Sign Languages: Definition, Importance and Types

11th Oct 2013

Sign languages commonly develop in deaf communities, which can include interpreters and friends and families of deaf people as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing themselves.

A sign language is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning by simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions to express fluidly a speaker's thoughts.

Sign language interpreters are extremely important for public service interpreting. Thanks to their services, deaf people can have access to police services, health centres, hospitals, social services and community volunteers

Even though most sign languages were influenced by French Sign Languages, every country has its own dialect.

There are numerous types of sign languages: Japanese Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, Australian Sign Language. However, the two most widely used are American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL).

Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as a spoken and written language, British Sign Language (BSL) is quite different from ASL, and the two sign languages are not mutually intelligible.

ASL is a complete, unique language developed by deaf people, for deaf people and is used in its purest form by people who are Deaf. Being its own language, it not only has its own vocabulary, but also its own grammar that differs from English. In ASL, you would just use the ASL sign for car and if it was important to clarify the type of vehicle, you would follow the sign with a fingerspelling of the vehicle type (VAN, for example).

BSL is a "initialized sign" language. This means that you clarify the meaning by initializing the sign with first letter of the intended English word. The English sign for CAR is two C hands. BSL was officially recognised as a language by the British government in March 2003 and there are up to 70,000 deaf people in the UK who use BSL as their first or preferred language.

For more information on how we can help you with your BSL requirements, please contact us on or call 020 7253 7700.

Mariluz Garcia, Recruitment Manager


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