Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (2024)

Jayna Shepherd

  • Happiness

Did you know British Sign Language (BSL) was recognised as an indigenous language of England, Wales, and Scotland on 28th April 2022 by law? Sign language is a visual way of communicating employing gestures, facial expressions, and body language, and, according to the 2021 census, British Sign Language was the main language of just over 21,000 people in England and slightly over 900 people in Wales. Here, we explore the benefits of learning BSL, how to master it and some British Sign Language words for beginners.

Who uses British Sign Language?

British Sign Language is often relied upon by those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or sometimes by those who are unable to speak (mute). There are thought to be around 11 million deaf people in the UK, with about 150,000 using British Sign Language. In addition to that figure, family and friends of these people and interpreters will also use it.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (2)

Interestingly, there are around 300 different sign languages used worldwide, including several sign-languages used in English-speaking countries like the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Some UK citizens opt to use Sign Supported English, especially if they could speak before becoming deaf, or Makaton should they have additional learning needs. However, BSL remains the sign language most used in Britain, with its own regional differences.

Learning BSL

Whilst Sign Supported English has a structure and grammar based on spoken English, meaning the signs follow the precise order they’d be if they were spoken, British Sign Language has its own syntax, grammar and patterns. One example is starting with the main subject in British Sign Language, then saying something about it.

In English you’d ask:

“What is your name?”

And reply:

“My name is Anna”

But in British Sign Language you’d ask:

“Name – what?”

And reply:

“Name me Anna.”

Similar to two-thirds of the world’s languages, British Sign Language has no written form and not every English word is represented by a BSL sign. Yet, a BSL sign can often convey what could be an entire sentence in English.

Fingerspelling is a way of spelling words using hand movements. It’s helpful for spelling out the names of people and places for which there isn’t a sign or to spell out words the signer doesn’t know the sign for or to clarify a sign that the person reading the signer is unsure of.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (3)

Fascinatingly, British Sign Language uses a two-handed alphabet, but some other sign languages like American Sign Language use a one-handed alphabet.

5 common British Sign Language words for beginners you can learn today

1. Hello / Goodbye

With your palm facing the person you’re signing to, wave your dominant hand near the side of your head in one arc. The sign is the same no matter if you’re greeting someone or bidding them farewell. Context helps convey the sign’s intended meaning.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (4)

2. What is your name?

Signed as “Name”, “You”, “What?”

First, sign the word ‘name’ by placing the tips of your index and middle fingers to your forehead. Twist your hand forwards at your wrist until your fingers are facing forwards in front of your face.

Next, sign the word “You” by pointing with your index finger at the person you’re referring to.

Lastly, sign the word “What?” by extending your index finger on the hand you write with in front of your body and making short side-to-side movements with your hand. Accompany this sign with a questioning expression.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (5)

3. How are you?

Place the fingertips of your flat hands up your chest and then move your hands forwards with your thumbs up and a questioning expression. Eye contact with the person you’re signing to is key here.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (6)

4. Can I help you?

Signed as “Help”, “Can?”

Begin by signing the word “Help” by resting your closed hand with your thumb up on the palm of your other upturned hand.

Then sign the word “Can?” with your extended index finger facing outwards to the person, you’re signing to, moving your hand down from eye level to your stomach. Raise your eyebrows to show you’re asking a question.

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (7)

5. Please / Thank you

Starting with the fingertips of your flat hand on your chin, move your hand down and away. This sign represents both “please” and “thank you.”

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (8)

Benefits of learning basic BSL signs

Imagine not hearing when someone warns you about danger. Picture not being able to comfort a child as you can’t hear them crying. Visualise not being able to hear jokes, questions about yourself and your thoughts or someone confiding in you. Pretty lonely, right?

There are no doubts people who are deaf, and mute deserve a way to express themselves and be understood. For those who are deaf and / or mute, learning BSL can:

  • Open the world to them, so they can communicate and build relationships.

  • Improve their mental health. After all, communicating thoughts is one way to calm negative feelings like anxiety.
  • Allow them to be part of communities, which limits social isolation that can have a negative impact on health.

For those that can hear and speak, learning BSL can:

  • Help build a more inclusive society.
  • Meaningfully connect them to a wider group of people. Consider this: someone who’s deaf could have a great deal in common with a hearing person and make a brilliant friend but the friendship could pass the hearing person by if they can’t communicate with them.
  • Improve their job prospects as businesses work to be more accessible, BSL could be a valuable asset.
  • Enhance their communication. British Sign Language challenges our brains and engages all our senses. The result? The learner becomes an active listener, even when chatting to someone who can hear. They focus more on facial expressions and body language – skills they can transfer to a conversation with anyone.

Ways to learn BSL

Just as British Sign Language helps build a more accessible society, we aim to give people access to their personal health record via the Evergreen Life app so they can be informed to drive their own health and wellbeing.

Download the app

Reviewed by:

Anna Keeble MA BAHead of Content and Wellbeing Expert

Dr Brian Fisher MBBch MBE MSc FRSA– Clinical Director

  1. Barnard Medical Group (n.d.) Patient Communication Needs. Barnard Medical Group.
  2. British Deaf Association (n.d.) Equality. Access. Freedom of choice. British Deaf Association
  3. British Sign Language (n.d.) British Sign Language Dictionary. British Sign Language.
  4. British Sign Language (n.d.) BSL Word Search. British Sign Language.
  5. British Sign Language (n.d.) Fingerspelling Alphabet. British Sign Language.
  6. British Sign Language (n.d.) Introducing British Sign Language. British Sign Language.
  7. British Sign Language (n.d.) Learn from home in your own time. British Sign Language.
  8. BSL Link for Communication (n.d.) What is British Sign Language? BSL Link for Communication.
  9. BSL Resources (n.d.) Dictionary of British Sign Language. BSL Resources
  10. Calvert Exmoor (n.d.) The Different Types of Sign Language in the UK. Calvert Exmoor.
  11. Makaton (n.d.) What is Makaton? Makaton.
  12. Sense (2023) Sign Language. Sense.
  13. Signature (2022) Census 2021 – British Sign Language. Signature.
  14. SignSolutions (2022) Which countries use sign language? SignSolutions.
  15. The Deaf Health Charity SignHealth (n.d.) Who uses British Sign Language (BSL)? The Deaf Health Charity SignHealth.

Jayna Shepherd

Jayna Shepherd is a Content Writer at Evergreen Life. As a BA Journalism graduate, Jayna enjoys the challenge of learning about cutting-edge wellness research and translating that into digestible, chatty plain-English to benefit our app users and content readers.



Understanding the menopause

29 October 2021

GP Services

Would you like me to share your medical record with you?

15 February 2018

Health Records

A guide to prostate cancer

28 September 2021

Common British Sign Language (BSL) signs | Evergreen Life (2024)


What is the British Sign Language for life? ›

Open hand with bent middle finger. Tip of middle finger rubs up and down on chest. Definition: Being alive.

Does England use ASL or BSL? ›

Most Deaf people who use sign language in the UK use British Sign Language (BSL). It is a rich combination of hand gestures, facial expressions and body language and, like English, has its own grammar, syntax and lexicons.

Is ASL or BSL more common? ›

BSL and its regional accents are the most common sign languages in the UK. But some people also use Irish Sign Language (ISL).

How many people in the UK use BSL on a daily basis? ›

Who uses BSL? There are estimated to be 150,000 Deaf adults and children in the UK who use British Sign Language (BSL) and for 70,000 of them, British Sign Language (BSL) is their preferred means of communication.

What is BSL vs ASL? ›

Both languages use non-manual signals, but they are used differently in each language. ASL tends to rely heavily on facial expressions, while BSL relies more on body movements and handshapes. For example, a raised eyebrow or smile in ASL can convey emotion, whereas in BSL, the way the hands move may be more critical.

Should I learn ASL or BSL? ›

It actually depends on the person willing to learn the language. However, you should consider which sign language is used the most in the area you live in. If you live in the UK, you should learn BSL, and if you live in the US or in the English-speaking regions of Canada, you should go for ASL.

Is ASL harder than BSL? ›

I don't think one is intrinsically easier to learn than the other, but there are more resources out there for ASL learners than for BSL learners so ASL is probably easier to learn from a practical perspective (assuming we are comparing 'learning ASL in an ASL-speaking country' with 'learning BSL in a BSL-speaking ...

Do all deaf people use BSL? ›

Some will embrace BSL, others choose not to. The important thing when meeting a deaf person is to ask how they would like to communicate. If you have learnt some sign language you will be well equipped if they sign in reply!

Is BSL a dying language? ›

Research into dying minority languages shows how to measure if a language is threatened and how to revive them, and recent research using these measurements with British Sign Language (BSL) found that it is severely endangered (Deaf Ex-Mainstreamers Group - DEX) .

Can ASL speakers understand BSL? ›

Different sign languages are used in different countries or regions. For example, British Sign Language (BSL) is a different language from ASL, and Americans who know ASL may not understand BSL.

Is it easy to learn ASL if you know BSL? ›

While ASL uses a one-handed manual alphabet, BSL uses a two-handed manual alphabet. There are some similarities in the two sign languages, but a BSL user would still struggle to fully understand ASL without some prior knowledge of the language and vice versa.

Is BSL much different to ASL? ›

American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) use different signs, although some words and phrases may be very similar. ASL uses one hand, whereas with BSL it's two hands. It should also be remembered that different signs can mean different things in each ASL and BSL.

Is BSL used in Ireland? ›

Embracing sign language

BSL is the first or preferred language of communication of approximately 3,500 members of the deaf population of Northern Ireland while approximately 1,500 use ISL.

Is there much difference between ASL and BSL? ›

It is easy to assume that American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) would be similar, but they are actually two completely different languages. Only about 30% of the signs are the same, even though they are based on the same spoken language.

What is American Sign Language for forever? ›

FOREVER in sign language

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant forefigner or index finger pointing to temple of head and moves outward with the "Y" handshape. Meaning (forever and ever): Without ever ending; eternally; forever and always.

What is the British Sign Language for goal? ›

Description: Extended index finger on primary hand moves between extended little finger and index finger of secondary hand.

What is the British Sign Language for King? ›

Open hand with clawed fingers taps top of head (crown). Definition: A male ruler of a country who is not elected and whose mother, father, or other close relative was a ruler before him.

What is the British Sign Language for birthday? ›

Description: Flat hands with palms facing upwards begin by waist & move forwards. Flat hands then move upwards in an arc movement.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Allyn Kozey

Last Updated:

Views: 6122

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Allyn Kozey

Birthday: 1993-12-21

Address: Suite 454 40343 Larson Union, Port Melia, TX 16164

Phone: +2456904400762

Job: Investor Administrator

Hobby: Sketching, Puzzles, Pet, Mountaineering, Skydiving, Dowsing, Sports

Introduction: My name is Allyn Kozey, I am a outstanding, colorful, adventurous, encouraging, zealous, tender, helpful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.