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British Sign Language Videos for Children

Today is not a day like the others for me. It’s 8am on a Tuesday in mid-September and I’m heading to our studio located in the heart of Milton Keynes. Our British Sign Language Interpreter and Lip Speaking experts are already here; ready to start the translation of some educational material. The script covers everything from letters, numbers, domestic animals, activities, foods, drinks and other everyday items found around the school and home… It’s a lot of work to get through but we are all very motivated and passionate about the project and can’t wait to start!

Why? I mean, don’t get me wrong translating animals, drinks and food is great but most important these videos are destined to school and pre-school children with hearing and learning difficulties. Thanks to these videos, they will be able to learn new words, concepts and things from everyday life. This might seem like a small contribution but it means a lot to me, being able to contribute to their wellbeing and their development is an essential reward.

Behind the Scenes

First, back to the basics. For those who don’t know what a BSL Interpreter and a Lip Speaking experts do, I will try my best to explain. The role of the Interpreter is to interpret each word, then spell the individual letters of the word using Finger Spelling. The Lip Speaking expert has to speak in a way where the words are almost over-pronounced, allowing individuals with hearing difficulties to read the lips of the person on screen. Everybody following? Great. Read more

BSL Translation in Your Hand

Machine translation has proven a difficult nut to crack, even for written and spoken languages. That’s even more true for sign languages, though we’ve written about some previous innovations in the field like the Fingual translation glove.

However, that may be about to change. Researchers at Aberdeen University are working on providing sign language users with translation capabilities on their smartphones and laptops, and they’re almost there. In the Scotsman, Dr Ernesto Compatangelo, the director of the project, explained the ultimate goal of the project, called the Portable Sign Language Translator (PSLT):

“The user signs into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, Smartphone or other portable device such as a tablet. Their signs are immediately translated into text which can be read by the person they are conversing with. The intent is to develop an application – an “app” in Smartphone terms – that is easily accessible and could be used on different devices.”

The technology is being developed with British Sign Language (BSL), but can easily be made to work with other sign languages as well.  Additionally, users can program the software to recognize gestures of their own, allowing them to get around limitations in sign language vocabulary.

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Compatangelo gave the example of a student who wishes to learn a trade such as joinery, and needs an easy way to express words like “dovetail joint,” which are so specialized that BSL does not have gestures for them.

Meanwhile, on MIT’s Technology Review blog, David Zax gave another example:

“Plenty of new jargon and terminology is constantly emerging in computer science, but American Sign Language is unlikely to keep up with all that jargon. You could use the app to invent signs to express these bits of jargon, saving you the trouble of having to spell out every word letter by letter.”

Another potential use for an app like this would be to provide people who are learning sign language an easy way to practice. In the Scotsman, Dr Compatangelo explained:

“As a learning tool, the PSLT can be easily and effectively used by those who are learning to sign. So far, these learners needed a sign language expert in front of them to check that they were able to sign correctly. This is a problem, due to the scarce availability of sign language experts and to the consequent cost of such training.”

Another possible use? The ability to control your household appliances with gestures, which would be especially useful to people with mobility issues.

Nine Year Old Girl Achieves Sign Language Qualification

Tayla Reynold’s mum is hearing impaired and it can be difficult for her to keep up with her girls. 9 year old Tayla has taken it upon herself to improve their communication by doing a sign language qualification.Tayla is now officially the youngest person in Britain to complete the Level 1 British Sign Language test. To pass the test Tayla had to learn 600 gestures in British Sign Language

The British newspaper the Telegraph reports that the little girl took the lessons with 14 adults during a 23 week course. Watching her mum practising in the mirror inspired the youngster to sign up for the course.  Tayla’s younger sister Natasha whose eight years old is due to start the course this week.

Tayla is a very special little girl she has already appeared on ‘This Morning’, voiced a character in ITV animated show ‘Creature Comforts’ and she finished in sixth place in the international Linguist of the Year competition.

Tayla will start the level 2 course next month and if she continues to level 4 she could become a BSL interpreter.

Her mother, who operates the School of Sign Language in Blackburn, is quoted in the telegraph as saying:

“I’m extremely proud of my daughter and it’s wonderful to see her saying ‘I love you’ in sign language. When I was a young girl I was hard of hearing but there was no way that I would admit or except it. I didn’t want to be different so I would try to cover it up.Now with every person who passes the tests, we get closer to getting rid of the horrible label I had to live with, growing up deaf and dumb.”

A spokesman for society the British Deaf Association said:

“We would like to congratulate Tayla on achieving her BSL level 1 at such a young age.”

British Sign Language, used by the majority of Britain’s deaf population, has between seventy thousand and a quarter of a million speakers.

Multilingual DVD Production

This page is a step by step guide how we made a Sign Language DVD for the Scottish Prison Service.

The Project

The brief was to produce an interactive DVD containing induction material for a collection of prisons in Scotland. The Scottish Prison Service wanted the DVD to form part of the induction process that all prisoners go through on their first few days in jail. Being in an on-screen format makes the information more understandable (and therefore more valuable) than the printed alternative. Read more

"My Valentine" Video Sign Language Bloopers

For the video to his latest single, “My Valentine,” Paul McCartney wanted to reach out to the deaf community.  So, instead of starring in the video himself,  he decide to leave the visuals to two talented (and attractive) Hollywood stars you might have heard of: Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman. The two sit in a dark room, sunlight streaming in, and gaze oh-so-soulfully into each other’s eyes, mouthing and signing the lyrics to the song.

It’s beautiful. It’s smoking hot. It’s Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman. Queen Amidala and Captain Jack Sparrow. That quirky chick from Garden State and Don Juan DeMarco. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for one thing, neither Depp nor Portman use sign language regularly. Despite the coaching they received, this led to some rather embarrassing bloopers that unfortunately weren’t caught until after the video’s release.

For example, as this article points out, at one point in the song Johnny Depp tries to sign “Valentine” and ends up signing “enemy” instead. The worst gaffe of all, though, is the accidental use of the British Sign Language sign for “tampon” instead of the American Sign Language sign for “appear,” a mistake made by both actors.  How romantic! (To be fair, the two signs are extremely close.)

However, a  spokesman for the British Deaf Association told the Sun that overall, the organization was still quite pleased with the video:

“It’s great that famous people such as Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman are highlighting the use of sign language. Their use of it is more a poetic expression. The sign for tampon does seem to come up from both Johnny and Natalie, which causes some confusion, especially as American and British sign languages are different. It would have been nice if genuine deaf people had been used. But it’s still great.”

British Sign Language

Note: If you need any of our BSL Interpreters please use our sales page to order >> BSL Interpreters <<.

We’ve just finished producing a British Sign Language video for one of our clients in London. I’ve added a sample below (and on youtube).

Hayley (our signer) was filmed in front of a green screen/chroma key (in HD) which was later removed and replaced with the image of London.

 

BSL Dialects Fading Away

British Sign Language (BSL) is used by approximately 125,000 deaf adults and 20,000 children in the UK.  But they don’t all sign the same way. Just as spoken English varies depending on where you are, British Sign Language has regional dialects of its own.  Sometimes, BSL signers from different regions of the UK have to stop and compare completely different signs for the same word!

Signs can even vary between different towns and cities. For example, Manchester has its own unique system of number signs.

Now, however, the BBC reports these sign language dialects are fading away. A recent study of 250 BSL users from across the UK found that younger signers were using fewer of these unique regional signs.

The lead researcher behind the study, Dr Kearsy Cormier, explained her findings to the BBC:

“Some regional signs appear to be in decline, as younger people are using them less, with some rarely used at all. The variation is at the level of vocabulary rather than accent or grammar, and similar examples in English would be plimsolls, daps, sannies, gutties, or pumps for canvas shoes.

There are several possible reasons for the decline. First, prior to the 1940’s, deaf children in British schools were encouraged to lip read and finger spell rather than to sign. BSL was taught “unofficially,” person-to-person, in schools for the deaf. So there was a lot of room for regional signs to spring up, as students at each school signed a little bit differently.

Since the 1970’s, BSL has increasingly been taught as a subject and used as a language of instruction for deaf students, and so it has become more standardized.

Also, many schools for the deaf have closed as resources are now available to mainstream deaf students and allow them to learn alongside their hearing peers.

Third, media such as television is increasingly available in BSL, further contributing to the trend of standardization.

Finally, people move around more than they used to.  So, there is less opportunity for deaf children to grow up signing a regional dialect.

Should the decline of regional sign language dialects be viewed as a tragedy, or as part of a natural language evolution? It depends on who you ask.

Charlie Swinbourne, editor of the Limping Chicken, a popular blog aimed at the deaf and hard of hearing, waxed nostalgic about the different sign language dialects to the BBC:

“Regional variation is something that is part of the richness of the culture and how the language has developed and it is a special thing. When signs start disappearing, or people get older or stop using them, there is a sense of who will keep those variations alive? You feel like it could all change quite quickly and there are people who do try to keep it alive.”

Meanwhile, Paul Redfern, from the British Deaf Association considers it part of the natural evolution of the language:

“The vast majority of people probably don’t really think about it, because it is language, and it is a living language, it is not dead or frozen, and languages change and languages reflect what is happening to you in a contemporary sense.”

What do you think?