Old name, new purpose: why we’ve gone back to RNID

British Sign Language

British Sign Language is the most common form of sign language in the UK and has been recognised as a language in its own right since 2003. Find out how you can learn to sign.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the language of the Deaf community in Great Britain, which has its own set of social beliefs, behaviours, art, history and values. People in the Deaf community describe themselves as ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ to express their pride in their Deaf identity.

BSL involves a combination of hand shapes and movements, lip patterns, facial expressions and shoulder movements. It has its own grammar and is structured in a completely different way from English.

In BSL, you start with the main subject or topic. After that, you refer to something about the topic – for example:

  • English: What is your name?
  • BSL: Name – what?

In Northern Ireland, Irish Sign Language (ISL) is used as well as BSL. 


Fingerspelling is the BSL alphabet. Certain words – usually names of people and places – are spelled out on fingers. Fingerspelling alone isn’t sign language, but it can help you to communicate with someone who is Deaf.

You can quickly learn the fingerspelling alphabet with our free fingerspelling card. Download your free fingerspelling card

Learning BSL

The best way to learn BSL is to take a course taught by a qualified BSL tutor who is fluent in the language. Most BSL tutors are deaf and hold a relevant teaching qualification. As BSL is a 3D language, it’s very difficult to learn from a book, website or video alone, though these can be useful resources if you want to practise at home.

BSL courses are held in colleges, universities, schools, deaf clubs and community centres. Some BSL courses offer a very basic introduction to BSL, but most offer qualifications.

Courses that offer qualifications are usually part-time or evening classes that run from September to June. But you might be able to find an intensive course with daytime or weekend classes. You can find out more about courses offering BSL qualifications in your area by visiting the websites of awarding bodies Signature and the Institute of British Sign Language (iBSL).

RNID and Signature also offer remote training for businesses.

BSL interpreters

BSL interpreters enable communication between Deaf sign language users and hearing people. If you need to book an interpreter, check they are registered with either the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD) or the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters (SASLI).

You can book a BSL sign language interpreter through RNID. All our interpreters are registered with NRCPD. Book an interpreter through RNID.

Contact RNID

If you have any questions or need more information, you can contact us. We’re here to help.