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Communication approaches

Listed below are some of the common communication approaches chosen by deaf people, some will use a combination of these.

Listening and speaking

Many deaf children and young people use their listening and speaking skills when communicating with others. They may also use technology to help with this such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.


This is the ability to read lip patterns. Deaf children and young people naturally pick up lip-reading but many speech sounds look the same, for example, ‘pat’ and ‘bat’, so it is difficult to rely on lip-reading on its own. It's usually used alongside other communication approaches.

British Sign Language (BSL)

Over 87,000 people in the British Deaf Community use BSL. It is a visual language using handshapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language. BSL is independent and a complete language with unique vocabulary. The structure and grammar is different from written and spoken English, evolving over time and with regional dialects. On 18 March 2003, the Government officially recognised BSL as a minority language. Find out more about BSL.

Sign Supported English (SSE)

SSE uses signs taken from BSL. It is used in English word order but you do not sign every word. This may help you become familiar with BSL as you use signs alongside your own language.

Signed English (SE)

SE is an exact representation of English where a sign is used for every spoken word, usually used in education to develop written and spoken English skills. If someone uses only BSL to communicate they may not fully understand SSE or SE, due to the structural and grammatical changes.


Each letter of the alphabet is represented using the fingers and palm of the hand. Fingerspelling is used for signing names or a word without signs. If you would like to learn more, you can download our free fingerspelling postcard and poster.


Makaton is a sign system that is used with children and adults who have communication and/or learning difficulties. For example, children with Down Syndrome. Makaton includes speech together with signs, taken from BSL, and modified where the handshapes are complex. It also includes symbols and is grammar free.