#ADisabilityPositive: Bilingualism and BSL

This post is in light of the amazing work done by Daniel Jillings and his family. Daniel is a 12 year old boy who is campaigning for a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL), which is his first language. This proposal, although initially rejected by MPs after the Education Minister stated that “not everything needs to be taught” (?!), is now potentially going to be considered by MPs before the next election. Firstly, congratulations to Daniel and his family, as this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and something that is definitely needed in the UK. It takes an incredible amount of determination to make people stand up and listen, so well done for making your voice heard!

The idea of BSL as a GCSE, although intended for those who are first language users, gave me a thought about how beneficial this would be for the everyone. Sign Language seems to be massively under-represented in the UK, despite being a language that thousands of people use daily. So why can’t teenagers learn how to communicate with their peers and other people around the country, in the same way that they’re taught French or German?

A spokesperson from the National Deaf Children’s Society said that up to 45,000 children who used BSL as their first language wanted a BSL GCSE. As there are over 4000 secondary schools in the UK (according to Google), that would very roughly suggest that are around 11 children in each school that use BSL. That means we have potentially 11 Language Champions in every school that can be proud of the language they speak, much like English as an Additional Language (EAL) students are currently.

But the benefit wouldn’t just be for BSL students. Let’s face it, who can actually remember every component of their GCSE language studies? It could be argued that the reason England is so pants at teaching languages in comparison to European countries is because  we don’t have the same opportunity to practice within the classroom setting, as well as not feeling the need to use it when we visit other countries. By teaching BSL as a GCSE, it could potentially mean that children become far more proficient, as they have more of a reason to use it in the UK.

If this was the case, and all children had the option to take a BSL GCSE and actually use the language they are taught, then there is nothing but positive benefits for them. Being bilingual means that you have a longer attention span and a better ability to multi-task than those who only use one language, as well as teaching the importance of inclusivity in the UK. There are also benefits in the work place, which would then have a knock on effect on the inclusion of BSL speakers in the work place.

As you can tell, I’m getting very excited about this prospect, and think it’s nothing but a clear benefit to include BSL in the curriculum. So #ADisabilityPositive for this week is not only the potential inclusion of thousands of BSL users in the curriculum, but the potential benefits to other children and then society as a whole. It’s campaigns like this that show what positive things can come from considering the attitudes of those with an additional need, which is exactly what we’re about.

(P.S. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-45043418 has the full story if you want to give it a read).

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