Inspired by Strictly’s Rose? Here’s how you can start learning sign language

·4-min read

Ever since Rose Ayling-Ellis became the first deaf contestant to compete on Strictly Come Dancing, the number of people wanting to learn British Sign Language (BSL) has surged.

Ayling-Ellis is often seen using sign language on the show and has a translator to interpret what others are saying

The EastEnders star’s rise to the top of the dancing competition’s leaderboard has inspired thousands to learn more about BSL and sign up for courses.

Russell Fowler, director of the website BSL Courses, recently told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat that enrolments have risen by more than 2,000 per cent since she joined the show in September.

In October, Ayling-Ellis took to Twitter to thank people for their interest in BSL and pointed towards a 488 per cent spike in Google searches for BSL courses, describing it as “amazing”.

Around 145,000 people use BSL as their primary language in the UK, and it is believed that around one in six people in the country has some form of hearing loss.

If you’ve been inspired by Ayling-Ellis too, here’s how you can get started in learning BSL:

Find a course

Signing up for a BSL course is the quickest and easiest way to get started. Lots of places provide them, including local colleges, private businesses, charities and voluntary groups.

Signature, a national charity and leading awarding body for deaf communication qualifications in the UK, is a good place to start looking for BSL course providers according to your location.

The charity lists training centres and colleges that have in-person classes. However, due to Covid-19, it is recommended that you enquire with each location to find out if they have decided to take their classes online instead.

If you are the parent of a deaf child, you might be able to access a BSL course through your local council. According to the National Deaf Children’s Society, some local councils can provide home tuition for families from a sign language tutor, introductory courses and setting up free Level One or Two BSL classes for families.

The BSL Courses website offers most of its classes online, including practice videos and one-to-one tutoring, with fees starting at £250 for Level One training.

If you’re just dipping your toes in the water, British-sign has a £25 online course that offers to “teach you all you need to know to begin communicating and holding conversations in BSL”.

Find the right tutor

There has been some debate about who should and shouldn’t be allowed to teach BSL, with some deaf people arguing that as BSL comes with its own culture and identity, hearing people should abstain from teaching it.

Ayling-Ellis’ advice to anyone looking to start a BSL course is to find a course taught by deaf tutors.

However, Philip Gerrard, CEO of the charity Deaf Action, argues that it should not matter whether a tutor is deaf or hearing, but should be chosen for their ability to teach BSL properly.

He wrote in a blog post in July this year: “It may be controversial for some, especially as a deaf person myself, but my position in this debate is that people’s audiological status should be removed from the discussion altogether.

“I want people to consider the importance of quality in teaching BSL and sign language. How else can we boost the uptake and visibility of BSL while protecting its rightful legitimacy as a language?”

Whoever you choose to go with when embarking on your BSL course, check their qualifications first.

If they are qualified to teach BSL by the Institute of British Sign Language (iBSL), which is accredited by Ofqual, Signature, or the ABC Awards, you are in good hands.

Learn the difference between BSL and Makaton

Some people may get confused between BSL and Makaton, with Ayling-Ellis warning interested learners to be aware that that two “are not the same”.

“BSL is the language that deaf people use and Makaton is a communication tool,” she explained.

According to the Makaton charity, Makaton is a system of signs and symbols designed to support spoken language.

Makaton is mainly used to help hearing people with learning or communication difficulties and is used in spoken word order, whereas BSL is the language of the deaf community in the UK and has Its own grammar, word order and regional variations.

“This means that we usually sign or use the symbols to support or reinforce the information carrying words in a sentence,” the charity’s website says.

“When we do this, we are making a link between the spoken words and the signs or symbols. This is to encourage speech where possible.”

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