Inspired by Oscar winner Rachel Shenton? Here's where you can learn sign language in the UK

5th Mar 18 | Lifestyle

In the hearing loss community, sign language is one of the major forms of communication. Here's how you can pick up the skill this year.

Former Hollyoaks star Rachel Shenton won global admiration for addressing the Oscars audience in sign language, as she scooped the Academy Award for best live action short.

The soap star, best known for playing Mitzeee Minniver in the Channel 4 show, won the statuette for her film The Silent Child, which stars six-year-old deaf actress Maisie Sly.

“I made a promise to our six-year-old lead actress that I would sign this speech,” Shenton said while accepting the Oscar at Sunday’s ceremony in Hollywood.

“My hands are shaking a little bit so I apologise,” she signed to the audience.

Shenton wrote, produced and starred in the film about childhood deafness after she became passionate about the issue when her father lost his hearing when she was young.

The speech, which made global headlines, has shone a light on sign language, which is used by approximately 70 million deaf people around the world.

There are a number of different types of sign language used in different countries, including British Sign Language (BSL), which was first recognised as a language in 2003.

In the UK, around one in every 1,000 children is born with severe or profound hearing loss, and sign language is used as a visual means of communicating without sound, using gestures, facial expression and body language.

An estimated 50,000 Brits use sign language as their first or preferred language, so learning to use it can be an invaluable skill – even if you aren’t hard of hearing.

So how can you learn sign language yourself?

The quickest and easiest way to begin learning British Sign Language is by taking an online course. British-sign.co.uk has a simple and easy-to-digest course which costs £19.99 and gives you access to seven lessons covering fingerspelling, numbers, colours, hobbies, time and conversation, among several other helpful topics.

If you’d rather attend face-to-face classes, there are a number of places where you can learn to sign in a group setting. Signature offer qualifications in British Sign Language from Level 1 to 6 across the country – you can check their website to find your nearest course.

It’s also worth checking if your local college or community centre offers courses with sign language experts, or check online for local listings.

If you’re currently using your commute to stare into the distance or aimlessly scroll through Instagram, why not use the time more productively and download a sign language app?

Yep, you could even learn the language from your smartphone. Sign BSL is a handy free app that shows you how to sign thousands of words and phrases in British Sign Language – from ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to more complex sentences.

Once you’ve gotten to grips with the basics, british-sign.co.uk also has lots of online games and challenges to put your knowledge and skill to the test.

© Press Association 2018

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