What is British Sign Language?
British Sign Language (BSL) is the language of the Deaf community in Great Britain, which has its own set of social beliefs, behaviours, art, history and values. People in the Deaf community describe themselves as ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ to express their pride in their Deaf identity.
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.
In BSL, you start with the main subject or topic. After that, you refer to something about the topic – for example:
English: What is your name?
BSL: Name – what?
In Northern Ireland, Irish Sign Language (ISL) is used as well as BSL.
What is fingerspelling?
Fingerspelling is the BSL alphabet. Certain words – usually names of people and places – are spelled out on fingers. Fingerspelling alone isn’t sign language, but it can help you to communicate with someone who is Deaf. You can quickly learn the fingerspelling alphabet with our free fingerspelling card.
How 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. Most BSL tutors are deaf and hold a relevant teaching qualification. As BSL is a 3D language, it’s very difficult to learn from a book, website or video alone, though these can be useful resources if you want to practise at home.
BSL courses are held in colleges, universities, schools, deaf clubs and community centres. Some BSL courses offer a very basic introduction to BSL, but most offer qualifications.
Courses that offer qualifications are usually part-time or evening classes that run from September to June. But you might be able to find an intensive course with daytime or weekend classes. You can find out more about courses offering BSL qualifications in your area by visiting the websites of awarding bodies Signature and the Institute of British Sign Language (iBSL).
By phone: 03332 405 658
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What do BSL interpreters do?
BSL interpreters enable communication between Deaf sign language users and hearing people. If you need to book an interpreter, check they are registered with either The National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) or the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI).
You can book a BSL sign language interpreter through Action on Hearing Loss. All our interpreters are registered with NRCPD.