BSL

British Sign Language (BSL) – A Complete Learning Guide

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Lead Academy

We’ve specially created this blog to help new learners take their first steps to the world of British Sign Language. It can be daunting to people who want to learn BSL because of the fact that it is not a traditional language. Finding resources for it may not be easy for a person who does not know what exactly he is looking for or where to look for it. This blog aims to resolve all your concerns by teaching you some basics of BSL.

This article is in partnership with the industry experts who helped & ensure that all of the information we provide is relevant and useful. After reading this blog, you’ll be well-informed about the basics of BSL, and you will be able to make decisions on your BSL learning journey without any help.

There are mainly two types of language learners- ones who learn it solely for communicative purposes and ones who want to get into professions where that language is essential. We’ve addressed both of these types in this blog and made sure that whichever type you belong to will be beneficial to you nevertheless.

This blog will show you why you need to learn BSL and the career you can expect to build based on your BSL knowledge. We will also talk about the factors you’ll need to consider while learning BSL- the accreditation authorities, language levels, BSL courses type and learning material, and the pricing of the courses. We will also give you some handy tips. We also show you the most effective places where you can save both your money and time in learning BSL.

We’ll also introduce you to common BSL signs used in everyday conversations. Moreover, if you’re looking for something specific, you can jump to the section from the Table of Contents. But we still encourage you to read the whole thing as it won’t take much time. Learning any language is a big investment in terms of time and effort. If you’re aware of the caveats before you start out, you will possibly save a lot of time on things that you really don’t need and instead focus on the things that will get you what you want.

So, let’s begin with the basics first. What is BSL?

What is British Sign Language?

British sign language or BSL is the most common sign language used throughout the UK. It’s used not only by the deaf but also by the people who have trouble hearing or speaking. BSL is the combination of

  • Hand Signals
  • Lip Patterns
  • Facial Expressions and
  • Body Movements

As you can see, the primary difference between a spoken language and BSL is its visual nature. Therefore, the people who convey in sign language must see each other clearly to communicate properly.

Furthermore, BSL doesn’t follow the language structure of spoken English.

A sentence in English follows a traditional structure-

Subject + a verb + possibly an object

In the case of BSL, though, the language structure is as follows-

Topic- comment structure

The topic is stated first, and then a comment about that topic is said and subsequently explained. Consider the following example for reference-

In English, we would say: The man is walking on the road.

But in BSL, we would say: Road man walk.

But there are some rules. Have you noticed how, in the example above, the road comes before the man? It’s intentional. The largest object in the ‘painting’ or the ‘scene’ in your mind needs to be communicated first. Then gradually add the smaller elements. The action or the verb, in this case- walk, comes last. So that’s the basic structure of BSL.

With this, we can say that BSL is visual in its nature. So before saying it, you need to paint a mental picture of what you’re going to say and make sure that the other person can easily paint the same image in his mind.

History of British Sign Language

Although officially recognised as a language in 2003, people used British Sign Language alphabets as far back as the 1570s.

The language became more standardised when Thomas Braidwood, a Scottish teacher, set up the first private deaf school in Edinburgh. It’s considered the first school in Britain to include sign language in education and thus laid the groundwork for deaf education in Great Britain.

Who invented British Sign Language?

In “Braidwood’s Academy for Deaf and Dumb”, which opened in 1760, Thomas Braidwood first introduced the combined system, a form of sign language that sets the standards of BSL as we know it today. Braidwood’s school, however, was intended only for children of wealthier parents.

The UK’s first public school for deaf people was also set up by a teacher, Joseph Watson, from this academy. It was the London Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in Bermondsey. He established the school in the late 18th century after completing training under Braidwood.

But it took a long time for BSL to be officially recognised. Most deaf individuals learned sign language unofficially rather than in schools. It also didn’t help that hostility against the language rose in the early 20th century and persisted until the 1970s. The negative mindset towards BSL only subsided when it became apparent that such a mindset wasn’t constructive, and BSL is so much more than just a collection of gestures and pantomime.

Finally, BSL earned its recognition as an official minority language in 2003.

How Many BSL Users in UK?

On the 2011 Scottish Census, the British Deaf Association (BDA) estimated that 151,000 people use BSL in the UK, and 87,000 of these are deaf. However, this figure does not include professional BSL users, interpreters, translators, etc., unless they use BSL at home. According to BDA and official statistics, there are 1.4 hearing people using BSL at home for every deaf BSL user in the home.

(Reference: Wikipedia)


Country

Deaf BSL users

Total BSL users

England
73,000 127,000

Scotland
7,000 12,500

Wales
4,000 7,200

Northern Ireland*
3,000 4,300

TOTAL
87,000 151,000

The number of qualified BSL interpreters and translators in the UK

Professional interpreters are called Registered Sign Language Interpreters or RSLI, and interpreters who are still in training are called Trainee Sign Language Interpreters or TSLI in the UK. According to NRCPD (National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People), there are 908 RSLI and 234 TSLI in the UK. There are 11 registered sign language translators. The source of this information is Signature (October 2015).

Is BSL Universal?

Many people who’re not familiar with BSL are under the false impression that sign languages are universal. In practice, however, this couldn’t be much further from the truth. Sign languages are independent of spoken languages and follow their own paths of development.

For example, English is a universal language. But there is no universal sign language. At least not yet.

Another example is that even though the US and the UK share the same spoken language, the sign language used in these two regions is vastly different. British Sign Language is also different from French Sign Language or German Sign Language.

So, just like any other language, sign language is also a diverse field. Variations exist from country to country.

Wherever there are deaf people, sign languages will evolve there. This stems from the necessity of communication between people, whether they are deaf or not.

Sign languages also show all the variations you would expect from spoken languages. Even regional variations also exist within a country. You can think of them as equivalent to regional accents and colloquialisms found within our spoken languages. Plus, because sign language is relatively isolated compared to a spoken language, the chances of variations go up significantly.

So, no, BSL is not universal. It’s used primarily by the people in Great Britain. Other countries have their own sign languages.

Different regional dialects in BSL

BSL is a part of the family of languages called BANZSL or British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language. They are derivations of the same sign language used in 19th century Britain. So even though they came from the same family of languages, they evolved separately.

Moreover, just like any other language, BSL is constantly evolving. As a result, it can vary so much that a person from one region may find it challenging to communicate with someone from another region. Like a spoken language, BSL can include colloquialisms and dialects used only in a small geographical region or particular towns and cities.

Let’s tackle the diversity of sign languages in the next chapter with some samples of sign languages like ASL and BSL.

 

What Is the Difference between BSL & ASL?

In this section, we will discuss the primary differences between British Sign Language and American Sign Language.

ASL is used exclusively in the US. ASL shares roughly 30% of its signs with BSL. But even then, a user of ASL will be unable to understand BSL. Because, even though there is a significant overlap in the vocabulary, both of these languages are entirely unrelated.

One noticeable difference is the use of the one-handed manual alphabet in ASL and the two-handed manual alphabet in BSL.

Take this image, for example. See how the word ‘cat’ is signed in ASL versus BSL. The difference here is the hand movements.

So, it’s self-explanatory that both these sign languages’ teaching processes and the resources are significantly different. Sound knowledge of BSL won’t automatically give you any fluency in ASL. You have to learn ASL separately from BSL.

The Importance of Learning British Sign Language

In this section, we will discuss the importance of BSL in our lives, why you should choose to learn it, and why BSL should be taught in schools.

Should You Learn BSL?

You might think that since BSL is an isolated language, the need for learning it is quite situational. But that’s not the case. The population of the world is only going to increase in the future, not the other way around. That means more people will add to the total member count in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

As per Contacta, in the UK, the number of adults with hearing loss greater than 25 dBHL is 12 million. It’s equivalent to one in five adults. This number will grow to 14.2 million by 2035. More than 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss in the UK, rising to more than 70% of people over the age of 70.

You can already see how serious the issue is. Roughly 4.37% of the total population of the UK uses BSL currently. This is a massive rise in contrast to just a decade ago. So, awareness of the need to learn sign language is rising steadily. The pace just needs to be a little faster.

However, it’s still understandable if you doubt if sign language skills will come in handy for you ever. Let’s talk about that. It’s not that only a loved one can put you in a situation where you’d think that knowing sign language would’ve been beneficial. There are several other scenarios too. I’m going to discuss them here now.

How does BSL facilitate effective communication?

So here, you’ll see some cases in point to what I said earlier. I’m discussing some scenarios where you’ll see how useful BSL is.

A loved one is deaf or hard of hearing:

If a loved one is deaf or hard of hearing, would you skip on the opportunity of communicating with them if you had the chance? BSL can easily give you that chance. Since you’re learning the language only for casual communication, it’s not going to take that much time or effort to grasp a basic understanding of BSL. So, it’s an easy decision.

Communicating with disabilities:

People with disabilities, including Autism, Apraxia of speech, Cerebral Palsy, and Down Syndrome, also need sign language to communicate. It’s challenging for them to communicate through spoken languages. It’s incredibly common for us to stumble upon people with these disabilities. In this case, sign language can help us fill the communication gap we would otherwise have.

Communication in businesses, health and social care:

Businesses are one of the most likely places where you will feel the need to know sign language to communicate with a client or a customer. Good communication makes people feel valued, cared for and puts them at ease. In today’s world, transparency, a better working environment, and a reputable client/customer relationship are essential for a business or service of any kind to thrive.

Banks, restaurants, retail stores like clothing, drugs, grocery, and convenience stores see many people who communicate in sign language. The same goes for sectors like health and social care. You simply can’t deny service to a person whose only means of communication is signs. First, it’s a gross violation of human rights. Second, it’s against the law in most countries, including the UK. So, knowing sign language yourself or having an employee that can communicate in signs is immensely useful in these instances.

Why you must learn BSL

Let’s roll with the grounds that I laid just now. Not everyone learns sign language to become a full-fledged professional. Even if you don’t plan to become a professional, knowing sign language can give you an edge on your resume or CV.

As we discussed just now, more & more businesses and services need people who know sign language in addition to their core skills. They don’t hire a full-time interpreter in most cases as that’s not a cost-effective solution. Most instances will require you to have a basic understanding of BSL. So, a salesman, a manager or an executive who can communicate in BSL too is all that they need.

If you’re that person this will keep your miles ahead in your job search.

In fact, the point that I’m making here ties very neatly with our next topic.

  1. Schools should teach British Sign Language

BSL is an official Minority Language in the UK, along with Welsh, Cornish or Gaelic. Still, the special kids, whose only means of communication is signs, need to go to special schools with the necessary facilities.

If these kids were to grow up in an environment where all kids learn together, it would help boost their confidence and mental health tremendously. But since they can’t communicate with other kids, they won’t feel at home in traditional educational institutions.

So, why not teach all the kids BSL right from their introduction to language learning?

People have a misconception that kids can’t really begin to grasp a new language until they reach a certain age. But in reality, even most babies can start signing in the range of 8-12 months of age.

Lane Rebelo, a baby sign language instructor and founder of Tiny Signs, suggests that interested parents can begin using sign language with their baby as early as 6-8 months old. But she also suggested not to worry if your child is older since there isn’t a magical window that closes that can prevent your kid from learning BSL.

These initiatives will help the special kids integrate themselves into society faster and teach the regular kids’ empathy and the unity of all human beings from a young age.

  1. Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from job and societal discrimination. As I mentioned earlier, any organisation is legally bound to keep proper accommodations to serve deaf clients. If you’re a business owner, you must keep this Act in mind and train employees accordingly.

If you fail to observe this act in your workplace, you risk facing legal consequences. As failing to observe the Equality Act is a gross violation of human rights, your business will obviously face serious backlash from people. Such infamous incidents have thrown many perfectly fine businesses out of order to such an extent that they had no other option but to close down the operation.

  1. Safeguarding

Children and young people with disabilities are more likely to be abused than their non-disabled peers, and they are also less likely to receive the protection and support if they have been mistreated. When working with deaf and impaired children, professionals often have trouble spotting safeguarding risks.

Everyone who works with deaf and disabled children must understand how to safeguard them from those who would take advantage of their heightened vulnerability. The same is true in safeguarding adults who are deaf or are disabled such that they have to use BSL to communicate.

One of the biggest factors that will allow you to safeguard people against such threats is direct communication. Without knowing BSL, you’ll always have to use another channel to communicate with them which will always risk leaving crucial gaps during translation.

So, if you’re working in an environment that exposes you to people who communicate in signs, start learning BSL. It will make your role much more effective and you’ll feel satisfied empowering your clients and their needs.

  1. BSL as a career

If you’re under the impression that building a career on sign language is impractical, think again. Take a good look at the stats and facts we’ve provided in this discussion. To refresh your memory, take a look at the following chart.

Estimates say that, by 2035, there will be 14.2 million adults in the UK. So, we need trained manpower to serve all these people. As you can see, you can definitely build a successful career here while also lending a hand in helping people.

Career Opportunity in BSL

Let’s say that you’ve learned BSL. So, if you want to build a career out of it, what are your opportunities?

One obvious answer would be becoming an interpreter. But that’s all. Most people assume that there aren’t many other opportunities for those who are skilful in sign language.

You must have guessed by now that this is also a misconception.

In fact, many professions need people who are skilful in sign language.

For example, Emergency Medical Technician is one of the fields where sign language is a must in most cases.

The 6Cs – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence – are the central set of values of the Compassion in Practice strategy. The NHS drew up the 6Cs. One of the ‘C’s, namely- communication, is an integral part of the health care facilities.

So, a lot of hospitals have nurses who can communicate in signs and are hiring more. Universities, too, are seeing more and more Communication Support Workers helping people with disabilities with their education.

As you can see, career opportunities in BSL aren’t one dimensional, as some would assume. It’s a very diverse field, just as the professional fields in any spoken language.

So that’s what I’m going to discuss in this section. I will briefly define the roles, the qualifications you need, and the salary you can expect. Note that, for all of the roles that I’ll discuss now, you’ll be required to know BSL if you aim to work with people who need signs to communicate. The level of BSL mastery you need depends on the job, though.

Sign Language Interpreter

A sign language interpreter is a person trained in translating between a spoken and signed language.

  • Qualification: To become a qualified and registered BSL interpreter, you will need interpreter and BSL qualifications recognised by the Registration Department of Signature (formerly CACDP). For this, you can complete the Signature Level 6 NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting and an approved qualification in BSL.
  • Salary: Between £20,000 and £35,000 per year.

Communication Support Worker (both pre and post 16 years of age)

Communication Support Workers (CSWs) work in colleges, universities and sometimes schools. They help deaf students communicate with their teachers and other students.

  • Qualification: Level 3 Certificate in Communication Support for Deaf Learners.
  • Salary: £18,000 to £22,000 per year.

Sign Language Teacher

BSL teachers teach sign language to children, young people and adults. They also teach other subjects using sign language.

  • Qualification: You can work as a sign language teaching assistant or communication support worker to be trained on the job. It’ll get you a British Sign Language (BSL) qualification at level 3 or higher. You can then do further study for a teaching or training qualification to become a BSL teacher. If you’re already working as a teacher in a school or college, you can also train in BSL.
  • Salary: £20,870- £31,200 per year

Lipspeaker

Lipspeakers make it easier for deaf people who communicate using lipreading to understand what other people are saying. Lipspeakers use clear lip patterns to repeat what is being said by another person. They use facial expressions, natural gestures and/or fingerspelling to aid the lip reader’s understanding. A lipspeaker may be asked to use their voice if the lip reader can benefit from their residual hearing.

  • Qualification: Lipspeakers’ training involves part-time courses and practical experience. You’ll need a Level 3 Certificate in Lipspeaking to work as a professional in this field.
  • Salary: Hourly Rate from £25-40 per hour.

Notetaker

Notetakers are qualified and trained to take notes for deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind people, and people with disabilities. Since notetakers’ qualifications and salary vary wildly from location to location, you’ve to check with your local institutions and businesses regarding who they’re looking for.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech and language therapists provide treatment, care and support to people with a range of conditions, including cleft palate, stammering, language delay and voice disorders. These disorders can be caused by various health or mental conditions and disabilities.

  • Qualification: Consult the website of NHS for information about the entry requirement to become a speech and language therapist here.
  • Salary: Between £31,365 and £37,890 per year. Highly specialised SLPs earn up to £44,503 per year. Management roles can make you even more.

Audiologist

Audiologists are health care professionals. They identify, assess and manage disorders of hearing, balance and other neural systems. With appropriate further training and development, and depending on their employer, they may reach consultant level.

  • Qualification: Again, it’s best if you consult the NHS website for more information about the qualification of an audiologist linked here.
  • Salary: Between £25,654 to £45,838 per year.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

As the name suggests, they’re health care professionals that provide emergency medical services. They’re also called ambulance technicians.

  • Qualification: Read this handy article by BBC linked here. It’ll give you a clear idea about the entry requirement for an EMT. Note that, if you know BSL, you may be tasked with special patients, increasing your pay.
  • Salary: An average of £24,785 per annum, but this depends largely on your qualifications.

Social Worker

Social work is a practice-based profession. It includes professionals who aim to enhance overall well-being and help meet the basic and complex needs of communities and people. They work with various types of people, particularly focusing on the vulnerable, oppressed, and people living in poverty.

  • Qualification: Social work is a graduate profession. To find employment, you’ll need either an honours or a postgraduate degree in social work. The degree will need to be approved by one of the four regulatory authorities. These are:
  1. Social Work England
  2. Social Care Wales
  3. Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC)
  4. Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)
  • Salary: Newly qualified social workers earn between £24,000 and £30,000 per annum. Social workers for the NHS typically earn between £31,365 to £37,890. The amount can well exceed £53,000, depending on your experience.

Psychologist

Psychologists are specialists who study people’s behaviour, motivations, thoughts, and feelings and help them overcome or control their problems.

  • Qualification: Once you’ve completed your psychology degree and an accredited postgraduate qualification in your chosen specialism, you can specialise in a particular area like educational or forensic psychology. For fields such as educational psychology, you’ll be working closely with special people who communicate in signs. That’s where you’ll need a sound knowledge of BSL.
  • Salary: Between £31,365 and £87,754.

Child Care Worker

Childcare workers tend to children’s needs while helping to foster early development in them.

  • Qualification: You can consult this guide here for a detailed list of qualifications needed to work in childcare. If you can add BSL into your qualifications, you can work with special kids too. It will keep you a notch on your job prospect and earn you a higher salary.
  • Salary: An average of £23,233 per year. But this depends largely on your qualifications.

You’re now well informed regarding the career opportunities in BSL. Hopefully, you’ve also decided which one do you want to pursue. But do you know the best practices for learning BSL? Let’s discuss that in the next module.

 

Best Practices for Learning BSL

In this section, we will discuss the best practices that people employ when learning BSL. By best practices, I mean the elements that need to be cherry-picked if you want to learn BSL effectively.

Actually, I’ll show you what requirements you should consider before learning BSL. The other thing you also have to keep in mind is to have your education recognised so you can get a job if you wish. So, the certificate awarding bodies or the accreditation authorities matter the most in this case. I’ll discuss them in detail too.

As you may have guessed, BSL is also divided into different parts or levels, just like a spoken language. When we learn a language, we learn the fundamentals first. Then we dive deeper and deeper into the more complex stuff that helps us gain fluency in the language. BSL is no different. The levels in BSL represent the difficulty of the topics that correspond to each level. We’ll also talk about these levels so you’ll have a clear idea.

In the end, I’ll give you some handy tips for choosing the courses as you level up in your overall BSL education.

 

Things to Consider for Best Practice

Let’s dive deeper into how to prioritise things while learning BSL, especially for professional purposes.

Authority

Though there is no regulatory authority for English language but there are almost 135 language regulator all over the world for different languages. Like other languages, British Sign Language also has a regulatory authority that control the standards and legislation for different form of BSL & training.

If you learn BSL at an institute that is not recognised by any regulatory authority, you may find it difficult to get employed. So, it would be wise to stick to well-recognised institutes for your BSL education.

So, let’s discuss about the leading awarding bodies for BSL

Signature:

Signature is the leading awarding body for deaf communication qualifications in the UK. All Signature qualifications are nationally recognised and accredited by Ofqual (The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation).

If you’re looking to get into professions that need complete fluency in BSL, like sign language interpretation, for example, you can enrol into courses that are accredited by Signature. Some jobs may also require you to have specific qualifications in BSL. In either case, the Signature is responsible for monitoring your qualifications.

Signature exists to provide knowledge and recognise skills in the languages and communication methods used by deaf people. Over twenty-five years, Signature has been highly successful, more than 280,000 candidates have entered for assessments and the number of professionals registered to offer language access services has grown to over 600. Signature’s work has also had an appreciable effect on public policy and service provision helping to shift the emphasis from a paternalistic welfare model to one based on rights and inclusion.

It has been privileged to contribute to several important developments in their sector. Every Sign Language Interpreter, Lipspeaker and Speech-To-Text reporter now working in courts and police stations must be Signature registered. Projects to improve inclusion for deaf people in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales backed by the devolved administrations are in various states of development and delivery. The report on access to communication in English for deaf people has raised awareness of the access issues for the greatest number of deaf people.

Signature accredited courses will be a little more serious since you will be getting into professions where a casual understanding of BSL won’t do. Signature accredited courses are lengthy, typically five-six months, compared to general BSL courses. Plus, for these courses, you’ll have to do live classes in Zoom/Skype etc.

 

The Levels of BSL

Now let’s dive into our next topic, which is the levels in BSL. So, what is ‘level’? Levels in BSL correspond to the level of difficulty of the lessons. There are five levels in total in BSL.

  • Level 01
  • Level 02
  • Level 03
  • Level 04
  • Level 06

Each level is increasingly difficult to master.  Level 1 is a basic introduction to BSL, while after going through level 2, you’ll be capable of conversing in BSL with anyone in an informal manner. The fluency depends on you. The more you practice, the more fluent you’ll become.

Level 3 will award you a certificate. It’s a qualification. If you can earn this certificate, you’ll be able to work as a Communications Support Worker. As you may have guessed, level 3 isn’t necessarily required if your only goal is to have an average fluency in BSL. However, if you want to get a job where the primary skill expected from you is BSL fluency, then level 3 certification is a must.

If you’re looking to become an interpreter, you can jump straight to level 6 from level 3. However, it’s evident that there is a chance that you’ll struggle to master the language. The reason behind this will be the gap that level 4 BSL will help you fill up. After level 6, you can work as a full-fledged BSL interpreter or even a sign language teacher if you have the necessary teaching qualifications.

 

Ways of Learning

Now, we’re going to dive into the course types, materials and pricing that you’ll want to know before starting. Note that I’m going to talk about courses that are on BSL specifically. As for course types, there are mainly 3 kinds.

1. Physical Classes

Physical classes are one of the best ways to learn BSL. They are sort of like webinars. The trainer will teach specific number of students. You’ll follow the trainer’s lectures and learn along with your fellow classmates. Since its interactive, you’ll have a practical hands-on experience of the language. The limitations of self-paced online courses will not hold you back here. Since the instructor controls the pace of your lessons, they’ll be well organised and you’ll pretty swiftly develop the appropriate gestures in BSL.

But the main issue here is that not everyone has the time to attend physical classes. It’s time consuming and cumbersome at times. It will also be quite expensive compared to other forms of lessons. That’s understandable as accommodations doesn’t come cheap these days. So, you’ll have to factor in these things in case you decide to attend physical classes.

2. Tutored course via live (Zoom, Skype etc.)

If you’ve ever done an online class, you should already be familiar with this concept. Online Zoom class is a great opportunity to learn BSL and interact with tutors in a live class. Throughout this Live Zoom class, you will save time, and money on travelling and be able to attend the live zoom classes and even sit for the final BSL exam remotely from anywhere in the UK. Live Zoom Courses are also accredited by Signature, Ofqual regulated nationally recognised qualifications.

3. Self-paced course

Independent courses are self-paced since they’re pre-recorded premium video tutorials. The length is around 20-30 hours long. You can complete the self-paced online course at your own time from anywhere in the UK and the course materials are accessible 24/7 from any device. Once you complete the course, you can sit for an assessment online and earn your certificate.

4. Reading Books

If you’re up for some reading, you can opt to learn BSL from books as well. All of them will give you a fairly comprehensive insight into BSL. Thought books re an excellent resource to get you started, learning any language purely from a book is always a challenge.

5. Watching YouTube

With several videos to learn from, YouTube videos have made life easier in recent years. You can easily take advantage of such an opportunity and improve your BSL abilities. However, you can only find basic BSL words and sentences on YouTube, that will help you learn a few BSL words and phrases, but that won’t take you far. It is rare for YouTube videos to provide the learners with the comprehensive information. We will discuss about them a bit later.

6. Deaf Society

One of the best ways to enrich your BSL abilities is to get involved with deaf people. By joining a deaf community, you will be able to understand and be familiar with the deaf culture.  In other words, when you’re around Deaf people you will learn to respect their traditions; you can easily master sign language by observing and asking questions. All you have to do is watch and learn.

 

How Long Does It Take to Learn BSL?

Although this is a very common question asked by almost every sign language student, the answer is- it depends from learner to learner. There is no definitive answer to this.

Why?

Because BSL is a language! Just like any other language, the time it takes for a person to gain fluency in BSL depends mainly on that person. Some people are fast learners, some are busy, some have attention deficit, some don’t have the luxury of practising, and some are just lazy- all these factors can affect the learner of any language.

But I can give a general guideline.

Learn British Sign Language at your own pace

In the case of courses accredited by CPD, they usually run around a few hours long. You can just complete the whole thing in two or three days if you want. But since they are just videos, you can learn them at your own pace and are accessible from any device.

If you’re a slow learner, have a hard time paying attention, or are busy with so many other things, then courses like ours are perfect for you. However, since you will have lifetime access to the pre-recorded video courses, you will have plenty of time to take it slow and learn the language at your own pace.

Learn British Sign Language for a job

If you’re learning BSL to become an interpreter, a communication support worker or a sign language teacher, you can’t control the pace of your BSL education. Instead, it will primarily be dictated by the qualification awarding body like Signature. In their case, you must attend a class for a fixed number of hours before you can attend the exam.

In their assessment system, live or physical classes are called Guided Learning Hours or GLH. GLH also includes the time you spend on assessment. Then there are Additional Study Hours that include a private study, homework, practices, etc.

So, from Level 1 BSL to Level 6 BSL, the GLH and the Additional Study Hours change a lot. Let me show it to you on a table so that you can take a look at the whole thing at a glimpse.

BSL Level & Total Qualification Time in Hours Guided Learning Hours Additional Study Hours Equivalent to
BSL Level 1 (90) 64 26
BSL Level 2 (150) 100 50
BSL Level 3 (250) 130 120 A-level
BSL Level 4 (300) 180 120
BSL Level 6 (360) 180 180 Degree level

 

As you can see from the table, the time it’ll take for you, largely depends on how the classes are arranged for you. BSL Levels 1 and 2 will not take much time for you to complete. But BSL Level 3 will generally take an academic year. After you complete Level 3 BSL, you can work on jobs like Communication Support Worker.

You can jump straight to BSL Level 6 from BSL Level 3. But it isn’t recommended. Take the BSL Level 4 course to bridge the gap in your knowledge. After you complete BSL Level 6, you’ll earn a degree level qualification. This will enable you to work in professions like sign language teaching or interpreting. BSL Level 6 also takes about one to one and a half academic years to complete.

 

How much does it cost to learn BSL?

Costs vary wildly for BSL lessons. There are a number of factors that will determine how much you have to spend. Location, mode of class (for example, online or physical), instructors- these are among a few of the factors that will determine the final price.

However, do remember that pricing is not a good indicator of quality. A £500 course or lesson may not always be better than a £50 one, despite being 10 times costlier. You will have to research costs and the institute or the organisation that will train you.

 

How to Learn British Sign Language?

Now let’s address how to learn BSL or British Sign Language. There are many ways to learn BSL, but some are better than others. As for how long it takes to learn BSL, it depends on your goal, where you’re learning it, and how much time you’re willing to invest in it. Whatever way you learn BSL and however long it takes, it’s worth every effort you put into it. Learning any language can be satisfying, but BSL especially can be both beneficial and well worth it for you.

So, let’s get into our first discussion: what are the best ways to learn BSL? In the modern age of smartphones, you can learn just about anything with the touch of a finger. The same goes for learning BSL as well.

But there’s a catch.

None of these will teach you the language effectively. It solely depends on practice, the more you practice, the more fluent you become. So, among the best ways to learn BSL, the first one is-

Hiring a private, qualified sign language tutor

You can enrol for a BSL live zoom class with a qualified sign language tutor. This option is just like taking a course in a physical classroom. You will have one-to-one tutor support and find other classmates in the virtual class. That will help you to communicate in sign language and practice more in-depth.

So, why should you opt for an instructor?

  • You can have a one-to-one interaction with the instructor.
  • If you can handle the expense of physical classes or classroom learning, go for it. But, if you don’t have the budget, you can go for a live course which doesn’t have much difference.
  • Learning through a tutor from the live classes will help you cut the travel cost and time.

If you’re looking to get a job like an interpreter or a sign language teacher, you should look up the official qualifications that your job requires. Leading awarding bodies like Signature, who offer BSL qualification certificates that Ofqual recognised, require you to attend a live or a physical classroom to learn BSL.

Many organisations can help you with an instructor; all you have to do is pick the one for you.

For example, Lead Academy offers multiple BSL courses, from Level 1 to Level 6, which are recognised by Signature. All you need to do is get to Lead Academy’s website, click on the live chat button and contact our customer support and they will escort you to the course.

Taking Sign Language Classes

Taking sign language classes is one of the most effective ways to learn BSL. Not only will you learn in a formal setting, but you’ll also have lots of co-learners with whom you can practice.

You’ll also save some time as you won’t need to practice as much at home. But these courses tend to be pricey. You have to factor in the instructors, the overhead of the institution and the cost of the educational materials that they have to provide you.

 Learn BSL Online by Watching Videos or Taking an Online Course

You can also learn BSL online by taking an online course or watching YouTube videos; for example, here are a few popular YouTube channels.

However, YouTube isn’t the only source for these videos. Take Sign BSL for example. Their website has a vast number of vocabularies for BSL. You just type in the word and a video will pop up showing you how to sign that word.

Needless to say, I’d much prefer a video course than looking around in Google for free stuff. You can certainly learn some BSL words, and phrases by looking up “Basic BSL words and sentences” on YouTube, but that won’t take you far. If you’re up for some light reading, even blogs can help you a little bit here, like you can learn BSL Alphabets here.

But, as I said earlier- blogs, YouTube videos, or a search in Google won’t take you far. Online courses tend to be much cheaper than live zoom classes because of the nature of pre-recorded online courses. If you’re just looking for some basic understanding of BSL, then there are plenty of options for you.

Before I wrap up here, I think you should be aware of a few more benefits of an online course.

  • You can learn at your own pace.
  • Most of these online courses will only take a few hours to complete.
  • If you carefully select a high-quality course, it will be just as beneficial as doing a course in a physical classroom.
  • You can save time and money on travelling.
  • You can have 24/7 access to an online platform from any device.

Reading Sign Language Books

If you love reading, you can collect books like the following.

These are the most popular books for learning BSL. However, we’d still suggest taking an online course or watching some videos on BSL along with these books.

Joining Deaf Forums

These are some popular BSL forums where people discuss their language journey. Although you may not become a fluent BSL user, you’ll still have quite some useful information and help from the sign language user communities that use these forums.

Deaf Awareness Training

Before closing and heading to our next topic, let’s discuss one more thing that is also closely connected with BSL, and that is- Deaf Awareness Training.

Deaf Awareness Training isn’t strictly a language programme. It aims to improve the productivity of deaf staff and trains them to provide service to deaf or hard of hearing customers.

You’ll also learn how to deploy more deaf-friendly services, which is a largely untapped market at the moment. It’s estimated that by 2035, there will be 14.5 million people with hearing loss in the UK alone.

If your business knows how to handle deaf-friendly services, not only can you look forward to doing business with people who have very few other options at the moment, but you will also feel good about having an impact on people’s lives while doing business.

 

Basic British Sign Language

Listed below is some basic sign language that you can learn as a beginning credential and use in your daily course of life:

  • Alphabet
  • Colour
  • Basic Sentences

 

Conclusion

This article aims to be the ultimate guide for anyone thinking of starting to learn BSL. Whether you want to learn BSL just for casual communication or you want your BSL skills to get you into a viable profession, we have detailed everything for you. From how to start to how to learn and from costs to different ways of learning to gain the required skills- we have left nothing out of this guide.

If you’ve jumped all the way to this conclusion, let’s give a quick rundown of why people are interested in learning BSL now. Anyone can be affected by hearing loss. In fact, hearing parents give birth to 90% of deaf children. You will be able to communicate with deaf persons in your environment, such as deaf colleagues, relatives, or friends, by learning simple signs. This ability will improve your communication abilities, and deaf individuals will appreciate your efforts. Moreover, with another language on your CV, you can also stand out from the others. Multilingual candidates are already highly sought after in most industries. With the ability to serve clients who communicate in signs, you’ll become a very lucrative candidate for any employer.

But, it’s more than likely that you will have your own reasons for learning BSL, whether it’s to satisfy your curiosity, learn a new language, meet new people, or connect with your beloved deaf. There are many reasons to get started, but you’ll find that there are many more reasons to keep going.

That’s what this guide is all about: to help you keep going. We’ve laid everything in order.

With that said, we hope that you have a great British Sign Language journey. If you think that we’ve missed something here, feel free to join our Facebook group and leave us a message there. Alternatively, you can email us at info@lead-academy.org. You can also find us on LinkedIn. Do let us know how we can improve this guide. Your valuable feedback is very important to us. If you love this guide, feel free to share it with people so that they or somebody they know can benefit from it.

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