British Sign Language at Doha College
Doha College has always provided a wide array of Enhanced Curriculum Activities to choose from, and always strives to extend it further. With a linguist at the helm, in the form of polyglot Dr Sommer, DC offers German, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, Chinese Calligraphy and from this year – Sign Language.
Two 6th form students, Eman Al-Sulaiti and Caitlin Graham Smith, both in Year 13, lead a Sign-Language club for secondary students in the Autumn term. Its success and impact on the students was immediately visible, so they decided to pass on the torch to the Primary School, where Mrs McKenna now leads a Sign Language ECA in the West Bay campus.
There are about 70 million deaf people in the world who use sign language as their first language. For many more, it is a second language and it makes a great difference in the ease of communicating to people with hearing impairments.
Each country has one or more sign languages, which are not international as one might think, but specific to the communities that have created them organically over centuries. Many signs are indeed universal – like ‘baby’ or ‘sleep’ – because they inspire the same gestures, similarly to onomatopoeia, however most are not. In the UK, the government acknowledged signing as an official language in 2003. The British Sign Language – the one taught at the Doha College ECA – is not a translation of English but it has its own linguistics and very different grammatical structures to English.
Watch the club in action during the Autumn term, when Eman and Caitlin taught it to secondary students:
Many schools around the world include sign language in their standard curriculum, as it has been shown that it provides not just the regular benefits of a foreign language – such as increased communication capabilities, development of the brain or staving off degenerative neurological disorders – but also it helps children appreciate the needs of others. It unlocks ways of understanding how others’ brains perceive certain things, how meanings can be captured in gestures, how to convey a message in an empathic manner. In addition, hearing children enjoy learning sign language as a means to communicating with each other in a silent environment, pass on ‘secret messages’ and of course because it is great fun.
Mrs Nichola McKenna and Mrs Angela Sanders, who run the club in the West Bay campus of the Primary School, explained: "There is a huge buzz around learning new languages and often we immediately think of learning a spoken language like perhaps French, German or Spanish. We might not always consider other ways of communication, and in particular non-verbal methods. This was something that appealed to us. We were interested (and the children, we hope!) in learning a new life skill that would allow us to communicate on a different level and to appreciate the challenges of those who may not be able to communicate in the same way that we know how. We hope that by beginning to learn British Sign Language, the children will have acquired a skill that they can go on to develop and use throughout their lives. Who knows when you may meet somebody who is deaf or hearing impaired? Even just knowing some basic sign language could make the world of difference to them."
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