British Sign Language – an introduction

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Sign Language awareness week March 13th to 18th

According to the British Deaf Association there are approximately 87,000 Deaf British Sign Language users in England. Another 64,000 people use British Sign Language. These might be parents, grandparents or children of deaf people.

Here are our top facts about British Sign Language

  • It’s not the same as English

British Sign Language is a visual language with a grammar structure distinct from English. Instead of “What is your name” in English, a BSL user would sign “Name you, What?”.

  • It isn’t all about the hands

BSL does clearly use hand shapes. But it also requires facial expressions, eye gaze and body posture. This adds depth and meaning to the language.

  • What do you mean it’s not the same all around the world?

Sign languages develop within deaf communities naturally. They develop out of groups of people interacting with each other. They create a system and then hone it and regulate it. This was observed in 1980 in Nicaragua.

  • British Sign Language is visual

Before you go “D’uh!” what we want to say is…there is no written equivalent. Therefore Deaf BSL users who are writing in English are doing so in their second language. For some deaf BSL users their English literacy levels are much lower than the average non-deaf UK school leaver. Written information is often complex and may not be easily accessible for a person whose preferred language is a visual–spatial language.

  • Learning BSL as a baby does not hinder the learning of spoken language

Babies acquire signs before the ability to articulate spoken words. Therefore they can learn to communicate their needs to care givers at a quicker developmental stage. Babies who are deaf and use their residual hearing, can do this too. For more information on the arguments supporting signing and speech go to

Indigo Access are looking forward to celebrating Sign Language Awareness week!

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