My secondary school was unusual in two main ways; firstly we didn't have a uniform, and secondly we had a deaf unit, basically a school within our school for deaf students. This meant that many of our lessons had an interpreter in, standing alongside the teacher, translating for a small group of students who used BSL, British Sign Language.
As teens, me and my friends learned some basic sign, and used the alphabet to talk secretly when we were out clubbing. Yes, we went clubbing when we were at school.....London wasn't very strict on ID back then! When I left school, my interest in BSL stuck with me, and I wanted to be an interpreter myself. I ordered a Sign book, and attempted to learn more. Without youtube, or a class, I hit a brick wall. At 19 I became an aupair in Germany, in an attempt to learn German instead.
Skip forward 15 years, and I've always returned to BSL in small ways. I watch youtube videos, and me and my ex-boyfriend used to use some together too. So when I was offered the chance to review an intensive course with Remark Training I leapt at the chance. As ever, all views are mine, and are not influenced by the fact I was reviewing it.
The Level 1 training at Remark is generally 20 weeks long, one evening a week, but they also do an Intensive Course, which is 3 full days a week for a month. They are based in London and Birmingham, and I attended in their London office, which is a short walk from Farringdon Station.
I actually missed the first day, so when I arrived on day 2, I was immediately impressed that our teachers were native users of BSL. I remember at school my German teacher pretended to be German for a long time! Luckily I was able to sign "Sorry," and my name, and I settled in. Apparently on the first day they had an intrepreter who was speaking in English, to help with the transition! The class size was small, definitely no hiding at the back! We had a total of 7 people in our class.
It's always fascincating to meet people who are trying to learn another language, as the reasons often vary so much. Generally people were learning for career reasons, teachers of the deaf (TOD), medical professionals and speech specialists. I was the only person doing it for 'fun'.
As with any language, you have to start with the basics, which can get frustrating but I appreciate there is no way around this. Numbers, colours, your family, how you travel to work etc. During class we used only sign, and during breaks we got to know each other better with English.
BSL Level 1 has three assessments within it, conveniently called 101, 102, and 103. These assessments are official, and verified by a nationwide body called Signature. They last about 5 minutes, and are a filmed conversation between you and an assessor. You are shown the marking criteria beforehand, and have lots of opportunity to practice beforehand.
We got our 101 scores back a few days after the assessment, and it is out of 18, with a passmark of 15. One person failed, and needed to pay to retake it. For the 2nd and 3rd assessment we were told they could take 5 weeks, but we got them about 2 weeks after the course finished. These were scored out of 40, and had a 50% pass mark. They are harder, but more allowance for mistakes!
I passed all 3 of my assessments and therefore have successfully acheieved my Level 1. You can move on to level 2,3 and 6, as well as doing additional inprepreter qualifications. Becoming fluent in another language is a huge undertaking, and BSL is no different!
So what did I think of Remark? I loved the small class sizes, and that they used teachers who were deaf and native BSL users. I found all staff to be friendly, welcoming and genuinely lovely. The location was modern, clean and easy to get to. And I passed, so they did something right! I do wish that they'd modernise their teaching materials (I'd love to do it for them!), as the powerpoints are very clipart 2001, which aren't super inspiring. I'd also love to get some more teaching activities going. For example in one lesson I suggested we play 20 questions, which worked really well to practise our vocabulary in a different way. There are so many games and activites that we could use, from 'Who am I' to Guess Who etc. We did get a little bored at the end of just repeating the same information and conversations over and over.
I'd love there to be a course aimed at more social use, I'd like to learn more things that I'd use meeting someone in the pub, rather than the traditional 'school' type topics. For example, there is a big focus on hobbies, interests and sports. We struggled to even grasp the idea that a hobby was different to an interest or sport, as we generally don't do many hobbies as adults! We also got bored of describing commutes and journeys, and describing our homes. Ideally I'd have loved to skip those, and learn things like, "What drink do you want, "What did you do last night?". "What do you watch on TV?", and "Which celebrity do you fancy and why". You get what I mean!
I have seen a few classes pop up recently, that teach people sign songs, as these are having an increase in popularity on youtube, and while I understand there is a small amount of controversy with these as a genre (they're often SSE, sign supported English, rather than BSL) they at least allow access to the language in a more fun setting. Sadly I've only found ones that are too far away for me to visit so far. I'd love to join one though, and even better if it was a BSL choir, rather than an SSE one.
I'm really glad I've finally had some official teaching, and BSL is still something that I enjoy learning. For now, I'll stick to youtube videos, but who knows in the future!
I was amazed at how many people were interested in this, when I was sharing on twitter and instagram about my progress. So many of you have learned BSL, or are interested in doing so, and I didn't hesitate to recommend Remark.