Numbers in Sign Language vary according to the region you live in. We use numbers more than we realise. This is why you learn how to sign numbers at the start of any sign language course. They are basic signs that you need to communicate in BSL. For example, someone might ask you the date, how old you are or your door number.
As you become more fluent you learn other ways to use numbers. For example, you learn how to describe the weight of something or the height of a person. You’ll also need to know how to give directions to a location e.g. at the traffic lights, take the third turning to the right.
There are lots of online resources that show you how to sign numbers. For ease, we are sharing the best videos we can find from the web together with an explanation of how to sign numbers and the different ways numbers can be used.
Basic numbers in Sign Language
The videos below shows how to sign basic numbers 1 – 30, 100, 1000 and 1 million. We’ve also included videos showing regional variations.
Numbers are easy to learn and essential to BSL which is why you learn numbers on basic courses and at Level 1.
All regions show the same numbers for 1 – 5. Here’s how you sign the numbers:
You sign with your hand facing towards you and holding the hand up at chest height, raising the index finger to indicate the number 1, then raising index and middle finger together to represent the number 2, then raising the third finger to represent the number 3 and so on.
The regional variations start from number 6. The southern variation tends to use the thumb bent at the knuckle. In northern variations, the extended little finger represents the number 6.
Southern variations (e.g. London) start from the thumb and then add a digit as numbers increase e.g. thumb and index finger to represent 7 and so on.
Northern signs for numbers tend to go from the little finger upwards so the little finger and ring finger represents 7 and so on.
North East numbers in BSL: 1 – 30
Scottish numbers in BSL: 1 – 20
BSL SignBank have videos showing the variations of number signs used by the deaf community. We recommend you view the SignBank website and explore the signed videos for a better understanding of the variations in British Sign language.
Hundreds, thousands and millions are represented differently in different regions. It is important to be aware of regional differences (particularly if you learning Level 2 and above) as you may meet someone from a different region at work
Sign number 9 and other ‘difficult’ numbers
Some level of flexibility is required for signing numbers as some numbers are difficult to do. For example, to do the London and South East sign for number 9, you need to bend your little finger.
The video below is from the Dot Miles beginner BSL series:
The video explores a number of topics including:
Handshapes, placement and lip pattern are important in sign language, you need to be able to show a sign clearly for someone to understand what you are signing.
When signing numbers such as double digits, you will see the hands move from left to right so digits are seen as they are shown in maths e.g. 21 would be expressed as 2 in the tens column and 1 would be in the units column.
Higher numbers such as 100 are signed differently depending on the region in the UK. The southern UK variation is signed under the chin whilst silently mouthing the word ‘one hundred’.
Numbers such as 1,000 are also signed differently. The south east variation is signed with the number 1 then the index finger goes downwards and curved to draw a comma, whilst silently mouthing ‘one thousand’.
Why do we mouth English words with signs?
Sign language like all languages, borrows from languages too. BSL uses English mouth patterns to clarify signs that look the same but mean something different when a different mouth pattern is used. Dot Sign Language provides a great explanation about the use of mouth patterns and gives the example of the signs ‘number and ‘date’ – they both use the same sign but have different mouth patterns.
Everyday numbers in BSL
Numbers are used in a many ways in everyday conversation such as showing door numbers, post codes, mobile phone numbers, age, money, counting and calculations in mathematics and enumeration (i.e. to show, first, second, third and so on). BSL numbers are also used to show time, quantity and distance.
Your tutor will teach you all these signs and help you with correct position of your handshapes, your placement and lip patterns to ensure your number signs are as accurate as possible.