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Sign of the times as classes raise awareness of communication for deaf people

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: May 02, 2014

  • 28/04/14 Sign language feature - Brewhouse, Burton Burton Mail Reporter Laura Hammond went along to Burton's Brewhouse to hands on experience about learning Sign Language with Sue Birkin from Proud Hands Sign Language..

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WHEN I was eight, I learned how to say my name in sign language.

This week – a mere 20 years later – my memory was refreshed, when I attended a sign language class at The Brewhouse arts centre, in Burton.

The class, run by Sue Birkin, is one of several sessions put on by Proud Hands Sign Language, in the hope of increasing the amount of people who can communicate in this way, and therefore speak with deaf people.

The value of that is something not to be under-estimated, Sue said.

“Some people become awkward when I tell them I’m deaf, and I don’t like that.

“They don’t know what to do.

“Learning sign language makes for easier communication all round with deaf people.

“I would like more people to learn and be able to communicate,” she told me through translator Kevin Watts.

Sue was born profoundly deaf, though both her parents were hearing.

Her parents could not sign, so she did not learn how to communicate at home.

When she started at a school for deaf children, the teacher tried to teach her to speak – something Sue simply was not capable of doing.

“Hearing people can learn to sign, but deaf people can’t learn to talk.

“I teach my students to sign because it improves communication all round,” she said.

Sue has been teaching independently for two year, and previously taught at Burton and South Derbyshire College.

The group which I sat in with were at the final stage of their level one British Sign Language qualification.

Some of the people there had been learning for around six months.

All communication in the class is done by signing – which made for a very quiet room when I walked in.

One of the students, Minaz Bano, said: “We don’t speak here, because Sue is deaf, and we pick up more because of that, I think. It makes it easier.

“I’ve improved a lot. I never thought I would get to this stage.”

Minaz works with children, and started signing to improve her skills at work.

There are many reasons that people decide to take up sign language. Some do it as a hobby, or to gain qualifications, and others do it because they want to begin a career.

Anita Stringer, another student in the class, said she started attending the classes so she could communicate with family members who are deaf.

“I learned some from a cousin, because all his family are deaf, but then thought I would start to do it properly.

“Sometimes it’s challenging, when you have to talk about a topic you don’t know, but it’s good to watch other people doing it,” she said.

The first thing people learn when they start sign language classes is how to finger spell, so they can tell people their names.

With a short name like Laura, it was fairly easy to pick up, but the idea of going further seemed a huge task.

A taster course is due to take place at the Brewhouse in September. Further information is available by emailing proudhandssignlanguage@gmail.com

Anybody over the age of 12 will be welcome on the course.

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