Meet the second year who learnt sign language before she learnt to speak

‘It would be so useful when you are clubbing’


Emma grew up in a family that spoke only in sign language. Her mother is deaf and her father is hard of hearing. While Emma may not be deaf herself, sign language is her first language. Her first word  was even in sign language.

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Signing has let me into the deaf world which is a completely different one to the hearing world. The deaf community is one big family.

I really think that everyone should learn signing because it would be so useful when you are clubbing.

Once when I was in Hive I met someone who was deaf who actually knew my mum. Its such a small community that I can meet people in Barcelona who know my mum or my uncle. It helps that my mum was a big footballer in the deaf community.

I had to go to a private nursery that was paid for by the local council because I needed extra help to learn to read. My mum essentially forced the council to let me go there. Normally that nursery was for deaf children and initially I wasn’t allowed to go as I wasn’t deaf.

Sign language doesn’t use words like ‘it’, ‘and’ and ‘but’. They have no tenses really which made learning to read so much more difficult. I only realised how much difference there was between me and everyone else when I started doing exams and that was where I struggled the most.

It’s quite different when I go back home because the house is completely silent. There is no need to talk, even with my brother. Although it can cause a couple of housekeeping problems. For example, recently mum flooded the house because she couldn’t hear that she had left the upstairs tap on and flooded the whole of our downstairs.

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I find that it is actually quite useful when I am with my brother in public and someone is annoying us and we want to talk about it without them knowing. But this can lead to people staring which is really irritating. People tend to assume that because one or two people in a group are deaf then everyone there must be.

My brother and I can hear like most people but also sign when we are with our family. This means that sometimes we can hear people saying things about us which really is just a bit rude. People aren’t used to seeing people sign as the deaf community is actually a really small one. I don’t mind that people are interested but I just don’t like being stared at.

My mum gets really irritated because people think that because she is deaf she is less competent. In public I used to do a lot of the speaking for her. I asked mum once to call up my phone company to unlock my sim-card and was hung up on 4-5 times because they couldn’t be bothered to deal with her and her mini com (which is the way that she can call people) because it takes a little bit longer than usual. She eventually gave up and I did it instead. When I called it took 10 minutes.

She is now combating this by not telling people that she is deaf. She did it for a month to see what happens and it has made her way more confident as people just treated her like a normal person.  Whereas if she told them that she is deaf they treat her completely differently. Sometimes it is a little patronising.

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Facebook has allowed the deaf community to become better connected. Facebook allows videos to be posted by all types of people. It allowed mum to discover things that she has in common with other deaf people. It has opened up channels of communications which is amazing.

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There is quite a large language barrier, even between me and mum. Most of our fights come from miscommunication. To me the hearing world and the deaf world are quite different. For example, a lot of things that hearing people wouldn’t find offensive would be to deaf people. Sign is a very honest language and my mum can be brutally honest. They don’t really have the time to be overly nice. It means that all deaf people in my experience that you meet are really honest.