On the surface, the concept of an app for sign language is a pretty straightforward proposition; it’s even logical.
There are apps to help you learn a foreign language online and sign language is a legitimate language, ergo there should be a trove of resources to learn sign language with. Right? Wrong!
First, let us commend you for knowing that learning sign language is equivalent to learning a second language.
Now, comes the flaw in the argument: which sign language would you learn?
Many people believe that sign language is both singular and universal, meaning that there is only one flavour of signing and, once learned, you could sign with deaf people all over the world.
Wouldn’t that be something!
Fact is, even though two countries might speak the same language, their sign languages would be vastly different. If you inadvertently learn American sign language from the Internet, you would have a hard time being understood in Britain using those signs.
Even the alphabets are different: British sign language uses two hands to finger spell while ASL calls for only one-handed spelling.
By the same token, somebody who learned sign language in a French-speaking region of Canada could not make himself understood in France unless s/he also learned French sign language.
Your Superprof wants to help you set your feet on the right path by highlighting apps and resources specifically meant to help people learn British sign language.
As opposed to American sign, for which online resources seem far more abundant.
Your Number One Resource for Learning How to Sign
Obviously, the most effective way to learn sign language is to take a course.
Virtually every major city and smaller town we visited offers at least part-time courses in sign language and, in some of those classes, you may actually work up to Level 6 certification.
Of course, there are also classes to train as a sign language interpreter, should that be your career goal…
Besides taking sign language classes, the very best resource to help you learn how to sign is the deaf community.
All across the country, we found Deaf Clubs that welcome hearing people for social events or just because. Some of the clubs we found even offer sign language lessons; and what a great place to tune in to deaf culture!
If you have registered for or are already taking a sign language course, you might search the Internet for ‘Deaf Clubs near me’ and then, get ready to make new friends!
Finding a Group on Facebook
Keeping with the idea that signing with deaf and hard of hearing people is the best way for you to learn this visual language, we can’t ignore social media as a way to find welcoming groups.
Many of the smaller clubs around the country – clubs that don’t have a website, a fixed meeting place or any particular agenda, maintain a Facebook page; it is there that you could find announcements of upcoming events.
If you lived in Nottingham, for instance, you may be torn between joining the Nottingham Deaf Society that conducts various social activities alongside its charity work, and the Notts Deaf Community, whose Facebook page displays lots of happy people, enjoying themselves.
By the way, you could take sign language lessons at the Nottingham Deaf Society, too!
If you were a football fan (who isn’t?), you could find Deaf Football Clubs on Facebook as well.
For instance, Belfast has a fantastic club, Belfast Deaf United, that travels around the UK for matches and the inevitable post-game pint. Wouldn’t it be great to join them?
Finding a Deaf Club on Meetup
Do you know about Meetup? It is a social connections website that promotes the doings of special interest groups.
Combing through Sign Language group offerings on Meetup yielded some results; we particularly liked the Femaura London Deaf and Sign Club.
Their stated mission is to help people learn their new language but they are also a social group so, if you were hoping to meet like-minded people, people who are interested in learning how to sign, this is the group for you.
They host meetings every Thursday from seven until nine in the evening; in fact, they have the entire month of January already planned and scheduled. There, you will surely pick up a few tips to help you learn this expressive language faster and more efficiently.
If your city does not have a deaf or a sign language Meetup group, why don’t you start one? That’s a great way to invite people to join you on your quest to learn sign language.
We’ll not say that you should take every opportunity to engage with deaf people because, while deaf clubs are quite warm and welcoming, there are times and events reserved exclusively for the deaf world.
Outside of those times/events, you can be assured of a warm welcome; you will certainly find lots of help in your sign language learning… especially your receptive skills!
Online Resources to Help You Learn Sign Language
As mentioned before, the greatest danger in finding online resources to learn sign language from is that, all too often, the resource in question does not identify which sign language you will learn from them.
That is why it is always best to search for British Sign Language resources rather than just Sign Language resources… unless you want to learn ASL so you can sign with friends across the pond.
If you should conduct such a search – for British sign language, most likely, the first page you will encounter will be British Sign.
Besides their reasonably-priced online course, their page is full of resources to master fingerspelling – from the sign language alphabet to assorted games, to vocabulary sheets, dictionaries and greeting signs.
They even offer to help you find a BSL course in case their online programme doesn’t get it for you.
We really liked their forum and chatroom page, especially their practice zone where you can upload a short story or narrative that you signed and let other people critique your work.
And once you’re done with your training? You can refer to their job listings to find work that calls for your newly-gained skills!
Twinkl Resources for Children
If you are learning to sign because you work with deaf children or you have a deaf child in your life, you will surely love Twinkl’s BSL taster resource pack.
It is loaded with activities and resources for deaf education, from the Early Years Foundation stage all the way up to Key Stage Four.
Twinkl’s list of free resources is long but, overall, their site is packed with worksheets, visual aids, PowerPoints you could use in a classroom and lesson planning tips and strategies for teaching deaf students.
And, as if this site were not great enough, they offer Makaton oriented study packs in a multitude of languages, including Welsh.
Twinkl’s treasure trove of materials acknowledges that, while English is our country’s official language, not everyone speaks our native language. That is why their page of EAL (English as an additional language) is particularly valuable.
Even if you are not a child learning to sign, this page is a fantastic resource for learners of sign language.
What’s on YouTube?
You can find instructional videos on virtually everything you might ever want to learn on YouTube. Whether said instruction is ‘legitimate’ is a different question altogether.
We’re not knocking the kind people who wish to share their knowledge of sign language but we are dismayed at the number of people who talk through their presentation and who remain seated with the camera only capturing them from the shoulders up.
You might know that, to sign effectively, you will need all of the expressive skills at your disposal, including facial expression and using your whole body to sign.
Naturally, you can sign while seated but some of those videos are pretty limited in their instruction. For instance, they might impart vocabulary – how to sign for help or basic greeting words but they don’t show how to connect those words into an entire expression.
Two standouts among British sign language video channels are Exeter Deaf Academy and LSLSoniaHollis.
Both of these channels present sign language ‘authentically’: the instructor’s entire upper body is visible and they incorporate facial expressions into their signs.
To explain what is going on, Exeter contrasts the dark-haired signer with a blonde instructor who breaks down the gestures and expressions while LSL uses subtitles to interpret what is going on.
If you're looking for video instruction to supplement your coursework in your sign language class, these two channels should get it for you.
Apps to Learn Sign Language
SignBSL.com may be just the resource you need to tie everything together for your learning.
It is a dictionary, neatly folded into an app that you can download for free from the Apple store, the Play store or Microsoft. You can also get it from Amazon.
Of the 20 words we looked up, only one had a single interpretation; most of the words had at least two short videos demonstrating the signs, with the more common words, such as ‘people’, ‘every’ and ‘day’ having more than two.
Surely there are more apps out there; maybe you have one on your phone right now that we should know about. You’re welcome to tell us in the comments section below.
Now, discover the many advantages of learning sign language…