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What is BSL?

What is BSL? British Sign Language or BSL is a visual-spatial language that is used by some deaf people as their first or main language. BSL is a recognised language of the UK and is like any other language in that there are regional variations (much like accents in English). For example, there are over 15 signs for purple!

Key aspects of BSL include:

A manual alphabet: BSL uses a two-handed manual alphabet where each letter is represented on the hands. Other sign languages use one-handed fingerspelling, such as American (ASL) or Irish Sign Language (ISL)

Regional variations: BSL has regional variations in signs depending on the area of the UK. The differences include basic signs for days of the week or numbers. There are historical reasons for sign variations which date back to the Victorian times (1800s).

Grammar and syntax: BSL has a ‘topic-comment’ structure. This is where the topic of the sentence comes first followed by additional information. Other languages that have the same structure are mostly East Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

Non-manual features (e.g. facial expressions): BSL is a visual- spatial language so facial expressions and body language are an important part of BSL structure. Both can convey semantic information such as questions and emphasis (adverbs) of an action as well as convey emotions.

Iconicity: Some signs are ‘iconic’ because they show the concept they express. For example, the sign ‘to drive’ you would show by holding your hands at chest level while mouthing the word ‘drive’. You could argue some iconic signs are not signs at all but universal gestures. Some examples of gestures (or non verbal) behaviour would include the gesture for eat, drink, shrugging shoulders with palms open to show uncertainty or to show innocence (hands up, palms out and open to show you have nothing to hide).

Makaton, BSL or SSE

Sign Language is grammatically different from English so many people get confused between Makaton, BSL and SSE (Sign Supported English). Whilst they are all valid means of communication, sign language is the only one recognised as a language with a grammatical structure, vocabulary and so on.

There are an estimated 80,000 deaf native sign language users in the UK. This is likely to be an underestimate as NDCS figures suggest there are 45,000 deaf children currently in the UK. By contrast, the British Deaf Association estimates that there are over 150,000 sign language users but this figure includes professionals such as sign language interpreters.

British Sign Language is a recognised language in the UK and is now protected in Scotland under the BSL Act 2015. The BDA campaigned for legal recognition of BSL in England and the British Sign Language Act has now received royal assent. This means British Sign Language is now an official language of the UK.

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About Access BSL

Access BSL was created with you, the learner in mind. Learning Sign Language should be easy and can be fun. However, the current market is confusing and complicated with so many online BSL courses on offer. It is difficult to tell which ones give you a genuine qualification and which ones are just for fun so this site has been designed to suit you, the modern learner’s needs.

On this site, you will find details about flexible and structured courses as well as courses that give you a taste of what BSL is all about. We research and review BSL courses for you so you know which courses are worth spending money on.

As a site, we encourage you to choose a structured course that provides consistent, regular support from a qualified sign language teacher. The added bonus is that you gain a recognised qualification.

However, we recognise that courses vary in price so we review the courses on offer to help you decide which course best suits your needs. Our primary aim is to support you in communicating effectively with Deaf sign language users…and to make sure there is a bit of fun thrown in for good measure!

About us

Our publishing team consists of qualified Deaf tutors, C.O.D.As (Child of Deaf Adults) and Sign Language interpreters. We work together to provide you with up to date relevant resources (which includes the latest research into BSL linguistics) to help your learning.

This site and the courses we recommend are based on research we undertake so you have the most up to date information.

We encourage you as a BSL learner to get involved and support your local Deaf Community. Learn about Sign Language and Deaf Culture because there is so much that you can learn from Deaf individuals about communicating effectively.

Where do I start?

If you are here that means you want to start learning Sign Language to improve and develop your communication skills when you meet a native sign language user or looking to change careers.

The good news is, we have prepared everything to help you achieve your goals. From here you can either:

We hope you enjoy the content we worked so hard to put together for you. If you have any suggestions for content you would like to see, then please contact us, we’d love to hear from you!

Access BSL Values

We believe in having a positive impact on all our stakeholders by pledging to be sustainable. We do this by focusing on people, supporting the planet and sharing profits.

People: We support the employment of Deaf tutors who teach BSL. It is important to value their skills and talents to keep Deaf Culture alive.

Planet: We minimise our environmental impact whilst aiming for net-zero emissions. We support the planet by donating to Climate Care and ClientEarth

Profits: We pledge to donate 1% minimum of any profit this site makes so that we can be a force for good in the world.

We already invest in our local Deaf Communities by setting up projects that support Deaf Culture and community life and will continue to do so.

The Access BSL Team