How to Learn BSL? Beginner to Advanced
British Sign Language is the language of the deaf or those who have partial hearing loss – a common belief that the majority of people hold. However, it is no longer used by the deaf only; rather, people who can hear properly are also widely using the British Sign language these days.
In fact, it is now the fourth most used language in the UK.
According to Weston College, “Over 125,000 adults in the UK use British Sign Language, and many more people know how to communicate using it.” As people are gradually becoming interested in learning this language, the need for BSL courses is increasing too. Whether you choose an online or an offline course, you need to know which course is suitable for you.
So, this blog has been prepared for those keen to know about how to learn BSL and how to get started learning the language.
Table of Content
- What is BSL?
- Who are the users of BSL?
- Why should you learn BSL?
- How long does it take to learn BSL?
- Where can you learn BSL?
- What is taught in BSL courses?
- Enrol in an online course
- How to sign alphabets in BSL?
- How to sign some useful phrases in BSL?
- What to Read Next:
What is BSL?
The acronym BSL stands for “British Sign Language.” BSL involves a combination of facial expressions, hand gestures, upper body movements and lip patterns. It uses a two-handed alphabet and is completely independent of the English Language.
The British Sign Language is itself a separate language. BSL was recognised by the UK government as an official minority language in 2003. Like any other language, it has its own vocabulary, syntax and grammatical structure.
The British Sign Language is not universal. This sign language is as varied as spoken languages. BSL is similar to Australian Sign language, but it is entirely different from American Sign Language (ASL).
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Who are the users of BSL?
The number of BSL users is gradually increasing as this sign language is now also used by some professionals along with the hard of hearing ones. According to the British Deaf Association Sign Langauge Week, “the total number of BSL users in the UK is 151,000 and that 87,000 of these are Deaf.”
The British Sign Language is also used by-
- Interpreters of sign languages
- Parents and teachers of deaf children
- First responders
- Vocational rehabilitation counsellors working with deaf clients
- Other service providers like social workers, medical professionals, and psychologists
Why should you learn BSL?
There is a common belief that the deaf or hard of hearing ones only use BSL. Whether you have a hearing impairment or not, you can still learn BSL and use it for communication. BSL can serve various other purposes to hearing people as well. The reasons for learning BSL can be-
To connect with deaf people
People with hearing impairment can feel isolated if they cannot communicate spontaneously. As a society, our responsibility is to address this issue and encourage the widespread use of an effective means of communication that can be employed. By learning BSL, one can ease the communication between the deft, has partial hearing loss. and those who can hear.
To strengthen the bond with the hard of hearing ones
If you love to make new friends, then there is a whole community of deaf people in the UK with whom you can be friends! Learning BSL would allow you to meet new people and build relationships.
To communicate better
You might be in a music concert trying to talk to your friend, but your friend might not understand anything because of the loud music. How can you communicate then? If you know BSL, you can easily convey your message to your friend through hand gestures.
BSL can also be used while talking from a distance or in a place where silence is preferred, like a library or a doctor’s chamber.
To achieve a new skill
Learning a new language means achieving a new skill. Imagine in a public place, someone with hearing loss or speech impairment is trying to say something using gestural language, but no one is able to understand the signs. In a scenario like this, your knowledge of BSL can help the person from unwanted embarrassment.
To pursue a different career path
You can also choose to learn BSL to pursue a different career path. If you are tired of your 9-5 job, you can learn the British Sign language.
The knowledge of BSL would also allow you to work as a communication support worker, teacher of the deaf, provider of deaf social services and so on.
There are some specific situations where deaf people rely on BSL interpreters, for example, a medical emergency. In such a situation, interpreters can play a crucial role. According to Indeed, “The average salary for a sign language interpreter is £17.82 per hour in United Kingdom.”
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How long does it take to learn BSL?
This question does not have any specific answer as it would depend on the individual and how much they are using BSL in their daily lives. Learning the British Sign Language can be as difficult as learning a traditional language, requiring the same amount of effort.
People who are born deaf and grow up signing learn to sign in the same way a hearing child learns to speak. While some people learn easily, for others, it is more challenging. Since each student has their own learning pace, it can take up to 3-4 years on average to become fluent.
You can learn BSL easily with conscious effort, but to be a professional, you have to be patient and practice sincerely to obtain the qualifications.
Where can you learn BSL?
There are many providers of BSL courses like:
- Local colleges
- Voluntary groups
- Online platforms
You need to spend a bit of time to find out who is offering BSL courses in your area and to see which provider is most suitable for you in terms of cost, location and time.
However, it would be easier for you to get started with an online course. Lead Academy is a great place to learn BSL from home with easy access through any of your devices.
What is taught in BSL courses?
The topics to be covered in each level of a BSL course would depend on the course providers and how they have designed a particular course; however, it’s more or less the same for every BSL course. Each level would possess some specific aims and objectives. With each level, students achieve the required competency to communicate in BSL.
Level 1 is for beginners with no prior knowledge of the British Sign Language. At this level, learners are usually taught simple, everyday language. BSL grammar is introduced at level 2, along with some routine conversation. Level 3 includes BSL linguistics, so by this time, students can have a standard conversation in BSL.
If you are an advanced learner and want to become a BSL interpreter, you need to opt for Level 6. Level 6 is equivalent to degree level. This level teaches complex British Sign language to help you operate proficiently in a wide range of work situations.
How to Learn BSL?
While learning BSL can be overwhelming, always remember that practice is the key to learning the language. Besides, your will and effort would help you to grasp the language. However, you can consider the following points while trying to learn British Sign Language.
Start with the basics:
Start off your BSL learning journey with the basics like numbers, colours, household items and days of the week. Continue with the basics until you master them. You can learn 60 signs in a month if you target learning and practising two new signs a day.
Enrol in an online course
You can opt for an online course to learn British Sign Language. With this, you will be able to learn at your convenient time from anywhere since the courses are accessible from any device. You would also find a tutor to assist with your learning and you will be certified upon completion by a recognised accreditation body.
Visit deaf events often
Learning BSL becomes a lot easier by mixing with deaf people and attending deaf events. You can be more fluent by meeting deaf people, observing them and trying to communicate with them. If you find the time, try to join any deaf club or visit deaf events at your nearest deaf centre.
Observe and mimic interpreters
You can easily pick up signs by watching BSL interpreters. You can often find them at deaf events or on TV during news or live events.
Take a challenge
A sign language challenge could be kept within the family, friends or fellow learners by simply signing words or alphabets to each other and counting how many signs each gets right.
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How to sign alphabets in BSL?
The British Sign Language (BSL) uses a two-handed alphabet, unlike the American Sign Language, which uses a one-handed alphabet. The hand you would use to sign is your dominant hand (typically, the right hand) and the other hand is called the base hand.
If you are a left-handed person, your left hand would be your dominant hand and your right hand would be the base hand.
How to sign some useful phrases in BSL?
While as a beginner, you start off with the basic vocabulary, alphabets, numbers and greetings. As you proceed, you would be promoted to an advanced level learner where you would need to learn the longer phrases along with the conversational questions and answers.
By learning the complete phrases, you would be able to communicate fluently in BSL and continue any conversation with confidence.
Some of the important phrases are:
- Let me know
- Let you know
- Sorry, my mind has gone blank
- I don’t mind
- That’s interesting
To learn how to sign these phrases and some other basic question-answers, watch the following videos from YouTube.
A few tips to learn BSL
Learning a new language is always challenging and when it comes to sign language, it becomes even more difficult. Here are some tips suggested for you that you can apply to smoothen your BSL learning journey.
Setting goals can motivate you to be consistent in learning BSL. You can set daily, weekly, or monthly goals and check your progression. Your goals can be-
- Learn 5 signs every day
- Learn 20 phrases each month
- Have a conversation in BSL at least once a week
Just attending classes and taking 2 or 3 hours of lessons weekly will not be enough to learn BSL. Like any other new skill, BSL requires regular practice. After every lesson, practice the signs taught by the instructor. This will help you to remember the signs you are learning.
Work on your facial expressions
Try to provide facial expressions while signing in BSL. Deaf people use different facial expressions that determine the mood of a conversation. By doing the same, you can gain expertise like BSL skills.
Do not be ashamed to make mistakes
Making mistakes is a significant part of the learning process. Do not stop trying new signs with an expert in fear of judgment; instead, try to learn from your mistakes.
Learn according to your convenience
Every learner is different and so is their learning style. If you find learning the phrases easier, then go for it. There is no such rule that you have to start with the vocabulary first.
Whether you are deaf or not, do not miss the opportunity of learning the most common and widely used sign language of the UK. If you are a parent whose child has a hearing impairment or is a BSL professional trying to hone your sign language skills, follow this guide to know how to learn BSL as a beginner or advanced learner and apply your skillsets when needed.
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