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Professional and short courses

An Introduction to British Sign Language

Learn the basics of British Sign Language (BSL) in this 9 week course.

sign language

This course gives you an introduction to British Sign Language (BSL), including finger spelling, lip reading, and the semiotic structure of the language. Alongside the practical aspects of BSL, you will learn about Deaf awareness and explore Deaf history and culture. There are over 150,000 individuals in the United Kingdom who use BSL, and they can face communication barriers in many aspects of their lives. This course will both teach you the foundations of the language, and help you to understand and support BSL users.

York campus

  • Course leader – Amanda Smith, Associate Professor in British Sign Language
  • Dates and times

     26 September 2023

    This course has now been filled. Please see How to Apply for further details of our 2024 course.

Course Fees

£200 per person

£100 for York St John staff and students

Course information

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone who is interested in learning the basics of BSL and finding out more about Deaf culture and history. It is open to York St John staff and students, and members of the public. You do not need any specific qualifications to join the course.

How will I learn?

The course runs for 9 weeks and each week you will attend a 2 hour session from 5.30pm to 7.30pm on a Tuesday.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed through:

  • A poster presentation on Deaf Awareness
  • Continuous assessment in BSL skills

Upon successfully completing the course you will receive a certificate (Pass or Pass with Distinction).

What will I learn?

You will study a different topic each week:

Week 1: An introduction to the course and a chance to meet and get to know each other.

Week 2: This week we focus on Deaf awareness, consider interesting statistics and learn about lip reading.

Week 3: Learn the key features of BSL, including: handshapes, hand orientation, movement, non manual features, and role shift. You will also explore the grammar and structures of BSL.

Week 4: Find out about life as a Deaf person. You will cover topics such as technological and audiological aids and access to work, including interpreters and organisations.

Week 5: As you continue to develop your awareness of BSL, this week will focus on deaf culture. You will consider accessibility (events, theatre, deaf Olympics and football) and deaf programmes (BSL Zone, See Hear).

Week 6: This week we will review the BSL learned so far. We will also introduce you to classifiers.

Week 7: This week we will explore Deaf history, focusing on education and significant deaf people in history.

Week 8: This week you will find out about BSL e-learning and test your learning with a quiz.

Week 9: This is assessment week. You will share your poster presentation, focusing on Deaf awareness.

Course leader biographies

Amanda Smith, Associate Professor in British Sign Language

Amanda Smith is a Deaf British Sign Language user, with experience teaching BSL for 22 years, 18 of which have been at York St John University.

As an Associate Professor at York St John, she teaches British Sign Language modules at all levels of study, teaching students who may never have signed a word, as well as those who already have some fluency in BSL. She includes aspects of the Deaf lived experience into her teaching, to help raise awareness of Deaf people as a cultural as well as linguistic minority.

In 2011 she was awarded National Teacher of the Year by Signature and, in 2012 York Adult Tutor of the Year by City of York Council’s York 800. In 2019 she was nominated for the Inspirational Teaching and Most Supportive Staff Member of the Year awards by York St John University Students' Union.

How to apply

This course has now been filled but will be running again in February 2024. Please contact to be added to the waiting list.

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