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More people want to learn BSL than French or German

Published Date: 10 Mar 2016

12.7 million people in the UK would like to learn sign language, a new survey reveals – with more Brits wanting to be able to communicate in sign language than in French and German.

British Sign Language (BSL) is a language in its own right and uses hand shapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language to convey meaning. It is the first language of some deaf people and is used in addition to spoken English by others.

Our survey found that:

  • A quarter (24.50%) of people in Britain say they want to learn sign language.
  • The top three languages respondents would like to learn are Spanish (28.80%), British Sign Language (24.50%) and French (23.20%).
  • 61% of people feel embarrassed they can’t communicate well with deaf people and wish they could do better.
  • Two thirds (66.80%) of people think that sign language is more impressive than speaking a foreign language; and

  • Proving that British etiquette is alive and well, “thank you” is the phrase people would most like to learn in sign language, closely followed by “can I help” and “sorry”.

The survey results will be welcomed by deaf children and young people who use sign language either as their first language or as a support to spoken English.

A lack of deaf awareness can be a problem for all deaf children, whether they use sign language or not, often leading to isolation and loneliness at school.  Nearly 80% of deaf children in England attend mainstream schools where they may be the only deaf child enrolled - so without good deaf awareness, they can miss out on important social development like conversations with classmates and playground games.

To kick-start the nation’s introduction to sign language and deaf awareness, we are launching the ‘Fingerspellathon’ challenge, asking people to learn to sign the alphabet and get sponsored to fingerspell certain key words.

Commenting on the findings, our Chief Executive Susan Daniels said: “It is so important that deaf children and young people do not miss out on conversations, activities and opportunities to make new friends.  Raising deaf awareness is key to this and the Fingerspellathon is an excellent way of showing support, learning a new skill and raising vital funds to support deaf children and their families.”

For more information on Fingerspellathon or to sign up to the challenge, visit