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3 red flags for BSL students: what to watch out for

Learning British Sign Language (BSL) is a rewarding endeavour that opens up new avenues for communication and connection. However, there are certain pitfalls that BSL students should be mindful of to ensure they are learning effectively and respectfully.

Here, we highlight three red flags that could indicate a student is not on the right track with their BSL studies:

3 red flags for BSL students; what to watch out for


Not practising regularly

Just like any other language, BSL requires consistent practice to master. If a student only engages with BSL during formal lessons and neglects to practise outside of class, it shows a lack of commitment to truly learning the language.

Avoiding interaction with Deaf communities

It’s crucial for students to seek out opportunities to interact with Deaf individuals and participate in Deaf community events. Failing to do so not only limits their practical experience but also their understanding of the cultural context in which BSL is used.

💡Solution: Make a habit of practising BSL daily, even if only for a few minutes. Join Deaf community events, clubs, or online forums to immerse yourself in the language and culture.


Using incorrect or offensive signs

Continually using incorrect signs despite corrections, or employing signs known to be offensive or culturally insensitive, demonstrates a lack of respect for BSL and its users. It’s important to learn and use signs correctly to communicate effectively and respectfully.

Impatience or frustration

Learning a new language can be challenging, but displaying impatience or frustration when communicating with Deaf individuals, or when struggling with complex aspects of BSL, is a red flag. This attitude can hinder progress and damage relationships with the Deaf community.

💡Solution: Always be open to feedback and corrections. Approach learning with patience and a positive attitude. Respect the language and those who use it by continually striving to improve and communicate effectively.


Claiming proficiency prematurely

It’s common to feel excited about new skills, but claiming fluency in BSL after only a short period of study, or without substantial practice and feedback from proficient signers, is misleading. True proficiency in any language, including BSL, takes time and dedication.

Teaching others prematurely

Attempting to teach BSL to others without being proficient can spread misinformation and misunderstandings about the language. Moreover, the Deaf community generally prefers that BSL is taught by Deaf individuals, as they bring authentic cultural and linguistic knowledge to the teaching process. It’s important to recognise the limits of your knowledge and ensure you are well-qualified before passing on what you’ve learned.

💡Solution: Be humble about your progress and honest about your proficiency level. Focus on continuous learning and improvement, and wait until you have a solid, advanced understanding of BSL before considering teaching it to others. Whenever possible, encourage learning from Deaf teachers to ensure cultural and linguistic accuracy.

Learning BSL is not just about mastering a new language; it’s about engaging with a vibrant community and respecting its culture. By avoiding these red flags and committing to respectful, dedicated learning practices, BSL students can ensure they are on the path to true proficiency and meaningful communication.

Remember, practise regularly, respect the language and its users, and always strive to learn and grow.

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