An eye-opening conversation with Liam Manktelow-van den Heuvel, a Second-Year Creative Business student at BUas and a sign language proficient. We are discussing the deaf representation in the media, the initiative of starting his own sign language courses for students, as well as him demonstrating some of the basic words and phrases, needed to start learning sign language.

“Deaf people are becoming a big power now.”

From a wider perspective, do you consider it important nowadays to learn and know more about sign language?

Deaf people are becoming a lot more prominent in the media. There are the Quiet Place movies, even though the sign language used there isn't proper at all. There's also Shoshannah Stern, from the TV show Supernatural, she is a big part of the deaf community. And not to forget, there's Nyle DiMarco, the deaf man who won America's Next Top Model. My aunt's ex-wife did a bunch of seminars with him in New York.

And something I saw when I was growing up is a lot of hearing kids; They didn't learn sign language, even if they had deaf parents, and I feel that if something is part of your life or something that's going to be part of your life, you should at least learn a little bit to understand it.

Have you seen some change in the representation in the media of deaf people?

A definite start of representation in the media was with the original movie Hush (1998) in which “Hush (2016)” was based on back in the 90s. It goes all the way back from there. Then it started with more deaf characters and movies. Not a lot of people will know this, but there was an AMCs show ‘’Switched at Birth’’, where the sign language was also terribly inaccurate. Indeed, the character who played the deaf girl was deaf, but they made her sign completely different signs. It wasn't sign language, it was something that the studio made because it seemed easier for them to also remember. The character who played the deaf girl was deaf, but they made her sign completely different signs. It wasn't sign language, it was something that the studio made because it seemed easier for them to also remember.

“I think to get proper deaf representation, we need to keep with accuracy.”

It's also about the quality of the representation, and about actually showcasing the deaf community how it is, or it isn’t, right?

Yes, a few years ago, there was also a biopic movie ‘The Hammer’ about the UFC fighter who's deaf. He and my mother went to university together. They were great friends; they even went out on a few dates. That movie was extremely consulted by him and it's accurate, with usage of correct sign language and tones. To be honest, it's not diversity, if you don't represent the person properly and show that you know their culture and everything that they've gone through.

What do you believe is the most important quality for knowing and using sign language for someone who is just starting to learn?

Just remember that it’s not something to memorize. It's like an extension of something you're saying. Imagine - you're saying the words in your head, but you're also kind of representing them as you're speaking. It's like when you're waving your hands around. When you're speaking, you're demonstrating, you're telling a story, you're moving something along. And that's how sign language is. You're creating a picture for someone. And that's the most important part of it. Consider it like a tool that you just use as a way of communication.

As far as I know, you are also organizing courses for Creative Business students that want to learn sign language. What motivated you to start upon that? And what are your main desires to get from it?

There are two main reasons I started it. Ultimately, I want to become a teacher. But then, there's also the fact that sign language is going into the media so much more. I think if people really learned it, they could represent it properly. And again, misrepresentation is the reason why people are turned off to a lot of things.

If you had to give one reason for people to learn at least the basics of sign language, and possibly go into it afterward, what would that be?

One basic thing for sign language is to just learn the alphabet. It's the simplest thing, as you can do it within 10 seconds. My mother can do the alphabet forwards and backward within four seconds. No matter how fast you’re going, deaf people will understand. You might get a few letters wrong; you might have some trouble. But it's better to get something slightly wrong, than just not learn it at all, right?

Could you show us some basic words or phrases in sign language that are easy to learn and understand?

Of course, I would love to do so!

The short instruction video can be found below:

“Sign language is not complicated. It’s just that people need to have a drive for it. And that's the issue.”

What advice would you give for people that would want to learn sign language?

I know it seems foolish, but watch children's programs about it. There's a children's program we used to put on for my little brother when he was having trouble learning sign language. It's called ‘’Signing Time with Alex and Leah’’ and it teaches a lot of basic signs. But it also explains a little bit about the culture, just enough, so it's not too much of an overload. The show's very repetitive in order to learn, they even put music to it. So, hearing people can learn it like phonics, it's very easy and kind of fun. I still see kids using it and it's just something interesting for you to do.

Do you have any other suggestions about shows or something else that you would consider helpful for people to start getting into it?

People interested in getting into sign language should watch the basic instruction videos that most people put online. Just go into the short tutorial ones with a few camera angles. There's a clip for one to 20 that I use in my class, it takes maybe a minute and 30 seconds.

Are there any final words you have?

If you're really interested in sign language, just look up curriculums that deaf schools have for kindergarteners. They're easy to find online - Sir James Whitney - they have plenty of videos online. Also, if you're hearing and you have a deaf child - send them to a deaf school. A lot of people who have deaf children end up sending them to a hearing school. They think they'll have more of social life and connect with more people. But it’s really because the parents don't want to send the children away - as lots of deaf schools are being shut down and a lot of children have to go far away. If you send a hearing child to a deaf school, it's just going to feel weird. He's not going to feel like he fits in and it's the same thing with a deaf child.

“The best thing for a deaf child is to be around more deaf people. Simple as that.”