How can I learn British Sign Language (BSL)?

A family use British Sign Language (BSL) at storytime at home.

Like any spoken language such as French or Spanish it takes time and practise to learn and use British Sign Language (BSL) fluently.

BSL is broken down into different levels and can be learnt through a variety of courses, from basic introductory courses to recognised qualifications like an NVQ and even as an honours degree. Download a table showing the levels of BSL for an overview of the different levels and how they link together. You can also download our options for learning BSL flowchart.

Where can I find British Sign Language (BSL) courses?

There are many providers of BSL courses:

  • Local colleges
  • Private businesses
  • Charities
  • Voluntary groups

Most courses at colleges run as evening classes from September to June. This often doesn’t suit parents who wish to learn BSL quickly so some providers offer intensive courses with daytime or weekend classes.

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Finding a course in your area

It is worth spending a bit of time investigating who is offering courses in your area to see which provider is most suitable in terms of cost, location, speed of learning and course times

A good place to search for courses is Signature’s website. They don’t give you dates and times of courses but will tell you where you can find them.It is also a good idea to look up local colleges online and find out what BSL courses they offer.

Your local authority's (council) Local Offer

Some local authorities (councils) offer BSL courses as part of their local offer or provide financial support to parents for learning BSL. However, the availability and level of support varies greatly between local authorities.

Our webpage Can I get support for learning BSL? explains in more detail the types and levels of support available.

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Learning BSL online

If you are unable to access a course in your area there are some online providers that provide BSL courses.

Leia who has an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) practise signing in the garend

Family Sign Language

Family Sign Language (FSL) is a course aimed at families with deaf children aged between 0 and 5.

The FSL curriculum includes BSL signs for telling stories, playing games and is typically taught through 20 hours of tuition. Our Family Sign Language section has lots of videos of real families using sign language and practical tips that show how you can start using sign language as part of your everyday routines and ways in which you can get the whole family involved.

Some local authorities and local organisations teach FSL through classes and home tuition or provide their own similar versions of the training. 

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How much does a BSL course cost?

Introductory or Family Sign Language courses tend to be free. However these courses will only teach you a very basic level of BSL which will not be advanced enough for those who wish to take a sign-bilingual or Total Communication approach.The cost of accredited courses is variable at Level1 with courses ranging from free to more than £400 depending on the provider. The cost of BSL is often higher for more advanced levels.

If the cost of learning BSL is too expensive

You may find it useful to view our information on getting support for learning BSL which explains in more detail the types of local authorities may offer.

If you are a parent who finds it too expensive to learn BSL in your area or cannot access courses locally, please contact the National Deaf Children's Society Freephone Helpline on 0808 800 8880 or helpline@ndcs.org.uk as they may be able to provide information and support.

Alternatively, you can find information about learning BSL on the British Deaf Association website.

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Family story: Vicky's sign language journey

Due to a lack of local provision mum Vicky turned to NDCS for support for learning sign language. Read our family story about how our resources helped kick-start her family's sign language journey.

References

This information is based on the booklet Learning British Sign Language that was produced in 2015 as part of the I-Sign project funded by the Department for Education.

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