How to Learn British Sign Language? A Beginner’s Guide

As the world is seeing an increasing number of people with hearing impairments, sign language users are also rising proportionately. There are around 300 sign languages in the world. A popular one is British Sign Language (BSL). You probably need to learn sign language to communicate with a deaf friend, relative or coworker. Continue reading to explore how to learn British Sign Language.

Table of Contents

What is Sign Language?

In simple terms, sign language is a communication system using signs and visual gestures. It is the primary or the only way of communication for deaf people.

Sign language is also used by people without hearing disabilities when verbal communication is impossible or not desirable. Sign languages are not universal. There are about 300 of them, each with its own alphabet and vocabulary. 

hello in British Sign Language

Why Should You Learn Sign Language?

There are numerous benefits of learning sign language. They are:-

1. Enhanced Communication Skills 

Learning sign language allows you to interact with a wider range of people, including those who are hard of hearing or deaf. This promotes inclusivity and develops your interpersonal skills.

2. Increased Empathy and Understanding 

Learning sign language skills will enable you to better comprehend and connect with the deaf’s experiences. This awareness could improve your sensitivity to their wants and difficulties.

3. Career Opportunities 

Sign language proficiency can lead to various job options in social work, education, healthcare, and interpreting. Employers highly value employees’ ability to interact with a variety of clients and coworkers.

4. Cognitive Benefits 

Studies have indicated that learning a new language, especially sign language, enhances cognitive functions like memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. It also makes it easier for you to pick up new languages down the road. 

5. Social Engagement 

Being able to communicate sign language enables you to interact more closely with the deaf community, take part in activities, and build close relationships. 

6. Inclusivity

Regardless of hearing capacity, the use and promotion of sign language help create a more inclusive society in which all people can participate fully.

Which Sign Language Should You Learn?

The answer is simple: it depends on where you live and work. As we mentioned earlier, there are many sign languages, each significant in a particular geographical area. American Sign Language (ASL) is dominant in North America. So, if you live in that region, that is the language you should learn. However, if you are in the United Kingdom, you should learn British Sign Language (BSL) as that language thrives there.
People showing different hand signs
Even though both ASL and BSL have English letters as alphabetical signs, there are differences. To be precise, the grammar and vocabulary vary greatly between these two languages. A significant difference is that ASL mostly depends on one hand’s gestures and facial expressions. In contrast, BSL makes use of both hands.

What is British Sign Language?

British Sign Language (BSL) is the most common form of sign language in Great Britain. It has its own grammatical syntax and is not entirely dependent on spoken English. As of 2022, around 151,000 people in the United Kingdom use BSL as their primary or preferred language. Among them, 87,000 are deaf. The rest of the users are either relatives of deaf people, interpreters or have strong connections with deaf community members. BSL is an official minority language recognised by the UK government in 2013 after a big campaign.

Why Learn BSL?

You might ask, “Is British Sign Language (BSL) Worth Learning?” As we have told you earlier, there are multiple benefits to learning sign language. You have also seen data that indicates that just below half of the BSL users are not deaf. So, it is obvious that by learning British Sign Language, you will be able to be part of that larger community. 

It is worth noting that among the below half of BSL users, there are also people with partial hearing loss. According to RNID, 14.2 million adults are estimated to have hearing loss by 2035. Some of them have the issue so severe that they could not hear most conversational speech. They will be dependent on subtitles to watch videos. As for communication with people, that group will require sign language. Because of that, they and other people would need to learn sign language to communicate

Is British Sign Language Hard to Learn?

Like any other spoken language, you will need to spend some time learning BSL. If it is either difficult or easy depends on how deeply you want to acquire the language. Several factors, such as your commitment, practice frequency, and prior experience learning new languages, impact the difficulty. Some of the points you should consider are:-

Language Similarities and Differences

You may notice certain parallels that can help you learn if you are familiar with other sign languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL). However, learning BSL can be difficult because of its own vocabulary, syntax, and grammar.

Manual Dexterity

Learning BSL requires hand-eye coordination and manual dexterity. Regular practice will help you become more accustomed to the gestures and motions.

Visual Learning 

Since BSL is primarily a visual language, proficient visual learners could find it simpler to learn. Accurately observing and mimicking indications is essential.

Practice and Immersion:

Learning BSL requires immersion and consistent practice, like learning any other language. You can accelerate your learning process by interacting with the deaf community and practising with proficient signers.

How to Learn British Sign Language?

You can learn BSL in a number of ways. You can start learning anytime, thanks to easy access to the blessings of technology and the internet.

Learn from Books, App, and Videos

Videos, books, and apps all provide organised paths to learning and various resources to suit different kinds of learners. While apps offer interactive education and practice opportunities, books can offer in-depth explanations and exercises. Watching videos lets you see signs in action, which is crucial for accurate learning.

Learn from Youtube

YouTube provides free access to an extensive library of videos and lessons, making it a valuable resource for learning BSL. BSL-specific channels offer anything from simple vocabulary to sophisticated conversational abilities.

Take an Online Course

Online courses combine the freedom to learn independently with structured instruction. Many courses provide a comprehensive learning experience, which includes assessments and certifications upon completion. John Academy provides courses in multiple sectors, including BSL Levels 1 and 2. Check it out now!

British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1 & 2
Start your journey learning with BSL with this British Sign Language course from John Academy
British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1 & 2
Start your journey learning with BSL with this British Sign Language course from John Academy

Join a Sign Language Club or Get Help from a BSL Tutor

Look for Language clubs or communities in your area or online. These days, you will find clubs and societies with different purposes, even minor ones. Chances are you will find multiple groups dedicated to teaching and learning BSL.
You can also hire a personal tutor to help you with your signing skills. This can be costly compared to other means of learning, but you will have better opportunities to practice with an experienced signer.

Practice with Your Deaf Family or Friend

What better way to practice BSL than a person who uses the language as their primary language? When you practice with a deaf family member or a friend, you can enhance your learning better. Additionally, as a long-term sign language user, he or she will give you positive feedback.

Utilise Social Media

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have a huge number of pages dedicated to BSL. Facebook also has multiple groups that have the same purpose. When you follow these pages and join groups, you will soon discover you are not the only one starting BSL. You can befriend like-minded people and practice together.

British Sign Language (BSL) Fingerspelling Alphabet

Fingerspelling is a technique for spelling words involving hand movements. In sign language, the fingerspelling alphabet is used to spell out names of individuals and locations that do not have applicable signs. Fingerspelling additionally has the ability to spell words for signs that the signer is unfamiliar with or for clarifying a sign that the reader is not acquainted with. 

Fingerspelling signs are frequently blended into other signs. For example, the sign for ‘gold’ is to spell ‘g’ with your fingers and then part your hands in a shimmering motion. British Sign Language (BSL) has a two-handed alphabet, whereas other sign languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL), use a one-handed alphabet.

How Long Does It Take to Learn BSL?

The time it takes to learn BSL depends on various factors, including the depth of proficiency you aim to achieve and the amount of time you dedicate to practice. Here are some general guidelines:

1. Basic Proficiency

Achieving basic conversational skills can take a few months of consistent practice, approximately 3-6 months.

2. Intermediate Level

To reach an intermediate level, where you can hold more complex conversations, it typically takes 1-2 years.

Our course is of Intermediate level with over 9 hours of study materials. You can access them for 1 year from the date of enrollment.

3. Advanced Fluency

Achieving advanced fluency, which includes mastering grammar, nuances, and cultural aspects, can take several years of dedicated practice.

7 Top Tips for Learning BSL

Here are some tips that will come in handy when you start learning British Sign Language (BSL):-

1. Practice Regularly

Consistency is key to retaining and improving your skills. Since building muscle memory takes time, remember to dedicate time every day or every week to practise. Regular practice helps reinforce what you’ve learned and ensures steady progress.

2. Engage with the Deaf Community 

Immersing yourself in the community provides practical experience and cultural understanding. Try to join local clubs or any gatherings where BSL users are present. Seeing those people signing will give you a better idea of accuracy.

3. Use Multiple Resources 

Diversify your learning tools, including books, apps, and online videos. If you depend on only one source, you could be left behind. Use multiple tools together to improve your learning significantly.

4. Be Patient and Persistent 

Language learning is a gradual process, and persistence will pay off. Remember that growth is not linear. Some days, you might not be able to practice the target time. Or you may miss a day of practice altogether for any unavoidable reason. However, do not let that stop you; adjust your practice accordingly.

5. Watch Sign Language in Action 

Observe fluent signers in action or through videos to understand context and usage. Carefully watch how they coordinate their hand gestures with facial expressions.

6. Record Yourself 

What if you thought you were practising properly but could not communicate when connecting with another BSL user? Chances are that you have not yet gotten the right accuracy. Recording your practice sessions can help you identify and correct mistakes.

7. Stay Motivated 

Set SMART goals and reward yourself for milestones achieved. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Asian man using BSL online

Where Can I Find BSL Courses?

BSL courses are available through various institutions, both online and offline. The next question you could ask is, “How to Get a BSL Qualification?” And the answer is, to obtain a BSL qualification, you can enrol in accredited courses that offer certifications upon completion.

Where Can I Learn British Sign Language?

You can learn BSL at community colleges, universities, online platforms, and specialised language schools. Many organisations also offer workshops and short courses.

It is important to note that you can obtain low-level qualifications from any platform. However, higher levels require to get a university degree.
One such EdTech provider is John Academy, from where you can learn BSL as well as get qualification certificates. The institution offers multiple courses on British Sign Language (BSL).

What is Taught in BSL Courses?

Our Intermediate BSL course cover the following areas for level 1:-

  • Introduction to BSL and Fingerspelling
  • Exchanging Personal Information
  • Families
  • Numbers (Time, Calendar and Money)
  • Colours
  • Transports
  • Weather
  • Directions
  • Activities/Hobbies and Sports
  • Description of A Person and Clothes
  • Animals
  • Numbers (Money)
  • Foods and Drinks

As for level 2, the modules consist of –

  • Job related questions, signs, vocaularies,
  • Type of Buildings 
  • Items related to home, rooms, description of room
  • Day to Day Routine
  • Emotional Signs
  • Emotional Stories Study
  • Countries and Flags

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of learning BSL varies widely depending on the course provider and the level of instruction. Here are some general price ranges:

  • Online Courses: £20-£300 (BSL course from John Academy only costs £23.99) 
  • Community College Courses: £200-£600 per term
  • Private Tutors: £20-£50 per hour

Can I Learn BSL Online or Using an App?

Yes, there are numerous online courses and mobile apps designed to teach BSL. These resources offer flexibility and convenience, allowing you to learn at your own pace.

Courses from John Academy are designed to be taken from anywhere, anytime. Whether you are using a computer, mobile device, or tab, our courses are convenient.

Conclusion

With all the benefits awaiting you after you learn BSL, it is no wonder how fulfilled you will feel soon. Diversity and inclusivity are being promoted more than ever. So, by learning British Sign Language, you will be among the proud community who can communicate with deaf individuals.

British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1 & 2
Start your journey learning with BSL with this British Sign Language course from John Academy
British Sign Language (BSL) Level 1 & 2
Start your journey learning with BSL with this British Sign Language course from John Academy

FAQ

The usefulness of ASL or BSL depends on your geographic location and the community you intend to communicate with.

The fastest way to learn BSL is through immersive practice, such as taking a course and engaging regularly with fluent users.

Family Sign Language is a version of BSL adapted for use within families, often to facilitate communication with a deaf family member.

BSL enhances communication by providing a visual language for those who cannot rely on auditory communication, thereby bridging the gap between hearing and deaf individuals.

Learning sign language in the UK is accessible due to the availability of numerous resources and a supportive community.

June 11, 2024
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