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How Long Does It Take to Learn BSL


Lead Academy

12 Mins Read

How long does it take to learn BSL? Although every sign language student asks this question, the answer is- “it depends”. It depends on what you’re aiming to do with your BSL mastery.


Because British Sign Language or BSL, is 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 a learner of any language.

But that’s not to say that there’s a general standard that can give you a rough estimate of how long your BSL education can take. Your BSL education can come in both formal and informal forms. Depending on what your goal is, there are different levels to BSL education. Each level corresponds to varying levels of fluency. With each level, you’ll be more comfortable in the fluid use of this language.

So, that’s what we will discuss today. This blog will help you understand the general timeline that a standard BSL education can take.

Two Women signing in British sign language

Is it Hard to Learn Sign Language?

The heading might surprise anyone into thinking how it relates to the time it takes for someone to learn BSL. But in fact, it is very relevant in the sense that the more complex a language is, the more time it will take for you to learn the language. So the difficulty of a language directly correlates to the time spent in learning it.

Then comes the question of whether BSL can be regarded as a traditional language and if the general facts of a spoken language are also valid for BSL too.

The answer for both of these is yes too. That’s because even if BSL isn’t spoken, it has very much developed and is continuing its development like a traditional language. 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.

Let’s give you a hint as to how old this language is.

blog-starHow to learn BSL online?

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History of BSL

British Sign Language (BSL) has been in use for hundreds of years. We can find references to this language even in Greek and Roman writings as well as the Bible. English Physician and Philosopher John Bulwar dedicated his book called Philocophus (1648) to his two deaf brothers. In 1644 he published a book called Chirologia that describes using signs and gestures. Some of these signs and gestures resemble signs that are still in use.

But the BSL in use today got its recognition as an official minority language back in 2003.

So, although the recognition of the language is relatively recent compared to other languages, it’s a full-fledged language.

Linguists have identified five basic components that a natural language has:

1. Phonology

2. Morphology

3. Syntax

4. Semantics

5. Pragmatics

Other than phonology which sign languages can’t have since nothing is spoken, all the other components of BSL are fully developed, and they are continuing their natural development further. This is apparent in the differences between sign languages and the regional dialects that we see in the same family of sign languages.

But it is noteworthy that these components of a natural language can’t necessarily apply to sign languages because of the nature of how they are communicated. But these components are more or less present in sign languages in some form.

Sign languages also show all the variations you would expect from different 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.

Two individuals communicating in British sign language

So, what do all these discussions entail?

As you can see, BSL is a full-fledged language with a vast number of users, and more people are adopting it as their primary means of communication. It’s a compromise-free alternative for people who can’t use a spoken language for communication for one reason or another.

Why? Because BSL isn’t difficult to learn. As a result, it’s not just the deaf that are using BSL for communication. Even industrial parks that are so loud that their employees wear ear mufflers train their employees to learn BSL so they can communicate just as fluently and effectively as a spoken language.

Further, you can read this creative piece and recognise the importance of BSL.

Woman teaching how to use British sign language

British Sign Language Qualifications

You’ll see that the degree of knowledge and the qualifications in BSL is referred to as Levels. Each level corresponds to the level of difficulty of the lessons as well as the level of BSL knowledge that can be expected from a certain individual. There are five levels in total in BSL:

  • 1.Level 01
  • 2.Level 02
  • 3.Level 03
  • 4.Level 04
  • 5.Level 06

Each BSL Level is increasingly difficult to master; however, the task becomes easier if you learn it from the expert. 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 BSL 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 that is 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 is 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.

Two individuals signing in British sign language

Do You Need a BSL Course to Learn Sign Language?

Obviously yes. BSL is a language. You’ll need someone to help you understand and practice the language. If you don’t have a family member or a friend who can help you understand and practice the language, you’ll need a mentor. This mentor can also come in the form of a course.

But you can learn some very basic stuff by surfing for BSL education resources on the internet.

Needless to say that I’d much prefer a video course than looking around in Google for free stuff. You can certainly learn some BSL words, phrases by looking up “Basic BSL words and sentences” on, let’s say, 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.

As I said- blogs, YouTube videos, or a search in Google won’t take you far. But, learning BSL doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re just looking to just communicate in an everyday manner in BSL, there are plenty of options for you. Lead Academy offers one of the high-quality ones.

Let’s tackle the subject of BSL education from these two different perspectives:

1. Personal communication

2. Formal communication

Little girl using british sign language to communicate with the teacher

1. Personal communication

For personal communication purposes, you can do BSL Level 1 and 2 courses accredited by CPD.

BSL Level 1 and 2 fluency is plenty for personal communication purposes. These are some of the scenarios where your BSL Level 1 and 2 knowledge can come in handy:

  • A loved one is deaf or hard of hearing

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.

  • Communicating with people with disabilities

People with Autism, Apraxia of speech, Cerebral Palsy or 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 kind of case, sign language can help us fill the communication gap that 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. 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. If you’re not aiming to get a job in the sign language sector, like interpreting, Level 1 and 2 BSL will give you enough fluency to communicate with people to carry out your responsibilities.

2. Formal communication

If you aspire to become an interpreter or a sign language teacher, then you’ll have to go much beyond BSL Level 1 and 2. You’ll need formal qualifications that are at least Level 3 on BSL. Even then, if you aim to get the most lucrative jobs, you’ll need the Level 6 qualification on BSL. We will discuss this in more detail a bit later under the “Learn British Sign Language for a job” heading.

A british sign language instructor teaching students how to sign

How Long Does It Take to Learn BSL?

The time it will take for you to learn BSL depends largely on what you intend to do with your BSL fluency. As I said before, if you’re just looking to communicate with someone in signs, then a basic level of fluency will do just fine. But if you’re looking to get a job like a sign language interpreter, then you’ll have to be much more knowledgeable in the language, which will obviously take more time to learn.

Learn British Sign Language at your own pace

Courses accredited by CPD usually run 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.

One other benefit of these kinds of courses is that the videos can be rewound however many times as you want. If you’re a slow learner, if you have a hard time paying attention, or if you’re busy with so many other things, then courses like ours are perfect for you. Since they don’t expire until after a year, you have plenty of time to take it slow and learn the language at your own pace.

How Long Does It Take to Learn BSL for a Job

However, if you’re learning BSL to become an interpreter, a communication support worker or a sign language teacher- then you can’t control the pace of your BSL education. Awarding bodies dictate how BSL qualification should be offered. Signature is the most recognised accreditation body on BSL, and its qualifications are recognised by Ofqual. In their case, you have to attend a class (Either physical classes or live classes on Zoom, Skype or Google Classroom) for a fixed amount 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.

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 Level 1 and 2 will not take much time for you to complete. But BSL Level 3 will generally take an academic year. After completing 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 completing 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.


So, to quote our introduction, how long does it take to learn BSL? As you can see from our discussion so far, it does not take long. All you need is inclination and persistence since a language requires both of these things from its learner for maximum effectiveness. It is more true if you are shooting for a BSL qualification that is Level 3 and over. In the case of Level 1 and 2, for which you’ll earn CPD certification, you can be flexible with your lessons.

However, as I said earlier, it’s a language. Don’t be too ‘flexible’ with yourself, or you risk forgetting things you had already learned a while ago. Instead, spend the time practising with a family member or a friend and when you are comfortable, move on to learning new stuff and just repeat this cycle. You’ll thus see how easy BSL is and how little time it takes to learn it.

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