British Sign Language Facts

7th Jan 2013

In the last few years, there has been an increasing amount of interest in British Sign Language (BSL). Here are 6 quick facts for the beginner and newbies to BSL:

-The sign language used in England and the UK is known as British Sign Language (BSL). It is the first language of approximately 150,000 deaf people in the British Isles. There are also many thousands of people who are not deaf who use BSL such as employers of deaf people, relatives/friends and interpreters.

-British Sign Language has its own grammar which uses facial expressions, hand shapes and upper body movements to convey meaning. BSL is a spatial and visual language and a lot of beginners think it is similar to mime (which it is not). The important thing to remember is that the grammar used in BSL is completely different to those used in everyday English.

-Even though Britain and the U.S.A. speak English as the first language of their respective countries, British Sign Language is different to American Sign Language, also known as ASL. Again, it is also the the same difference with BSL and Irish Sign Language (ISL) and Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL). This fact demonstrates that even though these countries have English as the first language, the sign language used varies from country to country.

-Users of British Sign Language successfully campaigned the government of the United Kingdom and made BSL into an officially recognized British language back in March 2003. British Sign Language is now recognized on the same level as other languages of the United Kingdom such as Scottish, Welsh and Gaelic. But to this present day, BSL has no legal protection.

-Just as in the English language, British Sign Language also has regional dialects. As an example, some signs used in the Northern parts of England may have difficulty being understood in the south of the country and vice versa. And what is even more confusing is that some signs are ‘local signs’ which are understood in only certain towns. For example, some of the BSL used in Manchester is so local that it is not understood outside of the city. Think of it as local ‘slang’.

Becoming a BSL/English interpreter

You may think that British Sign Language is difficult to learn. Well the good news is that learning BSL is not as difficult as you may think. Just like learning any other French, Spanish, Japanese or any other language, the hardest part is just getting started. 

Deaf Studies courses with specific streams for sign language interpreting exist at several British universities. Course entry requirements vary from no previous knowledge of BSL to NVQ level 6 BSL (or equivalent). 


This qualification is designed to enable learners to communicate with deaf people in BSL on a range of topics that involve simple, everyday language use.


This qualification is designed to enable learners to develop an ability to communicate with Deaf people using BSL in a range of familiar contexts, participating in longer and more open-ended exchanges than at Level 1. The course will develop functional communication in BSL about a range of real life, routine and daily experiences. The learner will be able to deal with most routine language tasks and have sufficient grasp of grammar to cope with some non-routine tasks.

Level 3

This qualification uses the UK Occupational Language Standards (CILT, 2010), which define competent performance in British Sign Language (BSL) skills in both receptive (listening) and productive (speaking) units.

Level 6

This qualification is designed for learners who can understand and use complex language, express themselves fluently and deal confidently with most work situations. It is useful for those who work on a daily basis with Deaf people, as well as learners who wish to become a British Sign Language (BSL) / English Interpreter.

And this is how you spell pearl


Justyna Mentel, Derby Booking Coordinator


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