Sign Language is not a universal medium; on the contrary, each one has developed naturally over the years within its local community, exactly like oral languages. While there are in fact a number of international signs and gestures, used for example at international meetings and conferences for deaf people, these are a mere communication aid and cannot be considered a language. As a result, international communication between deaf people requires the learning of a foreign sign language, in precisely the same way as with people who can hear.
However, despite the clear incentives to promote multilingualism provided by the European Commission’s VET policies, very few of the projects and learning materials created over the years have taken into consideration the needs of deaf people. Their opportunities to learn foreign sign languages therefore remain severely limited, which effectively represents a major obstacle to transnational communication between deaf people and therefore a limitation of their citizenship rights, particularly in terms of free circulation.
We aim to
a) Carry out research into foreign sign language learning needs, identifying the most urgent communication needs;
b) Create a common training programme for foreign sign language learning at elementary (A1/A2) level for Portuguese, British, Turkish and Austrian sign languages (NB: on the contrary to oral language, Austrian is different from German);
c) Validate these programmes in schools for the deaf located in the partner countries by means of involving sign language trainers, who will therefore play a double role as both learners and trainers;
d) Promote the learning of the sign languages of the partnership among all the entities working with the project, especially among trainers, teachers and researchers in this area;
e) Promote the exchange of knowledge and experience among the professionals involved and among the deaf communities in each partner country;
f) Facilitate the learning of a foreign sign language directly from the native sign language, i.e. without having to subject the learner to the intermediate acquisition of the respective written languages.
The “Give Me a Sign” project will, in this way, make an important contribution towards closing the knowledge gap regarding the learning of foreign sign languages, with special emphasis on removing the additional burden of having to previously learn the respective written languages. This is itself represents a major innovation in this area. The project will therefore facilitate communication between the deaf communities across Europe and consequently open the doors to mobility for this target population, which will in turn contribute decisively towards ensuring equal opportunities. “Give Me a Sign” also aims to promote the recognition of European sign
languages as official languages of each country, and indeed as part of the national heritage of each member state in just the same way as the oral languages of the EU, this contributing towards public awareness of the value of this form of communication.
In the medium term, the results of this project will subsequently serve as the foundations for a second project in which, based on the findings of our research and the resulting creation of learning programmes, the partnership will begin to create learning content and materials, with particular emphasis on mobile applications to assist the learning of foreign sign languages. This is an ideal platform, given the limitless visual possibilities of tools such as Skype or FaceTime. Our ultimate goal is therefore to work towards a situation in which the learning of foreign sign languages becomes not only much easier but also a realistic curricular option for training institutes working with deaf people, so that in the not too distant future these trainees will be able to finally participate on equal terms in transnational professional mobility initiatives.
“Give Me a Sign” is therefore expected to become a reference for the teaching and learning of foreign sign languages. On a global level, over 110 million citizens use sign languages as part of everyday communication. This number includes the deaf, their families, their teachers and auxiliaries, among many others, and is a number which cannot and should not be ignored, given the expected impact of this ground-breaking project. In addition, the dissemination of the project aims to reach many millions more, by developing awareness among those able to hear, of the advantages not only of learning to communicate with the deaf, but also of ensuring they are included as equals in both everyday and professional life.