The Importance of Teaching British Sign Language in Schools

Written by Dan

British Sign Language (BSL) plays a crucial role in the lives of many individuals within the UK, particularly for those in the deaf community. As a primary means of communication, BSL allows for expressing detailed and complex thoughts without using spoken words.

As such, teaching BSL not only fosters inclusiveness by bridging communication gaps between deaf and hearing people, but it also enriches our societal fabric by recognizing and elevating the importance of sign language within our educational systems and everyday interactions.

By integrating BSL into educational curricula, schools take significant steps towards creating an inclusive environment for all students.

This educational approach can be particularly empowering for deaf children, allowing them to receive an education on equal footing with their hearing peers.

Furthermore, BSL instruction extends benefits beyond the deaf community, as it provides hearing students with the opportunity to learn a new language and appreciate a vibrant aspect of cultural diversity.

The spread of BSL through education promises to advance communication, promote social inclusion, and support cognitive and linguistic development.

Key Takeaways

  • BSL is pivotal for inclusive communication and community building.
  • Incorporating BSL into education promotes equality and linguistic diversity.
  • Learning BSL benefits both deaf and hearing individuals socially and cognitively.

Historical Context and Evolution of BSL

The journey of British Sign Language (BSL) is filled with milestones, from its undocumented origins to being officially recognized within the UK. This evolution signifies the resilience and determination of the Deaf community to overcome language barriers and gain legislative support.

Origins and Recognition

BSL has a rich history that traces back to the earliest documented sign language usage in St. Martin’s Church, Leicester, where a marriage ceremony in 1595 incorporated sign language.

Another significant event includes the life of Edward Bone, a Deaf manservant from the 1600s, with eye-witness accounts demonstrating how he communicated using signs.

Progressing through time, the establishment of Thomas Braidwood’s Academy for the Deaf in 1760 marked a pivotal point for BSL, incorporating sign language into education and setting standards for what BSL would become.

BSL’s further development was closely tied to the British Deaf Association (BDA), founded in 1890, which played a fundamental role in BSL’s recognition both as a language and as a critical tool for inclusion.

The language saw a pivotal moment on March 18, 2003, when the UK Parliament officially recognized BSL as a language in its own right, a testament to the dedicated advocacy work by the Deaf community and their allies.

Legislation and Inclusion Efforts

Legislative efforts to promote BSL inclusion have notably advanced since the start of the 21st century.

Following the recognition by Parliament, the subsequent introduction of the Equality Act 2010 further empowered BSL users by helping to address language barriers and ensure legal provisions for the Deaf community’s access to services.

Such legislative frameworks have promoted an increase in BSL’s visibility and use, enhancing societal understanding and inclusion of the Deaf culture and community within the UK.

With ongoing discussions and campaigns led by organizations such as the BDA and supportive parliamentarians, there is a continual push for the integration of BSL into a broader range of public and private sector services.

These efforts aim to create a more inclusive society where BSL is not just recognized, but also widely implemented to break down communication barriers for Deaf individuals.

Education and BSL

Integrating British Sign Language (BSL) into educational settings enriches the learning environment and broadens communication. It provides both deaf and hearing students with essential skills.

BSL in School Curriculum

BSL’s inclusion in the school curriculum represents a significant step towards inclusive education.

Advocates argue for BSL as a mandatory part of the national curriculum, both to support deaf students and to promote diversity. Schools implementing BSL not only accommodate deaf students but also foster an environment of inclusivity.

Introducing BSL can start at an early age, with studies showing that children in mainstream schools show enthusiasm in learning sign language, which benefits the entire school community.

  • Benefits for Students:
    • Enhances empathy and inclusiveness.
    • Equips them with an additional language skill.

By teaching BSL, schools actively partake in shaping a more inclusive future, breaking down communication barriers for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Higher Education and Professional Training

In colleges and universities, BSL courses can lead to a range of qualifications, from certificates to degrees. Higher education institutions often offer specialized courses for those interested in becoming sign language interpreters or pursuing careers in fields working with deaf people.

  • Available Qualifications:
    • Level 1-6 BSL Certifications
    • Undergraduate and Postgraduate Degrees in Deaf Studies and Sign Language Interpreting

These programs ensure that professionals are equipped with the necessary skills to support the deaf community effectively. Moreover, by providing such training, higher education institutions play a crucial role in promoting BSL’s role in wider society.

BSL for Effective Communication

British Sign Language (BSL) is an essential tool for communication within and beyond the deaf community. It serves to promote inclusion, bridge gaps, and create awareness about the unique needs and contributions of those with hearing loss.

Importance in the Deaf Community

BSL is the language of choice for many individuals who are deaf or experience hearing loss. For members of the deaf community, BSL is not merely a set of gestures; it is a rich, fully-fledged language that enables clear and effective communication.

The use of BSL supports cognitive development and provides equal opportunities in education, promoting an advantage in learning and personal growth. Knowledge and use of BSL can strengthen community bonds and preserve the cultural identity of deaf individuals.

BSL and the Hearing Community

The adoption of BSL by the hearing community is critical for fostering inclusion and ensuring that deaf individuals feel fully integrated into society.

Learning BSL can broaden one’s perspective, enhancing awareness of the challenges faced by the deaf community.

Hearing individuals can communicate effectively with deaf peers, colleagues, or customers, thereby advantaging professional and social interactions. BSL is an asset in various sectors such as education, healthcare, and customer service, where clear communication is paramount.

The Linguistics of BSL

Understanding the linguistics of British Sign Language (BSL) is fundamental to its teaching and learning. Linguistics informs the methodical study and explanation of a language’s structure and use, including grammar, vocabulary, and non-manual features like facial expressions and body language.

Grammar and Structure

BSL is a rich, complex language with its own grammar and structure, distinct from spoken English. It employs a spatial and visual modality to convey meaning, utilizing handshapes, movements, and positions in relation to the body.

The syntax of BSL is modular and can be quite flexible. Sentence structure in BSL is organized in a topic-comment format, characteristically different from English’s subject-verb-object order.

Fingerspelling and Sign Vocabulary

Fingerspelling is a method of spelling words using hand movements and it’s a part of BSL mainly used for representing alphabet letters to spell out names of people, places, or unfamiliar terms.

However, BSL primarily uses a rich sign vocabulary where each sign can express a concept without spelling it out. Symbols in BSL have their own linguistic properties, such as location, movement direction, and hand orientation, which all contribute to the meaning.

Non-manual Features

Non-manual features in BSL include facial expressions, head movements, and shoulder positioning, which are essential for communicating tone, emotion, and grammatical functions.

These features work in interplay with manual signs to give BSL its emotive and contextual depth. Body language, too, is integral, playing a role in the grammatical structure of the language, such as marking question types or emphasizing a certain part of a message.

Advancing BSL Access and Learning

Enhancing access to British Sign Language (BSL) is pivotal for supporting deaf individuals and promoting an inclusive society. Advances in technology, a focus on inclusivity, and the deployment of sign language interpreters serve as critical components in this endeavor.

Technology and Resources

In a digital age, technology plays a crucial role in BSL learning and accessibility. Numerous apps and online resources have become available, allowing for self-paced, interactive learning of British Sign Language.

Through videos, quizzes, and sign-to-text features, these technological tools have made BSL education more accessible than ever before. They offer innovative ways for hearing and deaf individuals to engage with the language, breaking down previous barriers to language acquisition.

Promoting Inclusivity and Equality

An inclusive environment is where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources, which fosters a sense of equality.

Educational institutions and workplaces increasingly recognize the importance of BSL in creating an inclusive atmosphere.

By integrating BSL into their curriculums and services, they provide deaf students and employees with better communication opportunities and demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The Role of Sign Language Interpreters

Professional sign language interpreters and communication support workers are essential in bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing communities.

These professionals not only translate spoken language to sign language but also ensure that deaf individuals receive the information they need in an accessible format.

Their presence in various settings – from classrooms to boardrooms – enables clear communication and fosters a more equitable environment for deaf individuals to thrive.

Social and Psychological Impacts of BSL

British Sign Language (BSL) has significant social and psychological ramifications. These impacts are crucial for fostering inclusive environments where every individual can thrive.

BSL not only fosters community and friendships but also plays an essential role in the workplace and has profound implications for mental health .

Building Communities and Relationships

BSL acts as a critical tool in community building, bringing together individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those with no hearing difficulties.

The visual-gestural nature of the language transcends communicative borders, enabling deaf awareness and facilitating deeper friendships and community connections.

The use of BSL in schools, highlighted by the Oxford University Press blog, demonstrates its potential in creating inclusive classrooms , where students with different abilities can engage and interact effectively.

BSL in the Workforce

In the workplace, BSL serves as more than just a means of communication; it embodies a commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

Employers who encourage BSL create a workspace that harnesses the full potential of all employees, which is affirmed by Lead Academy’s discussion on the importance of BSL in professional settings.

Integrating BSL can also lead to improved customer experience and service by acknowledging the communication needs of deaf customers.

Mental Health Considerations

Regarding mental health, the ability to communicate effectively in one’s preferred language is fundamental. BSL provides individuals who are deaf with a sense of belonging, reducing feelings of isolation.

The Royal McDonald House Charities (RMHC) recognize the importance of learning BSL for supporting mental wellbeing within the deaf community. Moreover, it offers a mode of expression that can have therapeutic value, contributing to a positive self-image and emotional resilience.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Add your form here