January 31

Becoming familiar

It was with great enthusiasm our merry band assembled this morning for the final module of our BSL course, most of last week’s anxiety has now gone although we still don’t know the outcome of our 102 assessment.

This week we ran over some familiar territory. I always seem to be lulled into a false sense of security at the beginning of the session, ‘ah yes I remember those signs, it’s all coming back.’ Then new bits of vocabulary slowly pile in and my brain turns to noodles. I think I am just about keeping up and it is great to see how everyone’s confidence has flourished.  Any fear of group humiliation has pretty much disappeared. I have certainly found that I don’t learn if I’m not prepared to just give it a go.

It is a curious position to be in, going from a familiar and extensive vocabulary to that of a child. The frustration of knowing what you want to say yet not having the tools to do it in anything more than the most basic form.

I also found more interesting BSL research this week that suggests people who have learnt sign language have a tendency to use more gestures after they have finished their studies. I certainly find the odd sign sneaks in now but I had assumed that was because I am consciously trying to practice. I have a certain childlike joy when I come across a word in conversation and am able to think I know the sign for that! It seems I am not unusual in this. The researchers suggest there are three possible reasons for this:

  1. Students may have become accustomed to moving their hands when communicating, and this carries over into monolingual speech environments
  2. Learners of ASL (it was an American study) become accustomed to signing and speaking at the same time and this behaviour, which is true of many hearing people who sign, not just learners, simply carries over into speech
  3. The students’ repertoire of conventional gestures (akin to crossing your fingers for “good luck”) may simply have been increased by bringing in new gestures
January 30

In conversation

In conversation
In conversation

How often do you think about the quality of your conversations? How often  do you find you are telling your story rather than listening to someone else’s?

A few years ago I was lucky to hear someone talk for whom conversations really counted, he had been a hostage negotiator and he used an expression that has stuck with me ever since.

Make every conversation count


I admit there are times I forget such wise advice and find I am rushing to tell rather than listen, but when I do remember the quality of my conversation definitely improves. I really like Susan Scott’s principles for ‘Fierce Conversations’ too:

  1. Master the courage to interrogate reality
  2. Come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real
  3. Be here, prepared to be nowhere else
  4. Tackle your toughest challenge today
  5. Obey your instincts
  6. Take responsibility for your emotional wake
  7. Let silence do the heavy lifting

The conversation is not about the relationship; the conversation is the relationship.    Susan Scott.



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January 29

Mystical intuition

There is something mystical associated with the word intuition, and any experience becomes mystical in the degree in which the sense, the feeling, of the unlimited envelope becomes intense – as it may do in experience of an object of art.

 John Dewey, (1934) Art as Experience: 201

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January 28

Change of scenery

A view across muddy puddles between trees and out across common landThere is a serene and settled majesty to woodland scenery that enters into the soul and delights and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.                      Washington Irving


After a number of days tied up at my desk I finally ventured out today and got the change of scenery my soul badly needed. It was raining for most of the time but I stuck with it and enjoyed the puddles and the air.

Which calls you the most the ‘grass being greener’ or the bare spots that need filling with growth?

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January 27

Colours into tones in black & white

Title: Stitches

Exercise: Create a still life from a small group of objects with very pure contrasting colours and even lighting. Take a colour image and then using your digital editing software process different black and white versions – effectively recreating the impact of different coloured filters used with black and white film.

Approach: I decided against using food because I seemed to be working a lot with fruit and vegetables recently.  I had been doing some sewing so went through the cottons and buttons and selected a few different colours and shapes to use. The duck rubber was just for fun!

January 25

Colour Combinations

Title: Accents and combinations

Exercise: Produce three of four images with colour combinations that appeal to you. They can include two or more colours.

Approach: These photographs were taken over a number of weeks as I noticed colours in my environment. Unlike other exercises I generally did not have something in mind before I took the photos, I took to carrying my camera with me and taking shots as I found them.


January 24


After a slightly stressful morning of taking our BSL 102 assessment, this really me made me smile. It felt like a celebratory video was in order!


January 23

A bit of brain work

As some people will know I am a bit of a geek when it comes to wanting to research things I am involved in. I am fascinated with the how and the why as well as the what. BSL has been no exception and I have been reading some research papers on the neuro/science of learning a second language, and sign language in particular. In some ways it has been reassuring to understand the process of acquisition a little more and appreciate that I am struggling with the same  language attainment issues others have faced.

It would appear that for a while researchers thought that the learning and brain activation of an audio-visual language (spoken English) would be different to that of a visual gestural language (BSL). In case you are not already aware BSL is a visual gestural language that consists of three main parts:

  • Fingerspelling – used to spell words letter by letter
  • Word level sign vocabulary – the main communication form
  • Non manual features – facial expression and tongue, mouth and body position

The assumption had been that in BSL because of the perceived emphasis on the visual it would be processed differently by the brain. However, researchers found that the two areas of the brain associated with audio-visual language

  • Broca’s area of the brain, which is thought to be related to speech production and
  • Wernicke’s area, associated with comprehending speech;

are utilised in a similar way regardless. There is now some evidence that Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas are tied to language irrespective of how it is produced.

It suggests the brain is organised for language not for speech. Prof Karen Emmorey


It may sound silly but this has helped me to know that while learning BSL feels like a very different language sometimes, I do have the tools I need to learn it. It would seem that successfully learning BSL goes back to an earlier more fundamental post – practice, practice, practice…!!!