10 Facts About British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreters

The British Sign Language is an official language in Britain used predominantly by deaf people. The language is spoken using hand movements, gestures, body language and facial expressions. People with hearing impairments are just as capable as people who can hear. It’s just that their power of verbal communication is limited. But their ability to receive and express themselves is always there. Deaf people think in sign language. It’s similar to how hearing people think in their mind with their inner voice. 

Although the existence of sign language can be traced back to the 16th century the first school of British sign language was founded by Thomas Braidwood in 1760. A teacher in Edinburgh, Scotland. He, later on, became the founder headmaster of Britain’s first public school for the deaf. 

Sign language was not officially taught in deaf school until 1940.  Before then deaf people were encouraged to lip read and fingerspell. But language acquisition in deaf students showed better results with signed language. So sign language was developed to make deaf students compete with hearing students.

10 Facts About British Sign Language and Sign Language Interpreters

What BSL interpreters do is facilitate communication between Deaf people and hearing people. So BSL interpreters are very important to ensure the inclusiveness of deaf people in society. The following are a few facts about British sign language and sign language interpreters:

1. Number of users of British sign language

The deaf community in the UK comprises about 125,000 members. They generally prefer BSL and spoken languages like English is their second or third choice. At present, there are approximately 151,000 users of BSL in the UK.

2. British sign language alphabets

Like all other languages, sign language also has an alphabetical system. Letters of the English alphabetical system are expressed using finger spelling in British sign language.

British sign language alphabets

The alphabetical system is used by users to help them spell names of place and people for which there is no sign. The alphabet system is also used by users to clarify their thoughts to people who do not understand sign language. BSL uses a two-handed fingerspelling system.

3. The BSL sign and phrase dictionary

BSL is a language at its own right with its own vocabulary, structure and grammar. The entire language is expressed in signs with the movement of hand, body, face and head. All these signs and phrases are compiled in the British sign language dictionary for learners. The BSL sign bank consists of more than 2500 signs.

4. Types of sign language

There are around 135 sign languages used all over the world. Almost all countries have their own sign language. Even English speaking countries that share the same spoken language don’t share the same sign language. Among them American sign language, British sign language and Australian sign language are notable. 

They differ in gestures, signs and even on alphabets. For instance fingerspelling in British sign language is done using two hands but the American sign language uses one hand. You will be surprised to know regional dialects exist even in sign language. Suppose signs and gestures in London may differ from signs in Manchester. So sign language is not universal.

5. British sign language courses

The conventional way to learn British sign language, you would need to attend a sign language class. But attending classes would take up a lot of your time and energy. But these days, like so many other things you can also learn BSL doing an easily accessible online course. Online courses will enable you to easily get lessons from the best instructor. You’ll be able to learn sign language from the comfort of your home.

As it is a visual language you will need to practice signing. You can easily contact the deaf community near you and even pay them a visit in a deaf pub. They are very welcoming to people who want to come over and hang out with them to practice signing. They are aware of the fact that more people with the knowledge of signing will make their community more inclusive to society and lead a normal life.

6. BSL poetry

You will be amazed to know sign language even has its own poetry. Yes, they exist. A beautiful form of visual art expressed totally in signs, gestures and movement that will completely blow your mind. In 2017 Britain hosted its first-ever Sign language poetry slam. Recently Marcus Rashford the England and Manchester United front-man learned British sign language to judge a poetry competition.

7. What do sign language interpreters do

A sign language interpreters job is to interpret between people who use sign language and people who use spoken language. Sign language interpreters need to face a wide variety of situations, such as:

The job of an interpreter is quite a challenging one. You have to listen to or understand the speaker. At a time you also have to work out the most appropriate expression for the sign or the words spoken.

8. Sign language interpreter salary

The job of a sign language interpreter is quite a hectic one. But it is equally rewarding. Salaries of interpreters vary depending on where you work, the size of the company and so on. Full-Time interpreters make around £20,000 to £35,000 yearly [Source]. 

As most interpreters work as a freelance basis this figure varies. Interpreters working on a day to day basis may earn from £180 for a trainee up to £220 as expert level interpreters. You can find Sign Language Interpreters here.

9. How difficult is it to learn sign language

Learning any language demands your time and attention in a different way. It’s similar to learning any other spoken language. You will have to proceed one step at a time. Just be motivated and you will likely pick it up faster. It’s very important not to get discouraged in these types of attempts. 

learn sign language

10. BSL, SSE And Makaton

Some of you may confuse BSL with Sign supported English (SSE). BSL is a visual language completely spoken using signs. It has its own linguistics, rules and grammar. 

SSE uses signs along with speech. It follows the grammatical structure of spoken English borrowing signs used in BSL. SSE is used in schools where children with hearing impairment learn English grammar alongside signing. From this point of view, SSE can be termed signed English.  

Makaton is a new sign language developed in the 70s. Makaton was designed to help hearing people with learning and communication difficulties. It uses signs symbols with a speech in spoken word order.

Benefits of learning British sign language

Learning a second or a third language can be a great workout for your brain. Like all other muscles, the brain also functions better with more exercise. Learning BSL will push your brain to explore new dimensions of your brain. This will definitely improve your long term memory and improve your academics as well. 

There are about 1000 sign language interpreters and about 250 trainee sign language interpreters. There are also 11 sign language translators. It is forecast there will be a growth of more than 50% in jobs as sign language interpreters by the year 2021. Students can try to exploit the opportunity.

Apart from earning, a new skill signing will help you get your foot in the door in many other jobs as well. All the industries are trying to ensure the inclusiveness of deaf people. So there is always a demand for employees skilled in sign language. Besides helping you get a regular job, learning BSL can help you get into a job at specialized institutions as teachers of deaf children.

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