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The differences between British Sign Language (BSL) and Sign Supported English (SSE)

You might have heard this before, and there are indeed very clear differences between BSL and SSE. If you have not heard this, please read on! This post will give you some valuable information that will help you to clarify the situation and avoid possible misunderstandings on these two different concepts.


  • BSL is an Official Minority Language and it was recognised by the UK Government in 2003

  • BSL is the preferred language of over 87,000 Deaf people in the UK for whom English may be a second or third language (a total of 151,000 individuals in the UK who can use BSL)

  • BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax. BSL also has its own sentence structure that is unlike either English spoken language or written English (E.g. your name what?)

  • BSL is a visual-gestural language using handshapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language to convey meaning


  • Sign Supported English (SSE) is not a language on its own. SSE is a form of Manually-Coded English (MCE).

  • SSE uses the same signs as BSL but it uses the same grammatical rules as spoken and written English and follows its structure (E.g. what’s your name?)

When SSE can be useful?

  • SSE can be useful to support spoken English, especially within schools where deaf or hard of hearing children are learning English grammar alongside their signing.

  • If a person has learning disabilities, it might be easier to communicate with SSE combined with other forms of communications such as voice, hand gestures and demonstration/examples.

  • Some people advocate the use of SSE when doing their signed song videos because they think that it is a better and more accurate way of expressing that song as how the artist intended it.

Watch the following videos which will help you to understand the differences:

Remember that the most important thing is to understand the differences between BSL and SSE and make good use of them in their correct context. If you just want to learn the basics, you can sign with SSE. However, if you want to master Sign Language, BSL is the way to go.


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