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7 Facts about Sign Language

It’s Sign Language Week in the UK! We’ll be celebrating between the 18th – 24th of March 2024 by sharing interesting facts and information about Sign Language!

There is a difference between someone who is deaf and someone who is Deaf. A deaf person tends to prefer using other communication methods such as lipreading, speaking or gestures. A person who identifies as Deaf tends to prefer to only use sign language as their form of communication. Don’t be afraid to ask someone’s preferred method of communication – it’s much better than just assuming! 

1. For many Deaf people, BSL is their first language.

It’s a common misconception that BSL is just a simplified version of English rather than being a separate Language. Many people in the Deaf Community (particularly those who are born profoundly Deaf) consider BSL to be their first language and will identify as being bilingual if they choose to learn English.

It’s important to know that in BSL, one sign can often represent an entire sentence in English but some English words don’t have an equivalent sign. When conversing with someone who communicates primarily through BSL, it’s best practice to use simple words, ask direct questions and avoid using jargon.

2. BSL has its own grammar, sentence structure and unique signs.

BSL is a visual language, expressed through hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language with its own set of grammar rules and sentence structures which makes it very different to English. This is a main method of communication for the Deaf Community and people who are profoundly Deaf.

In English, you would say ‘What is your name?’ but in BSL, you would sign ‘Your name what’. You wouldn’t sign a question mark at the end of the sentence but instead, use facial expressions such as raising your eyebrows or tilting your head to convey a question.

3. There are over 300 Sign Languages in the world.

There is no universal sign language and some signs can even vary for each region within the UK! Just as spelling and colloquialisms vary for other English-speaking countries such as England, Wales, Ireland, America, Australia etc, the same applies to sign languages.

For example, BSL will use 2 hands for fingerspelling but ASL (American Sign Language) will only use one so the alphabet looks very different!

4. Sign Language hasn’t always been an accepted form of communication.

BSL has been around for centuries but only became a recognised language by the British Government on the 18th March 2003! Historically, many Deaf children were banned from signing during classes and were told to learn how to speak and lip read in order to communicate with their teachers and peers.

The National Deaf Children’s Society have been campaigning (Right to Sign) to create a BSL GCSE course due to be rolled out in late 2025! Please visit their website for more information.

5. It takes the average BSL interpreter 7 years to fully qualify.

Interpreting isn’t as simple as translating word for word. Instead, they will interpret the meaning of BSL signs and translate this into full English sentences for hearing people and vice versa. They need to have a good understanding of both cultures and languages to convey meaning appropriately. All qualified interpreters will have completed BSL courses up to and including level 6 which takes approximately 7 years.

6. Many D/deaf people have their own sign names.

When you meet someone who is a BSL user for the first time, they’re likely to introduce themselves by fingerspelling their name. Afterwards they might show you their “sign name” which can be an equivalent to a nickname and will save you from fingerspelling names midway through a sentence.

It may be a simple sign relating to physical appearance (for example, someone who wears glasses may sign ‘glasses’ and mouth their name ‘Stephen’). However, not everyone will have, or delegate a sign name but if you’ve found one that you like, you can add this as part of your introduction.

7. Sign Language isn’t as difficult as it looks!

It really isn’t as difficult to learn as it looks! Taking some time to learn the basic rules of Sign Language grammar and sentencing structure will really help you to understand how to better communicate with someone who is Deaf.

You’d be surprised at how many signs you already use in your day-to-day life! It’s a very fun and interactive language to learn and will be so beneficial for bridging the communication gaps between you and a Deaf friend, family member or colleague. Don’t feel embarrassed to try – the Deaf community are very welcoming, patient and will appreciate you making the effort!

If you’ve found this interesting and would like to know how to make your company more accessible for your D/deaf staff, have a look at our DAT (Deaf Awareness Training) courses!

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