Learning British Sign Language (BSL)
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 our 'Levels of BSL' table for an overview of courses and how they link together.
To help you get started, we have listed common questions asked by parents:
There are many providers of BSL courses, including:
- local colleges
- private businesses
- voluntary groups.
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. Your Teacher of the Deaf will be able to provide information about what is provided through your local authority.
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.
The Institute of British Sign Language (iBSL) is another Ofqual accredited organisation providing a range of qualifications in BSL and Deaf Studies.
Some local authorities offer BSL courses as part of their local offer or provide financial support to parents for learning BSL. The type and level of support provided by local authorities for parents to learn BSL varies greatly but can include:
- home tuition for families from a Teacher of the Deaf or a sign language tutor/deaf role model
- Introduction to BSL classes aimed at families, Family Sign Language courses or similar
- introductory courses for parents of young deaf children
- setting up free Level 1 or 2 BSL classes for families.
Other services local authorities might provide include:
- lending BSL resources such as books and DVDs
- family support workers
- groups for families and children to practice BSL
- liaising with other local organisations who can provide support.
View our Local Offer information to learn more about Local Offers and how you can provide feedback to your local authority if you are unhappy with their Local Offer.
If you’re unable to access a course in your area there are some online providers that provide BSL courses.
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 Level 1 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 you're a parent who finds it too expensive to learn BSL in your area or cannot access courses locally, there are different types of support local authorities may offer. You can contact the our free Helpline for more information and support.
Some local authorities offer funding for places on accredited courses from local providers. However, funding does not always cover assessment fees.
If you live in England and your child has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan they and your family may be given the option to use a Special Education Need (SEN) Personal Budget to buy in support you need. This could be used for sign language tuition, for example. However, at present, there are few examples of deaf children receiving Personal Budgets.
FSL is a course aimed at families with deaf children aged between 0 and 5 years old.
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.
Some local authorities and organisations teach FSL through classes and home tuition or provide their own similar versions of the training.
Deaf children and parents or carers of deaf children are entitled to an assessment of their needs by children’s social care if they request one.
The Children Act 1989 allows for children’s social care to provide almost any services to a disabled child or their parents/carers if the assessment has shown that a service is necessary to “safeguard and promote a child’s welfare”. This could include paying for parents/carers and extended family members to access sign language classes or communication support.
Our webpage, Rights and Support from your Local Council provides information specific to each UK nation about how to approach your local authority or social services for support.
To get started, you can take a look online. British-sign.co.uk is a great place to learn BSL from home and gain access to fingerspelling and more complex signs.