In a recent TEDx talk in Chelmsford last week, Paul Martin, who offers communication training, discussed how learning, teaching and interpreting British Sign Language (BSL) led to him understanding how to communicate effectively and teach others the skill.
The talk, which can now be viewed online, included how BSL relies heavily on facial expressions and body language, the connection between this and what we are saying, as well as how teaching BSL can help people to improve their body language.
In a unique and interactive demonstration, Paul played a recording of himself on a screen, whilst interpreting himself on stage. During this, he explained how the difference between signing “I am happy” compared to “I am very happy” all comes down to facial expression and body language.
After this, Paul went on to explain the process of anchoring in his communication courses, which is combining expressions to words a person is using, and how this is exactly the same when it comes to using sign language.
Speaking in his talk about this, he said that anchoring leads to body language “becoming an instinctive part of the same language which you already know, unlike the traditional methods which we have always used, which is to separate body language out and make it a conscious second language.”
As well as this, Paul addressed the issue that comes with thinking about body language consciously alongside what we are actually saying, and how it all comes down to an inability to multi-task.
“We can’t multi-task when the tasks require conscious thought. If they are instinctive on the other hand, we can do many different tasks.
“If you are faced with two conscious tasks that require thought – for example, stroking your tummy and tapping your head and then switching your hands – we often struggle with that, because we reach something called cognitive low. We reach the limit of what we can do at the same time and something has to give.” he continued.
With BSL being a language which focusses purely on facial expressions and body language, those who are looking to work on these skills in order to communicate more effectively, don’t have to worry about multi-tasking this with speech.
When I asked Paul about what he found fascinating about learning sign language, he said: “I immediately felt I naturally had an affinity with the language.”
He then went on to add: “In the early days, when I was just starting to get to grips with the language, I was fascinated by the differences in individual sign language styles. Up until that point I had mistakenly assumed that sign language was universal in terms of how it was delivered, but in fact there are as many personal nuances to delivery as you may find with spoken languages.”
Additionally, with BSL being such a visual and emotive language, can deaf people benefit from being able to communicate more effectively than hearing people, since the language has such a key focus on expressions?
Paul said: “I have always found that deaf people are naturally (and necessarily) better at physically expressing themselves than hearing people.”
He added: “Nevertheless, becoming aware of the psychological role that body-language and facial expression play in effective communication can provide an additional bedrock and direction from which to develop their communication skills further.”
Paul Martin’s TEDx talk is now available to watch on YouTube. As well as watching it above, you can watch it here.