Many deaf people use sign language to communicate. A common misconception is that all sign languages are the same, but this is not true. There are a wide variety of sign languages used around the world, and within these there are regional and local variations – just as with spoken languages. Most people in the world do not know sign language and so cannot communicate directly with deaf sign language users . Instead, the vast majority of communication and information is transmitted in spoken and written languages. However, many deaf people do not achieve basic levels of literacy for a wide range of reasons. The aim of this project is to combine internet-based resources and technology with sign languages to teach deaf sign language users the first steps in literacy. Focussing on Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) based on ESOL and CEFL, the project aims to create a generic course that can be adapted to any local sign language, giving deaf people anywhere the chance to learn the world’s primary communication language.
The unique feature of this course is that all the key teaching components are available on screen in the sign language of the learner. Resources for teaching English to deaf people have usually been designed for hearing people, and then later adapted, with perhaps a signing interpreter in the corner of the screen. This course is designed specifically for sign language users, with an onscreen presenter providing essential information in sign language, thus assisting the learner to progress through the course.
Through this site you can see the course as it develops and find out about the partners and sponsors of the project. You can also help us to make the course available to deaf people all over the world, by passing on details of the website to your connections in the deaf world, and by letting us know what you think of the course. The aim is for other countries to adopt this course. It is being built in a way that allows an easy transposition of one sign language clip for another. We hope that as the project develops, Deaf organisations in many countries will help us to make this available to their own Deaf communities by filming the sign language elements in their local language.
One in every thousand people of the world’s population is born deaf. To be born deaf is very different to being hard of hearing or losing hearing later in life. Most people in the world learn a language by phonetics – hearing and copying speech. Deaf infants miss out on much of the language that hearing children acquire naturally by the age of 5. People who are pre-lingually deaf struggle to learn a formal language and therefore to read and write. Their natural language is sign language – a three-dimensional visual language which does not easily transfer to two dimensional methods of written communication. Because sign language develops locally and naturally there is a different sign language in every country and even within countries. A combination of these factors mean that people who are born deaf may struggle throughout their lives to cope with a technology based world where the written word has become the most important form of communication through the internet, social media, and mobile phone devices. Deaf people used to be isolated from the hearing world by speech, even in direct interactions involving conversation and telephones. Now they are even more isolated as interaction with government services and many other facets of life in our digital age has become increasingly detached and impersonal through a reliance on the written word. We believe it is therefore essential to find a way to help every deaf person to learn a formal written language. English is the most prevalent language used internationally and in most countries English is taught in schools as an essential foreign language. For this reason, we chose English as our target language for deaf learners.
The initial research and development for this project was funded in part by the EACEA’s Grundtvig programme. A project titled ‘Basic English for Deaf Adults‘ was carried out by a consortium including The Government of Valencia Department of Modernisation, Walsall Deaf People’s Centre, University of Central Lancashire, Federation of Deaf People in Valencia and InForma Zentrum für Hörgeschädigte gGmbH. A protoype course was tested in England, Spain and Germany and whilst this proved to be every ffective, funding was not available to turn the prototype to a fully working course available in many sign languages and accessible via DVD or as an online e-learning course.
Nominet Trust, a foundation set up by Nominet, the registrar of internet domains in UK, became the saviour of a project which is of immense value to deaf people around the world. A Nominet grant has allowed this project to move ahead, building on the research and development work already completed. The Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust has also made a significant financial contribution. Walsall Deaf Peoples Centre is leading the project, with the assistance of University of Central Lancashire in developing course content, and Italian software house Vegan Solutions providing the technical expertise. Other partners will join the project at various stages to create as many different sign language versions as possible.
Finding the Right Methodology
The course content has been developed by Lynne Barnes, Divisional Co-ordinator for BSL & Deaf Studies and Isabel Donnelly, Dean of Languages and International Studies at the University of Central Lancashire.
From a pedagogical point of view, course content has been created on the basis of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) based on ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and CEFL (the Common European framework for Languages). This has been rather challenging since CLT usually focuses on speaking and listening. In order to facilitate this learning process, we have used the native sign language of each country as the language of instruction and relied on cross- cultural transference to explain grammar and syntax.
The delivery of the course can be flexible. Learners may use the on-line/DVD facility themselves in isolation, however, there is a good arugument for learners to come together as a group with a tutor to facilitate the teaching of English via this medium. In this way, they can be supported throughout the process. A tutor’s guide will be provided.
On the developed course, learners learn by engaging in written tasks. This way the learners focus on communicative issues with a lesser focus on accuracy and explicit teaching. We aim to use authentic use of language for the needs of the learners. The learner must be more active, by engaging in the proposed tasks and activities. The tutor’s role changes from a teacher to a facilitator, by providing punctual support on certain aspects of the contents rather than being a classical teacher.
As the BASE project clearly illustrated, such an approach can be very successful when applied to deaf learners and this forms the foundation of the pedagogy used in this project.