, theatre, or the corporate world.
It is interesting to note that the segregation of Catholic schools led to the development of gender specific variants of Irish sign language – something that is still evident today. Sadly, sign language was discouraged in Ireland in days gone by. For example, many children were pressed into giving up signing for Lent and sent to confession if caught. We have come a long way since those unenlightened days. A fast-growing aspect of deaf culture today is deaf cinema. Deaf film companies are producing critically acclaimed films with actors using sign language. Deaf film festivals celebrating and showcasing these productions are being held across the globe.
When thinking of learning sign language it is worth remembering that there are many options besides sign language interpretation. You can also use your new skill to expand your expertise within a particular career. For instance, a psychiatrist or social worker may want to expand their clientele to include deaf and hard of hearing people. Also worth noting is that not everyone who uses sign language is deaf. Many people are unable to talk, sometimes because of a physical or psychological disability, or due to medical circumstances such as stroke.
People usually have all sorts of reasons for taking a part time course in sign language. Maybe they want to have more detailed conversations with their deaf relatives or friends. Some people may just want to learn another language for work, study or simply for the undoubtedly fascinating experience. A few may want a career change and a part time course in sign language could put them on the path to becoming a sign language interpreter. A whole new world of communicating and understanding awaits those who sign up to learn this unique language.
This article was kindly contributed by Michelle Browne.