Finding the best online BSL course can be difficult as there are so many to choose from. The various lockdowns and Rose Ayling-Ellis winning Strictly have encouraged lots of people to learn BSL. Learning sign language is a perfect activity to do for fun or as a career change. If you want to learn BSL, (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t!) it is difficult to work out which is the best online course. But what determines ‘best’? We offer 5 tips to help you decide which is the best online BSL course before buying a video course – these tips will save you a whole lot of time and money!
5 key factors you should consider before you buy an online BSL course:
Some online courses are cheap which is great if you like cheap, quick and easy with marginal value. These courses are like eating fast food – they are enjoyable for that brief moment but not something you would want to consume in any large quantity. Ultimately, you get what you pay for which is a list of signed words, not BSL. In fact, many of the low priced courses cover the same information you can find free on Youtube.
If you just want to learn BSL for a bit of fun, then why not check out some of the vocabulary clips on Youtube, some are created by deaf tutors. You can also check out our recommended list of BSL websites that provide signs on a range of topics, free of charge.
In fact, there are plenty of places where you can learn BSL vocabulary for free….and we all like free, right? The free online videos are great if you just want to learn how to say ‘good morning’ to your neighbour. However, a major issue with learning from free resources is that you are likely to develop bad habits that could impact your learning at a later date (and could ultimately affect your exam success if you want to gain a qualification). There is also the likelihood that you won’t understand native sign language users. Time spent on free resources could be counter-productive if that’s all you rely on to learn BSL.
The best online BSL courses cost money because you are paying for expertise and skill.
If you are someone who wants to take their learning seriously, then you might want to find a course that gives you a nationally recognised qualification.
Many of the online BSL courses use words such as ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ or ‘accredited’. One or two of them suggest that their course is taught by an ‘expert’. The words ‘accredited’, ‘Diploma’ and ‘expert’ have power because they give an impression of legitimacy. So, how do you check if a course is actually accredited? Look at the Signature or iBSL website – they are the only two awarding bodies that can award bona fide BSL qualifications.
3. Deaf Tutor (accountability):
The person who teaches you Sign Language is important. Deaf tutors who run BSL courses are accountable for what they teach you – their reputation is on the line. Tutors know how important it is for you to sign properly. So, you can save yourself some time and money by learning BSL from the (real) experts. How do you check if your tutor is bona fide and actually teaches BSL? Check your course is taught by a deaf native sign language user. Check they are qualified to teach. A qualified tutor will be happy to discuss their course before you book your place.
BSL competence is really important. Native sign language users use BSL as their first or main language. So, if you are not competent using BSL (i.e. able to put sentences together properly), a deaf person will not understand you and you will also struggle to be understood.
Another thing to look for is whether you need an interview to attend the course. For Level 2 and above, most tutors assess students to check their signing at the correct level. Learners often discover that signing with a native sign language user is quite different from learning BSL online without any tutor support.
The best online BSL courses offer tutor guidance as well as online resources.
4. Online, classroom or both?
We know that some people do not have the time to spend 2-3 hours in a classroom every week for a year. So online BSL courses are great if you work shifts or can’t get to a class.
Equally, some people prefer to learn in a classroom. If home life is hectic then learning in a classroom is a great idea. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
Blended courses have become the best (and most modern way of learning). A blended course is a mix of online content and face to face group sessions (or live sessions if you are learning during a lockdown). The UK is a little bit behind in this form of learning which has proved successful elsewhere in the world. However, Covid-19 is changing the way BSL is taught so learners are likely to see this type of learning being offered in the future.
5. How long does it take to get a qualification?
Achieving qualifications takes time, particularly regulated qualifications because you need solid foundation to progress and grow your language skills.
Signature and iBSL are the two main awarding bodies that offer genuine BSL qualifications. Both organisations are regulated by Ofqual. A regulated qualification has to fulfil certain rules to be classified as a qualification. For example, to achieve BSL Level 1, a student has to do a minimum of 64/66* hours guided learning hours with an additional 25+ hours of private study. If an online BSL course is offering a ‘Level 1’ accreditation with little or no tutor guidance, then it will not lead to a nationally recognised qualification.
Even if you don’t want a qualification, attending a course that is accredited by Signature or iBSL means you can keep your credits and do a qualification at a later date. Sadly, you cannot do that with some of the online courses. If you decided to do a qualification at a later date, you would have to start all over again (and pay again, of course!).
Choosing the Best Online BSL Course
Many of the cheaper online BSL courses are featured on larger websites such as Udemy, Reed and other online learning providers. These providers focus on quantity i.e. enabling learners to access a wide range of courses. They do not assess the quality of the course materials or provide much-needed guidance for a visual based language. Choosing a BSL course on a large learning platform also means missing out on a learning experience with a culturally rich Deaf tutor.
You also need to be aware of the ‘hidden costs’ on some of the course platforms. We have seen cheap courses being offered with certificates that have no value. Or they charge up to £200 to take your exams. Before paying for a course, make sure you are aware of all the costs.
We hope these tips will help you find the best online BSL course that suits your needs. We want you to have a fantastic experience with high-quality tutors, so let us know your views. Are there other factors learners need to consider? Let us know in the comments below.