What is British Sign Language (BSL)?
BSL involves a combination of hand shapes and movements, lip patterns, facial expressions and shoulder movements. It has its own grammar and is structured in a completely different way from English.
BSL is only used in the UK. In Northern Ireland, people who are Deaf like to use Irish Sign Language (ISL) and BSL.
Who uses BSL?
BSL is the language of the UK’s Deaf community, who often describe themselves as Deaf with a capital D to emphasise their deaf identity. Based on the 2011 census, we estimate that there are at least 24,000 people across the UK who use sign language as their main language, although this is likely to be an underestimate.
Many people who are hearing also learn BSL as a second language. Some for personal interest, others because they have a friend, relative or colleague who is deaf, or because they wish to begin a career working with people who are deaf.
Where can I learn BSL?
The best way to learn BSL is to take a course taught by a qualified BSL tutor who is fluent in the language. As BSL is a 3D language, it’s very difficult to learn from a book, website or video, though these can be useful resources if you want to practise at home.
Most BSL tutors are deaf and hold a relevant teaching qualification. The courses will usually be part-time or evening classes. You can find out where BSL courses are held in your area by contacting your local council – search online, or look in your local phone directory for contact details.
What do BSL interpreters do?
BSL interpreters allow communication to take place between people who are deaf, and count British Sign Language as their first language, and hearing people.
They're regulated by a body called The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD). All registered interpreters are bound by the NRCPD’s code of conduct, which means they have to respect confidentiality and stay completely impartial.
How can I book a BSL interpreter?
Find out how to book a sign language interpreter with Action on Hearing Loss in our section Communication support. All our sign language interpreters are registered with NRCPD.
You can find out more about BSL, including what qualifications are available if you're thinking about training to be a BSL interpreter, in our factsheet Learning British Sign Language