Break the Silence

I am a boring mum.

That’s my eight-year old’s verdict.

My crime? I don’t play with my children often enough.

“Play netball in the garden with me, mum.”

“Not now, darling, it’s too late.”

“Play Top Trumps with me.”

“Not now, sweetheart, I am reading the papers.”

“Play Monopoly with me.”

“Not now.”

Frankly, I’ve never been much for playing board games. I’d rather read a good book.

When my daughter recently celebrated her birthday, one of the many gifts she received from friends and family was a game called Hearing Things: the lip-reading challenge and, in an attempt to pick up some house points, I agreed to play.

To play this game, one player puts on specially designed speech-cancelling electronic headphones, and the other player says the random phrase shown on a card such as “The road is full of potholes,” Special offer on mushrooms this week,” or “I can’t stop laughing at my joke.” The person with the headphones must guess what’s been said, in order to score points.

headphones-152341_640Whenever we play a game that relies on memory skills, my daughters always win, but this was a game where your chances of winning depended on your ability to lip read. And owing to a lifetime of hearing loss, there’s one thing I am good at, lip reading. My daughters didn’t stand a chance against me, as I accurately ‘guessed’ phrase after phrase after phrase.

I am now banned from ever playing this game with them again.

And I am still boring, I’m told.

My crime? I had the audacity to beat my kids at a game and then gloat about it.

While my ability to lip read helped me win a game played for fun, lip reading is a serious issue for people who are either deaf or severely hearing impaired.

After sign language, lip reading is one of the most common ways for deaf people to communicate. But whereas sign language offers a complete system of communicating, lip reading only allows a deaf person to understand what others are saying, and not to communicate themselves.

Thanks to advances in hearing aid technology and cochlear implants, and the development of auditory verbal therapy, sign language is not the only option for deaf children today. Even so, British Sign Language (BSL) remains the preferred language of around more than 87,000 deaf people in Britain, according to the British Deaf Association. Other reports suggest the number of people using BSL as a primary means of communication is well above 100,000.

BSL is recognised by the UK government as an official minority language with similar status as Gaelic and Welsh, and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) currently campaigns for BSL to be taught in schools and offered as a GSCE, to help bridge the gap between hearing and deaf worlds.

For anyone doubting the importance of BSL, the Oscar-winning short film, The Silent Child, should be required viewing. It tells the story of Libby, a four-year-old girl born deaf into a hearing family, preparing to start school. Although the characters are fictional, the film is inspired by real-life events and calls attention to the lack of specialist support for deaf children attending mainstream schools.

As someone who’s lived with moderate hearing loss for most of my life, I know all too well the isolating feeling of not being able to hear what people say. Although I automatically lip read when in conversation with others, and when watching television, I increasingly depend on my high-tech hearing aids. And though I’m unlikely to ever lose my hearing altogether, I’d jump at the chance to learn sign language and be able to communicate with people whose first language is BSL.

  • To sign the NDCS-sponsored petition for British Sign Language to be taught in British schools, click here.
  • To find out more about British Sign Language, click here.


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