There are lots of Sign Language courses offered online but which ones provide a recognised BSL qualification? We explain the different terms so you know which course to buy.
When you search on the internet for ‘BSL courses’ many learners, like you, are unsure which course actually provides a qualification. You will see words such as ‘accredited’, CPD certified, endorsed, diploma and ‘recognised’ but what do they all mean? And how do you work out which courses will help you achieve a nationally recognised qualification?
CPD stands for Continuing Professional Development and is generally carried out by professionals to maintain their current skills or to enhance the skills they already have. The CPD company is a private company that provides structured learning for professionals. So a BSL course that is ‘CPD accredited’ or CPD certified means it is a course that meets the professional body’s standards for developing a skill. Any course that is CPD certified is not a regulated course (see below) and would not count as a qualification.
Your employer may ask you to complete a certain number of CPD hours or achieve a number of points so you would use the CPD company course to help you achieve the points or hours you needed. The most important thing to note is that you do not achieve qualifications by completing this type of course.
Endorsed courses are courses that are approved by an independent awarding body. Again, this will be a private company that offers courses on the basis of applying company standards. Endorsed courses do not result in a qualification unless the awarding body is regulated by Ofqual and is offering regulated courses.
Regulated means that a course is approved by a government body. In England, the government body that regulates courses is Ofqual. Courses have to meet standards laid down in the Regulated Qualifications Framework.
Awarding bodies can register with Ofqual and offer regulated courses. At the moment, there are only two awarding bodies that offer regulated BSL courses from entry-level up to degree level qualifications: Signature and iBSL. Completing a regulated BSL course means you get an accreditation – a nationally recognised qualification that meets national standards.
All regulated BSL course providers have to adhere to standards set for Levels 1 up to Level 6 (degree level).
The term ‘accredited’ has been used rather loosely across the internet which has added to confusion about the validity of BSL courses. When an online course indicates that the course is ‘accredited’, they mean the course content covers similar content to a regulated course. Most online BSL courses offer their own accreditation i.e. a certificate to say you have completed their course.
Other factors to help you decide:
We appreciate that it is very difficult to work out which is the best BSL course online. Accreditation is not the only important factor. Other factors to consider are:
- Deaf and a native Sign Language user as Tutor
- Live sessions Online or in a Classroom
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 free BSL resources.
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 pursue learning further). 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.
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 with a real expert. How do you check if your tutor is bona fide and actually teaches BSL? You can always ask to speak to a tutor directly before starting a course.
BSL competence is really important. So 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.
Live sessions Online or face to face in a classroom?
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 physical 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 or hybrid courses have become the best (and most modern way of learning). A hybrid course is a mix of online content and face to face group sessions (or live sessions if you are learning online). The UK has been a little bit behind with this form of learning which has proved successful elsewhere in the world. However, Covid-19 has changed the way people learn so more BSL courses are likely to be taught this way in the future.
Time: How long does it take to get a qualification?
Signature and iBSL are the only two awarding bodies that offer genuine BSL qualifications. So, any qualification has to fulfil certain rules to be classified as a real qualification. For example, to achieve BSL Level 1, a student needs to do the recommended 60+ hours of guided learning with an additional 25+ hours of private study. If an online BSL course is offering a ‘Level 1’ accreditation in less than 60 hours, then a student is at risk of failing the assessments (and wasting hard-earned cash in the process).
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 most online courses. If you decided to do a qualification, you would have to start all over again (and pay again, of course!).
Many of the cheaper courses are featured on larger websites such as Udemy, Reed and other online learning providers. The assumption is that the BSL courses on these platforms are endorsed by the platform provider. Unfortunately, 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 support for students learning a visual language. Choosing a BSL course on a large learning platform also means missing out on a learning experience with a culturally rich Deaf tutor.
Of course, online courses can be beneficial, particularly if you are learning the basics. Even we have a BSL Basics course for beginners. However, our course has the added benefit of being able to connect with a bona fide Deaf tutor so you can test what you have learned.
Hopefully, we have outlined some of the important features to look out for when choosing a BSL course. We get it – looking for shortcuts is human nature. Unfortunately, that thought process is likely to cost you money and time in the long run.
If you are looking to pursue a career using sign language, the best way to find a regulated accredited course is by searching the Signature or iBSL website. Both awarding bodies list BSL centres that agree to meet standards for regulated BSL courses.