The Autumn term 2023 saw us run a ‘taster’ After School club for learning some basic British Sign Language (BSL).
There are many advantages to learning BSL signs including:
Learning to communicate with deaf people, contributing to a society where deaf people are included.
Becoming deaf aware and celebrating the rich diversity of the deaf community.
In continuing to learn you can also gain qualifications and improve your CV, the government recently announced plans to include BSL as a GCSE in September 2025.
Being able to chat to a friend using sign language where not many people will know what you're talking about (and also becoming very good at Charades!).
Using it to communicate from a distance or in a place like a very quiet library or a very loud gig!
Stretching your brain & learning a new language (NB * visual learners find sign language easier than a new spoken language).
The students showed great interest in finding out about learning a new language and asked many questions about the signs, the language, linguistics and also Deaf culture.
Over the term, students learnt a wide range of vocabulary including fingerspelling the alphabet, foods, greetings, numbers, colours, animals, questions, family, compliments, feelings to name a few.
We practiced asking and answering questions, giving compliments, greetings and some everyday conversations. Some even learnt to sign some songs!
We also explored………..
1. Some deeper linguistic topics eg. how to signal past/ present/ future tenses by using a ‘timeline’. For instance:
2. That the sign order of BSL is completely different to English sentence order and there are no signs for ‘little/ unneeded words such as ‘a/ the/ for etc’.
Eg. BSL “NAME-WHAT-YOU?” vs English “What's your name?”.
Eg. BSL “YOU-LIVE-WHERE?” vs English “Where do you live?”
4. BSL is different to other sign languages around the world such as American Sign Language (ASL). There are also regional differences to signs around the UK.
3. We also talked about the ‘differences’ between the various signing systems in the UK, for instance:
British Sign Language (BSL) = the only full a proper language with its own sign linguistics (different to English) typically used with little/ no voice) used by the Deaf community. .
Makaton = a language programme that uses symbols, signs and speech to enable people to communicate. It uses typically BSL key signs alongside spoken English.
Sign Supported English (SSE) = a term used to describe signing and speaking English at the same time. Often, SSE borrows BSL signs and uses them in the order they are used in spoken English.
Signed English (SE) = In Signed English every word of a spoken sentence is signed. It uses English language grammar and not the grammar of deaf sign languages. It consists of a vocabulary of borrowed and made up signs and fingerspelling. It is usually used in schools for deaf children to teach them ‘English’.
4. Deaf people are not always completely Deaf/deaf,
Some people may have no hearing at all eg.Profoundly deaf.
Some may have a significant hearing loss severely deaf and still struggle immensely to follow/understand all aspects of speech.
Some may have moderate deafness (often can hear speech in optimal listening conditions but will struggle if there is background noise).
The students asked many interesting and thoughtful questions about deafness (some people identify as ‘Deaf’ = part of the Deaf community, some as ‘deaf/ having a hearing loss’ = part of the hearing community but with a degree of hearing loss……. It is very personal to each person.
If anyone would like to learn BSL more formally, you can learn at home at your own speed using this site - it can cost as little as £3 for students and you will get a certificate at the end….