Every year, there is a week in March dedicated to the deaf community, with a focus of raising awareness around British Sign Language. [1]

This year, British Sign Language Week runs from the 16th – 22nd March and thebigword is looking at the origin of the language as well as how our team is helping to make communication between hearing and non-hearing individuals an easier process.

What is British Sign Language?

Sign Language is a visual means of communication, which can be identified using gestures, facial expressions and body language.

In the UK, British Sign Language (BSL) is officially recognised as the second widest used language after English. BSL follows its own grammatical structure and syntax, which is not dependent on spoken English language. [2]

It is a requirement for interpreters who sign BSL to have a thorough understanding of the complexity and variety of words, as cities across the country occasionally sign differently for the same words.

The first British records of sign language date back to the 16th century. There is an assumption that hearing-impaired individuals have always used signs to communicate but until the 19th century, most lived in scattered villages/towns and rarely encountered other people who were deaf or hard of hearing.

The introduction of residential schools in the 19th century was pinnacle and allowed the deaf community to unite and socialise in an environment with people akin. In 1975, the terms ‘British Sign Language’ and ‘BSL’ were established, leading to an increased awareness of the language. [3]

After an abundance of campaigning from both hearing and non-hearing supporters, British Sign Language was finally recognised by the UK Government as an official minority language on March 18th, 2003 and is now regarded as an official British language. Every year, British Sign Language Week falls within the anniversary of this date.

The recognition of British Sign Language as an official language in the UK has resulted in a clearer understanding of the language, as well as enhanced needs for better communication. There are already more than 10 million hearing-impaired individuals in the UK – with the figure set to grow to one in five by 2035. [4]

How can thebigword help?

With growing demand for BSL-trained interpreters, organisations need to consider their commitment and requirements to enable access to suitable services.

At thebigword, we provide interpreting services for a variety of industries, such as legal and health, to break down communication barriers between people who are deaf and hearing.

We are able to deliver Video Sign Language at the click of a button using a service called Sign Video. No specialist equipment is required, just a computer, webcam and access to the internet – making it accessible anywhere, with no geographical limitations.

thebigword’s BSL interpreters are high-skilled professionals, directly recruited from the NRCPD database (the national register of communications professionals working with the deaf/deafblind). Our strong reputation amongst the BSL interpreting community as well as our NHS and local government clients comes from providing only the highest quality interpreting.

Visit our interpreting page to find out more about our services.


[1] http://signlanguageweek.org.uk/
[2] https://www.british-sign.co.uk/what-is-british-sign-language/
[3] https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/library-rnid/2012/07/06/a-brief-history-of-bsl/
[4] https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/about-us/our-research-and-evidence/facts-and-figures/