British Sign Language: 6 Quick Facts for Beginners

       By: Eric Spence
Posted: 2006-12-06 02:20:34
In the last few years, there has been an increasing amount of interest in British Sign Language (BSL). Here are 6 quick facts for the beginner and newbies to BSL:
Quick fact 1:
The sign language used in England and the UK is known as British Sign Language (BSL). It is the first language of approx. 150,000 deaf people in the British Isles. There are also many thousands of people who are not deaf who BSL such as employers of deaf people, relatives/friends and interpreters.
Quick fact 2:
British Sign Language has its own grammar which uses facial expressions, hand shapes and upper body movements to convey meaning. BSL is a spatial and visual language and a lot of beginners think it is similar to mime (which it is not). The important thing to remember is that the grammar used in BSL is completely different to those used in everyday English.
Quick fact 3:
Even though Britain and the U.S.A. speak English as the first language of their respective countries, British Sign Language is different to American Sign Language, also known as ASL. Again, it is also the the same difference with BSL and Irish Sign Language (ISL) and Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL). This fact demonstrates that even though these countries have English as the first language, the sign language used varies from country to country.
Quick fact 4:
Users of British Sign Language successfully campaigned the government of the United Kingdom and made BSL into an officially recognized British language back in March 2003. British Sign Language is now recognized on the same level as other languages of the United Kingdom such as Scottish, Welsh and Gaelic. But to this present day, BSL has no legal protection.
Quick fact 5:
Just as in the English language, British Sign Language also has regional dialects. As an example, some signs used in the Northern parts of England may have difficulty being understood in the south of the country and vice versa. And what is even more confusing is that some signs are ‘local signs’ which are understood in only certain towns. For example, some of the BSL used in Manchester is so local that it is not understood outside of the city. Think of it as local ‘slang’. And just like local slang in any town or city, new phrases and words come in and out of fashion or just evolve over time.
Quick fact 6:
After reading the facts above, you may think that British Sign Language is difficult to learn. Well the good news is that learning BSL is not as difficult as you may think. Just like learning any other French, Spanish, Japanese or any other language, the hardest part is just getting started. There are many resources for learning BSL. Some are easy to grasp and some are impossible to follow! One of the easier ones out there is a tutorial DVD which can be found at but there are also many other different resources both online and offline which are worth researching. If you have any difficulty in finding one to suit you, drop me a line and I will be more than happy to assist you.
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