British Sign Language

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf

British Sign Language is the most common form of sign language in the UK and has been recognised as a language in its own right since 2003. Find out how you can learn to sign.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the language of the Deaf community in Great Britain, which has its own set of social beliefs, behaviours, art, history and values. People in the Deaf community describe themselves as ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ to express their pride in their Deaf identity.

BSL involves a combination of hand shapes and movements, lip patterns, facial expressions and shoulder movements. It has its own grammar and is structured in a completely different way from English.

In BSL, you start with the main subject or topic. After that, you refer to something about the topic – for example:

  • English: What is your name?
  • BSL: Name – what?

In Northern Ireland, Irish Sign Language (ISL) is used as well as BSL.

Fingerspelling

Fingerspelling is the BSL alphabet. Certain words – usually names of people and places – are spelled out on fingers. Fingerspelling alone isn’t sign language, but it can help you to communicate with someone who is Deaf.

You can quickly learn the fingerspelling alphabet with our free fingerspelling card. Download your free fingerspelling card.

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