Top Misconceptions of British Sign Language (BSL)


Last week was National Sign Language Week! I love learning sign language and I’ve had the privilege of incorporating it in my degree and gaining some qualifications in it. I really enjoy this language because it’s visual and kinaesthetic – and these are ways I learn best. I love the expressive nature of this language and it has tied in well with my theatre studies. It’s always great to see a deaf person’s face light up when you sign with them, even if you make mistakes or sign slowly – they usually really appreciate the effort.  In honour of National Sign Language Week, here are the top misconceptions of British Sign Language (BSL).


  • Since March 2003, BSL has been an official recognised language, but still has no legal protection.


  • BSL is not just a signed version of English, because that’s Sign Supported English (SSE). BSL carries more weight and is more commonly used. It has a completely different word order to English, with the most important words first. For example: ‘what’s your name’ in BSL would be ‘name you what’?


  • Makaton Sign Language and BSL have many similarities, but they’re not the same. Makaton tends to be used in by individuals who have learning difficulties.


  • Every country has its own sign language. International Sign Language can be used if you are communicating with a Deaf person from another country.


  • There are regional variations of British Sign Language, one sign could mean something very different in the South of England than it does in the North!


  • BSL is not all ‘iconic’ signs ie. gestural signs that look exactly like what they are discussing. There are many ‘non-iconic’ signs which means they look nothing like what they are discussing.


  • There is not necessarily a sign for every word and even if there is, you don’t always need to sign it. BSL is usually shorter and more simplified, therefore can be quicker to express than verbal speech. However, sometimes a concept may need more establishing, and can take a bit longer. Although there are signs for connective words (e.g. and, but, or) you can usually obliterate or use fewer of these when signing. In some cases, you can use facial expressions (e.g furrowed eyebrows) to show you are asking a question.


If you’re interested in learning BSL, there are various courses you can take online or in person. Click here to find out more. A simple way to learn a few signs is to look them up using an online sign dictionary, however it’s better to learn through a course and practicing with others.


Did you know that Reading Uni offer a BSL module that any student can take (not just if you’re on my degree)?! Click here for more information.




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