Deaf Awareness Week: Learning British Sign Language

Deaf Awareness Week began on 2 May this year, and Dig Inclusion’s Laura set herself the challenge of seeing how much British Sign Language she could teach herself within a week. She documented her progress with a series of videos on our newly-launched YouTube channel and Facebook.

In total, there were 4 videos:
Ways to learn
The order of language
My name is

As you will see, some aspects were simpler than others

Day 1 – Different ways to learn

Day 1 Transcript

Hi accessibility diggers. My name is Laura and I work for Dig Inclusion. This week is Deaf Awareness Week, and after a long chat with Jon Gibbins, one of our group directors, I have decided that I am going to give learning sign language a go. There are so many different ways to learn sign language, from doing an on-line British Sign Language course, reading books, of which there are many, or using YouTube. When I typed in British Sign Language, over 82,000 results came up. Jon has told me to start by reading Deafness and the User Experience. It’s an article written by Lisa Herrod over 8 years ago, and yet it still stands true today. This is just the first video in a mini series showing me trying to learn sign language this week.

Day 2 – The order of language

Day 2 transcript

So, it’s now Tuesday, the second day of me learning about sign language. Now I spent quite a lot of time yesterday researching, working out how I want to do this. So one thing that’s become really apparent quite quickly is that learning sign language is very much like learning a new language. Different languages have different grammar, different ways of constructing sentences. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to sign language. For example, if I wanted to ask a question ‘What is your name?’ then I would actually sign ‘name you what?’, so the question ‘what?’ comes at the very end of the sentence.

Apparently there is no word for ‘is’ as well, so I imagine where I like to talk and go round Will’s mother’s just getting all of my words out – it’s not going to be as simple as that. I need to break the sentence down, get right to the point, and sign the key issues. I haven’t actually learned any sign language yet. Well, that’s a lie – I did learn ‘wine’. I made that the priority. It was one of the first things Jon taught me and it stuck in my head. He did sign a couple of other drinks, but I’m not going to drink the other drinks – the only one I am worried about is wine! It means anyone else ordering the drinks at the bar and signing to me will have a problem, because I only know what I want. That is wine (thumb to mouth with little finger pointing out if anyone wants to know).

I have a load of books arriving today – the power of next day delivery! There was one that Jon recommended to me, which I just cannot get hold of. He did say it was really hard to get hold of as it’s been out of print for a few years. And at this point, I want to say anybody creating a really good resource, please, please, put it into an e-book so we never have to worry about print runs running out or anything like that. Let me get your book. If it’s a good book, and nobody else wants to let go of their copy, put it into an e-book and then it’s dead easy – I can just download it. Thank you.

Day 3 – Alphabet

Day 3 Transcript

Hi accessibility diggers. My name is Laura from Dig Inclusion. It’s day 3 of me attempting to learn sign language. My books arrived yesterday. I have flicked through all of them but the one I keep going back to at the moment is the pocket dictionary. Having a dictionary where I can literally just flick through and find the word I want. For example, yesterday my daughter got her guinea pigs out, so I looked up the word for guinea pig. Which is (sign of guinea pig).

So I also learnt the alphabet whilst watching a video on YouTube and it was a really simple basic video that just went through the letters, the vowels A, E, I, O U, and it was fantastic. It was just so simple, there was no fanciness there was no talking it was quite simply the letters A, B, C.
I watched it and I did the first few and then I watched it again and I continued so every time I do A, B, C, then watch again and go up to D and E. By the end of the afternoon I’d pretty much got it. So my son came in from school and I was super excited and I went “Hey, hey look at this” and I signed the entire alphabet for him and then he asked me to sign his name. I fell to pieces! Argh!
I can do it in order, I can’t do it, muddled up so I think that’s something I certainly need to work on.

So, what I am going to do is link to that YouTube video because it’s brilliant and there’s no point me recreating a video when there is a really good one that exists. And this is about my journey as opposed to me trying to teach you something. I can simply tell you my experience of it and hopefully it will inspire other people to go “Hey, if she can do I, anyone can”. And seriously, if I can do it, anyone can. I have mastered the alphabet. I am really pleased with that and I am going to spend this afternoon looking at greetings.

Day 4 – My name is

Day 4 Transcript

Hi accessibility diggers.

I’m Laura from Dig Inclusion. So this last week I have been learning sign language. It’s not been easy. (Signs name my L A U R A). After I learnt finger spelling and going through the alphabet I wanted to move onto something, well the next stage, something that I didn’t think would be that complicated.
So saying hello to people, good morning, good evening, asking how they were and that’s when it got complicated for me. Because sign language isn’t just about remembering the hand actions, it’s about the facial expressions as well. So when I was trying to learn to say “Good Morning” it was me frowning because I was going “Good Morning” and you are supposed to smile. You are supposed to go “Good Morning” (smiling) and you know, be happy, your face is supposed to show the expression and the emotion that you are feeling and when I am trying to remember the sign language and remember the order of doing things, it turns out I wasn’t very good at signing and smiling at the same time! I looked like a very angry person saying “Good Morning” to people.

If I tell you the truth, by the end of this week I wanted to be able to sign a song to you which probably sounds ridiculous and totally far-fetched and there is no way I can do it, but I wanted to sign a song. I thought right, I’m going to start on the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday and I’m going to spend all week learning so on the Friday I’m going to end with a song. That was the plan.
The plan didn’t exactly work. So instead of having this fixed “I am going to do it and I am going to do it this quickly” I am not, I am going to do it slowly and I am going to do it so I remember.
One thing I am doing, when I see something in particular and I want to know what the word is, I am looking it up in my dictionary. So last night we had the most beautiful sunset. We are so lucky where we live because there is a field and the sun goes down and the whole sky was pink and gorgeous. So I looked up ‘beautiful sunset’ and beautiful is really easy to remember so “Beautiful” (hands to lips and draw away and open) it reminds me of something Italian and bellissimo, beautiful and even just doing that makes me smile so that’s easy where I smile. The sun is like an ‘O’ then open (Hands to the top of my head shaped like an ‘O’ and open) and then set is hands in a ‘C’ shape and then together. Now I can’t find sunset, so I have joined sun and set which might be wrong and if you know the right answer then please do a little sign and then send it to us or describe it to us. Tell me how to do sunset! I really hope my videos have inspired you to at least go out and learn how to finger spell, to practice and to do it every single day! I think it’s a really important skill. If I can go out and be in a really busy place and noises everywhere and I can just finger spell what I want to do and if the person opposite me can understand that then, that’s great – it’s making sign language mainstream.




  • Easy way guide to signing (Day 1 – Ways to Learn)
  • Let’s Sign Pocket Dictionary: BSL Concise Beginner’s Guide (Day 2 – Order of Language)
  • Sign in Sight: Step into the Deaf World (Human Horizons) (Day 2 – Order of Language)
  • Let’s Sign Dictionary: Everyday BSL for Learners [2nd Edition] (Day 2 – Order of Language)
  • Signs Make Sense: A Guide to British Sign Language (Human Horizons series) (Day 2 – Order of Language)

YouTube video