The first deaf contestant on Strictly Come Dancing has inspired a surge in people learning British Sign Language. The director of one firm offering BSL courses told Radio 1 Newsbeat enrolments have gone up by more than 2,000% since Rose Ayling-Ellis has been on the show. Google Trends, which analyses online search data, also suggests more and more people are interested in learning.
Rose, 26, is best known for playing Frankie Lewis in EastEnders. But she’s made headlines throughout this year’s Strictly competition as she repeatedly brings attitudes towards disability into the spotlight.
Russell Fowler, director of the website BSL Courses, says there are always “spikes” in people signing up to learn sign language following new episodes of Strictly. “On one Saturday we had over 1,000 and another time we received 778,” he says. “In August we were averaging around 20 to 30 enrolments a day, but by November, we were receiving an average of 400.” These stats are backed up by digital PR researchers Molly Jordan, 21, and Maddie Peacey, 23.
The pair, who are both from Oxford and describe themselves as Strictly super fans, have been monitoring Google Trends since the series began. “When I was first watching it, I thought I’d love to learn sign language myself and I wondered if other people were thinking the same thing,” Molly says. She found that search for the terms “learn sign language” and “sign language course” had increased by 300% and 222% since November 2020, respectively. Molly and Maddie both decided to sign up for lessons. ‘I feel so proud’ “With people wearing masks it’s an even better time to start learning,” says Maddie. “We’ve learnt the basics and how to say ‘good luck, Rose’. “Molly adds: “It’s exciting and you feel so proud when you’ve achieved something and you’re able to communicate it. “We’re also trying to teach it to friends and colleagues, so it spreads.”
Sixth form student Daisy Bennett, 16, says her sign language lessons will help her goal to become a child psychologist. “I’ve always been intrigued by BSL and how deaf people communicate and after watching Rose on Strictly, I felt like it was time to take it up,” says Daisy, who lives in Essex. “So far I’ve learnt the whole alphabet and some basic communication, so like ‘hello, goodbye, my name is’, as well as basic objects around the house.”
The college student says sign language is different to other languages she’s had lessons on in the past because “a lot of the signs are similar and you don’t include every word like you do when you speak”. Eventually, Daisy wants to be able to “have a full conversation with someone who uses sign language”. ‘It’s crazy’
Jason Tennant, 29, is a BSL teacher, in Margate, Kent. He is profoundly deaf and has used BSL to communicate all of his life.https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-59474819
During lockdown, Jason noticed he was getting more sign-ups, with people wanting to “be better allies to the deaf community”. But he says Rose’s Strictly appearance has accelerated things further. “We’re getting enquiries for courses beginning in September 2022. That’s crazy because we usually start new classes in September or January, but that might change with all the new demand.” Learning sign language isn’t as difficult as people might think, Jason says, adding that most of his students “achieve the basics” within about 20 weeks. “You’d be amazed with how much you already employ BSL by yourself. There are universal signs out there that we use already in our everyday life.” Jason has known Rose for a few years and says “she’s a lovely presence to be around”. He says he’s loved watching her throughout the series, and was particularly moved by hers and Giovanni’s Couple’s Choice dance which featured a “silent moment” in tribute to the deaf community. “When the music cut, it felt like our world was on show for a brief moment,” Jason says. “I was sat on the floor, tears streaming down my face. I tried to talk to my partner but my emotions got the better of me, so he just came and hugged me and we just watched Rose be herself.” “I’m still bowled over that someone like me could be on [Strictly], such a massive institution.”