Language Limitations

English: wiktionary:thank you diagrammatically...
“Thank you” diagrammatically shown in (BSL). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parents may get this. We had a guest at our school prize day at the end of term – Gerry Hughes. A remarkable man, born deaf, who was at the forefront of having British Sign Language recognised as both a necessity and a right in the classroom. He sailed solo around Britain in 1981 (the first deaf man to do so), and extended on this with a transatlantic trip in 2005. Then thought he should top it all off with a global jaunt crossing all five capes in 2012-13.

He’s won prizes in deaf football and deaf golf. He was the first registered deaf person to achieve chartered teacher status in Scotland (before the government abolished the scheme for reasons which I will never understand a year or so ago).

Overall, an amazing person who’s crammed more into his lifetime so far than most of us could shoehorn into half a dozen.

He was hanging around after the ceremony and I really wanted to go up and say something to him.

Sadly, that’s the point where I realised that the only British Sign Language I know with any degree of accuracy is: “Mr Tumble’s Spotty Bag”.


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Language Limitations

Dale Mountain

The thing is, Mr Tumble doesn’t sign BSL, he signs Makaton. They both share much of a common dictionary (about 80% I’m lead to believe) but some BSL signs are simplified or changed for Makaton. I have a number of deaf friends so have signed for about 14 years, however I wouldn’t say I’m profficient in the art, I simply can hold a conversation with a (patient) deaf person. I actually sign a combination of BSL and SSE (SSE being signed spoken english). What most people do not realise is that BSL as well as having signs, also has a different sentance structure to English inasmuch as it is built upon pictures. E.G. You would never say the pen is on the table. You would say “table, pen on” You must pictorially have a table before anything can go “on” it. Apparently the sentance structure is more like German so I’m told. SSE you just use BSL signs, but in English sentences. Of course the thing to remember is that the deaf are often just as terrible with their language as the hearing are at English with lots of slang, contractions and downright gibberish. The one great thing is though I’ve NEVER met a deaf person yet who did not appreciate somebody trying to use their language no matter how much it was butchered. Oh and by the way. Apparently the government still does not recognise BSL as an “official” british language yet. The “official” british languages are: English, Welsh, Irish (gaelic), Scottish (gaelic) and Cornish. I don’t know if Manx is also included, but don’t think so.

Dewi Morgan

All I got in Holland was utter befuddlement. Not that they misunderstood me, just: “why on earth would you want to learn Dutch? We pretty much all speak English. Why waste your time?”


Countries vary. In northern Europe, English is a very strong second language to the point where most people speak it near fluently. In Central Europe it’s more like us learning French or Spanish in school – most people learn a little or enough to get by, but most business is done in their native tongue.

I found Italians loved teaching me Italian, French were impressed that anyone tried their language instead of assuming they spoke English (many people don’t) and I had no choice but to get a German phrase book for my traipsing around there.