Sign me Up!

Around three or four years ago, I had an issue at work with a Customer.  Now, for those of your who know what I do, I have issues all the time. It’s the nature of the game. But this was a different kind of issue.

A lovely elderly couple used to come into work frequently. Both were profoundly deaf. Neither had verbal communication. But they both used sign language. Which none of us knew.

The lady had a little writing ability, so we could write notes to her and she would read and respond. But the lovely gentleman was unable to read and write at all.

I learnt that this was quite prevalent in the profoundly deaf community, especially in people of the older generation.

He was reliant on her for his communication. And then she was taken seriously ill and left permanently bedbound.

He was alone, isolated and unable to communicate with anyone, but life was still going on. The small things that she did, like arranging lifts for them, or getting us to ring her gas meter reading through were made impossible with his lack of literacy skills.

I was unhappy with this situation. I felt impotent and useless. I was left after every interaction with him, angry at myself and my lack of knowledge.

I decided that it couldn’t continue. Something had to change.

And that someone was me!

I started looking at Sign Language classes local to my area. I found a perfect one that was run by the Local Council in their Adult Learning programme.

I duly signed myself up and waited for the start of classes to begin.

Walking nervously into the class, I was welcomed by the lovely Bina who was going to be the teacher for a 10 week introduction to BSL (British Sign Language)


The group I was in were total novices, with no previous knowledge of signing. None of them had a hearing impediment, so were doing it for family members, work or to learn a new skill.

After having had the second class, my elderly man came in. I tentatively signed “I am learning sign language but please go slow” and held my breath!

His eyes lit up and his little face just cracked into the biggest smile I had ever seen. He made the BSL sign for clapping  (almost like two jazz hands in the air) and started to sign at an alarming rate!

Well, of course I couldn’t even hope to keep up! He eventually slowed down, and we muddled through. He was literally so happy that someone was able to communicate with him, however basic and a bit rubbish.

By the time he left, I was exhausted. Mentally and Physically. But then he gave me the biggest hug ever, and thanked me, literally with tears in his eyes.

He learnt when my shifts were, so he would always know when to pop and see me. I would chat, and pass time with him, and I learnt a lot from him. I was also able to find out that he was amazing at lipreading. This meant that in an emergency, he would be able to communicate with someone else if I wasn’t around.

The classes continued and I absolutely loved them. I couldn’t wait for every Monday to come around. After the first 10 weeks, we did another 10 weeks. And then another 5.

Unfortunately at the end of that block of lessons, there was nothing else I could move onto. The council weren’t offering any further classes, or even BSL Level 1 exams.


Thankfully, there was a couple of people within my wider workplace that were able to sign. So I tried to keep from losing my skills by having the odd signing conversation with them when they were onsite.

Then last year, Bina got in touch and asked If I would like to join her new class where she had an elderly man who needed some one on one practice. Jumping at the opportunity to practice, I immediately said yes.

I met with the lovely Mick, and we hit it off like a house on fire. Every Monday I would turn up, and help him practice. And I loved every minute.

Again, the lessons have now drawn to a close. And I am left with no signing partners.

My local council do not offer any classes and to do it privately would cost nearly £500 for BSL level one. Way out of my financial abilities.

BUT…. there is now some light at the end of the tunnel!

The people I work for have employed a Deaf Charity to work with them on producing a BSL level 1 and 2 in-house training course.

This starts in September and is one full day, every week for a year.

And I have been chosen to take part! I have secured my place and am eager to start! At the end of it, I hopefully will have recognised qualifications in BSL, which is actually a dream come true.

All because of one man who needed someone to talk to………

Till next time.



Leave a comment

  • Rosana McPhee

    That’s such an inspiring post! I would love to learn sign language. R

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you so much Rosana x

  • This is the cutest thing ive read in ages! well done to you , really inspiring <3

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you Marta, that’s made my day xx

  • Mark

    What an amazing thing to do!

    Whilst I’m not deaf, I am hard of hearing, most of the time it does not cause an issue, but there are times when communication does become hard, so to know there are people out there that are willing to go that extra mile to help people with hearing loss is brilliant, from experience most just get angry, so this makes me smile.

    I’ve often thought of learning sign, even before my hearing worsened, this has made me want to give it a go.

    Thank you for sharing that :0)

    • Tanya Brannan

      Do it! It’s a great skill to have and I found learning it was good fun too xx

  • What a fantastic thing to do and a definite worthwhile skill. I think they should teach it in schools x

    • Tanya Brannan

      I agree! It should be a compulsory skill x

  • What an amazing thing to do – I’ve always thought sign language would be amazing to learn. x

    • Tanya Brannan

      It is fabulous and a lot of fun to learn too x

  • Jessica Dearnley

    I’ve always wanted to learn sign language, well done to you for giving it a go.

    • Tanya Brannan

      It is a great thing to learn and good fun too. Thank you for commenting xx

  • Kira L Curtis

    I think it’s so wonderful how you’ve chosen to learn sign language! I was taught a lot when I was at brownie but unfortunately I’ve forgotten a lot of it! Amazing thing for you to do!

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you Kira, it was just something I had to do xx

  • I know some makaton as we used it to communicate with my sister who uses it to communicate although she is able to talk a lot more now. Its amazing that you went out of your way to communicate with him you are doing a beautiful thing xx

    • Tanya Brannan

      Makaton is fantastic, especially for children and more non-communicative issues. I glad you were able to use it with your sister 🙂 xx

  • Kelly

    You are…if you don’t mind me saying so…spunky! I think this is the nicest blog story I’ve read in a long time.

    • Tanya Brannan

      Wow Kelly, thank you so so much! It’s so lovely of you to comment and has put a huge smile on my face xx

  • I have wanted to learn sign language for ages as I hated working in retail and not being able to communicate with those who were deaf. x

    • Tanya Brannan

      Do it! you won’t regret it. It is good fun too! x

  • I feel like so many of us want to learn sign language but have never taken the plunge!

    • Tanya Brannan

      It is easier than you think, and good fun. Why not try a taster class in your area? Quite a lot of councils run classes xx

  • Melanie Edjourian

    I think it’s great you are learning sign language, I think more of use should learn it.

    • Tanya Brannan

      I agree Melanie, it is a fabulous skill to have x

  • This is great. Sign language is an amazing skill to have. I don’t know many people who know how to use it.

    • Tanya Brannan

      Unfortunately this is the problem. I loved learning and it has helped me in my job on several occasions x

  • Jessica

    I could feel the joy when he hugs you. Learning sign language is a great step, dear. I adore you! 🙂

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you Jessica! It is so lovely of you to say it xx

  • kitty kaos

    That is so exciting I would love to know sign language to work in more sen schools in the future x

    • Tanya Brannan

      It is fabulous and such good fun learning. I hope you take it up xx

  • Aw how lovely are you! I used to work somewhere where a deaf couple would come in. The husband would teach me sign language while his wife shopped.

    • Tanya Brannan

      Isn’t it so lovely when you can communicate with someone that most people can’t? xx

  • This sounds amazing, I can sign the alphabet and that’s about it! I’d love to learn a bit more. Well done you for taking the initiative and learning, I can only imagine the joy you gave that little old man <3

    Jess xo | The Indigo Hours

    • Tanya Brannan

      I think we gave each other a lot of joy, and I am so glad that I took the decision to take classes x

  • i learnt how to sign the alphabet years ago and remember the majority of it. its definitely great to learn

    • Tanya Brannan

      It really is! I think it should be taught in schools xx

  • Susan Clark

    What a nice story. I’m glad you made a new friend and are able to help and communicate with him.

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you Susan, I really did and we both benefitted greatly xx

  • Jenni Grainger

    Thats great, well done for taking the initiative and wanting to ensure everyone is included. I think sign language should be on the national curriculum x

    • Tanya Brannan

      So do I Jenni. It would help so many people xx

  • I do sing and sign with my boy and we both love it. It’s such a great skill to learn.

    • Tanya Brannan

      It really is! I think schools should teach it more, and it’s great that you are learning together x

  • Stan Hope

    Lovely story, a fantastic achievement and great empathy shown. You are a star!

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you so very much Stan xx

  • I would love to learn sign language one day – it can make such a difference to people’s lives to be able to communicate 🙂

    • Tanya Brannan

      It really can Becca! I think it should be taught in schools from an early age x

  • Ali

    What a lovely thing to do for someone and look how it has developed and you are enjoying it. Brilliant!

    • Tanya Brannan

      I really am Ali, I can’t wait to carry on with it x

  • mel Sak

    What a great thing to do!

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you so much Mel x

  • What a fantastic thing to sign up for, a really useful skill and it’s nice to hear what inspired you!

    • Tanya Brannan

      Thank you Laura, he was a total inspiration x

  • Laura

    This is so fabulous and very important. I’d love to learn sign language xxx

    • Tanya Brannan

      It is such good fun, and great to know. Have a look at your local councils classes! x

  • What a wonderful thing you’re doing both for this elderly couple and for yourself. I took a course too a couple years back so I could communicate with my patient

    • Tanya Brannan

      Isn’t it such good fun too? I loved learning it x

  • beautykinguk

    This is simply fantastic, it is always something I have wondered about.

    • Tanya Brannan

      Quite a lot of councils do evening introduction to sign language classes, why not give me a look! xx