Learning family signs in BSL can strengthen family bonds and foster an inclusive environment for everyone. There are over 20 British Sign Language family signs and learning them is really easy! Our BSL vocabulary list below also includes how to sign extended family members such as aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents. Learning these signs, not only helps deaf members of your family but can also help babies and toddlers develop their language skills, so let’s dive in!
Learning the Basics: British Sign Language for Family Members
Dan from Commanding hand on YouTube has an excellent video showing the basic family signs
Dan shows you how to sign the following BSL signs:
00:10 family 00:26 mother 00:41 father 00:57 parents 01:26 son 01:42 daughter 01:56 brother 02:14 sister 02:29 husband, wife or spouse 02:51 partner 03:09 grandmother 03:25 grandfather 03:41 child and children 04:02 step mother, brother and sister 04:27 half brother or sister 04:47 uncle and aunt 05:07 nephew or niece 05:28 cousin
below you’ll find additional explanations of the following signs:
- mother/ mum/ mother-in-law
- father/dad/ father-in-law
To sign “mother” in BSL, fingerspell the letter ‘M’ with your dominant hand and tap the palm of your other hand twice. An alternative sign, uses the same ‘M’ with the dominant hand but gently taps temple on the same side as the dominant hand. You usually mouth the word mother or mummy (whichever you prefer) whilst signing.
To sign ‘mother-in-law’, you fingerspell the letter ‘M’, then fingerspell the word ‘l-a-w’. You would also mouth the words at the same time as signing.
In BSL, the sign for father can be represented by tapping index and middle finger of your dominant hand on to the index and middle finger of your other hand.
The sign for father is quite a formal way of signing, most native sign language users sign ‘D’ for daddy whilst mouthing the word for ‘daddy.
To sign ‘father-in-law’, you fingerspell the letter ‘F’, then fingerspell the word ‘l-a-w’. You would also mouth the words at the same time as signing.
The BSL sign for “brother” is represented by two closed hands rubbing up and down whilst mouthing the word “brother”.
Signing “sister” in BSL involves tapping the hooked index finger of your closed hand on your nose twice. You also need to mouth the word “sister”
The BSL sign for “son” is made by extending your index finger and moving your index finger across your chin. The sign is the same for “boy”. The difference is that you need to mouth the word ‘son’ or ‘boy’ so others can identify who you are talking about.
The sign for “daughter” in BSL is created by fingerspelling the letter “D” and mouthing the word “daughter” at the same time
What is the sign for family in BSL?
There are two common signs for family in British Sign Language. The first sign is expressed by fingerspelling ‘F’ with small clockwise circles in front of the body.
An alternative sign is to use an open hand in small clockwise circles, whilst mouthing the word “family”
Family Signs: Grandparents and other family members
Knowing the signs for extended family members can make more members of your family feel included:
- niece/ nephew
The BSL sign for “grandfather” is made by forming the letter ‘G’ then the letter ‘F’ while mouthing the word “grandfather”. To sign “grandad”, you would replace the F and use the letter ‘D’. You would fingerspell ‘G’ and then ‘D’ whilst mouthing the word “grandad”
To sign “grandmother” in BSL, you fingerspell the letter ‘G’ and then the letter ‘M’. You moth the word “grandmother” or “grandma” at the same time you fingerspell.
What is the British sign for aunt?
Aunt and Uncle
Signing “aunt” and “uncle” in BSL involves is the same sign, you just mouth either “aunt” or “uncle”.
From a closed hand, extend your index and middle fingers, hold slightly apart then bend them. You then do two taps on your chin with the bent fingers whilst mouthing the word “aunt” or “uncle”.
Niece or Nephew
To sign niece or nephew, you extend your index and middle fingers, hold them together then bend them. You then do two taps on your chin with the bent fingers whilst mouthing the word “niece” or “nephew”.
To sign for “cousin” in BSL you use the C-shape with your dominant hand then position it near your opposite shoulder and tap twice. You mouth the word “cousin” at the same time.
We know ‘friend’ is not strictly a family sign. However, we’ve included it in our list as friends can be as close as family.
To sign ‘friend’, you use two flat hands. Join both hands with one hand on top of the other, and move up and down twice as if in a handshake. You mouth the word ‘friend’ at the same time. You can see the sign at signbsl. That’s it!
Now you can express friendship as well as connect with different family members using BSL.
connect to your local BSL Community
Getting involved with your local BSL community is a great way to learn from native signers and networking with fellow BSL learners. Your local Deaf community might offer resources, assistance, and a sense of belonging, helping you further develop your BSL skills.
To find BSL communities, you can:
- Conduct a search for local deaf groups.
- Join online BSL communities. There are lots of Facebook groups that offer support and resources that can be accessed from any location.
Additional BSL Resources for Family Signs
There are lots of resources online for learning family signs in BSL. For paper-based resources (some of which are free), you can look at:
- Let’s Sign BSL Family Signs* Book (Amazon)
- NDCS resources for families with deaf children aged 0 – 5 years
- NDCS family signs video
- TES family signs pack with words in Urdu
Learning BSL signs for immediate family members is a great way to bond with those close to you. These signs can be especially helpful to parents who want to foster a more inclusive and connected family environment.
Learning family signs are also important for BSL Level 1 learners so you can participate in conversations confidently and improve your connections with the Deaf world.