Sign language

Sign language is a visual way of communicating where someone uses hand gestures and movements, body language and facial expressions to communicate.

British Sign Language (BSL)

In the UK, the term sign language usually refers to British Sign Language (BSL). It’s a language mainly used by people who are Deaf or have a hearing impairment.

BSL is a complete language. It has its own vocabulary, word order and grammar. For example:

  • English = ‘My name is George.’
  • BSL = ‘Name me George.’

BSL also includes fingerspelling. Every letter of the alphabet has a sign. These are used to spell out words and sentences on the hand. They’re an easy way to communicate if you don’t know or can’t remember specific signs.

Say hello to George

Watch George using British Sign Language and fingerspelling.

Audio described version of Say Hello to George with transcript.

Visual Frame Signing and Hands-On BSL

You can use adapted forms of BSL, if you have, or develop, limited vision as well as a hearing impairment - for example, as a result of a condition called Usher syndrome.

Visual Frame Signing can be used if you develop tunnel vision. It means when someone is signing to you, they sign within your remaining field of vision.

Hands-On BSL signing can be used if you are also blind or have very limited vision. This means you and the person you’re communicating with use the BSL signs on each other’s hands rather than your own.

Say hello to Helene

Watch Helene using hands-on signing as one of the ways she communicates. She also explains how you can say hello to her using Block, which is one of the tactile alphabets

Audio described version of Say Hello to Helene with transcript.

Sign Supported English (SSE)

Sign Supported English (SSE) uses British Sign Language (BSL) signs but in the order they are used in spoken English.


Makaton is not a formal sign language, but it does use signs, as well as symbols and speech, to develop communication, language and literacy skills.

Makaton symbols can also be used to choose between particular activities in a similar way to using objects of reference and picture symbols.

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