British Sign Language is estimated to be the preferred language for over 70,000 deaf people in the UK, for most of whom English would be a second or even third language. There are also thought to be a further 100,000 hearing people who are proficient in BSL.
BSL is a visual/spatial language which uses; hand shapes, hand movements and facial expressions to convey meaning. BSL is governed by it’s own grammatical rules, which are completely different to those used in English.
BSL, like many spoken languages has regional dialects. Some signs for example used in the North West of England, may differ from those used in the South or in Scotland.
Despite being such a widely used language, BSL was only recognised as a language by the UK Government in March 2003 and is not yet considered an official language of the UK, although there are legislations such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 which require the provision of interpreters.
In the UK, Signature (a registered charity for the promotion of “excellence in communication with deaf people”) offer a range of qualifications accredited by QCA to learn BSL:
Level 1 – Aimed at beginners, to gain basic competence.
Level 2 – For Intermediate learners, to develop the ability to communicate with Deaf people in longer and more open ended exchanges than that in Level 1.
Level 3 – For Advanced learners, who have already qualified at Level 2, to further develop receptive and productive BSL skills.
Once you have passed Level 3 with Signature, your qualification can be directly mapped to the equivalent Level 3 on the National Qualifications Framework and the natural progression path would be NVQ Level 4, for advanced learners and those wishing to pursue a career as an interpreter.
The Signature BSL qualifications are taught in over 600 centres across the UK and Ireland, with an average of 87% of people in 2008 passing the Level 1 exam.
To find out more about Signature, visit their website.
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