Life After Deaf: The World of British Sign Language

British sign language at Dialogue

As part of the TV documentary, Life After Deaf, the Liverpudlian comedian, John Bishop, sits down to try out some jokes ahead of a stand-up gig that he aims to perform in British Sign Language (BSL).

“Do you have any jokes ready?” asks BSL comedian, Gavin Lilley.

John replies: “When I was twelve… my school said that I was dyslexic, and it affected my confidence. So, my dad got me in the car, and he drove me one hour to Wales… he got out and he pointed at the Welsh road signs… and says, ‘There you go son, you’re not the only one.’”

Awkward pause.

The joke has obviously fallen flat.

Gavin explains to John: that kind of joke just doesn’t make sense in sign language, because you’re leaving so much unsaid, or – unshown. It won’t carry. You’ve got to show the joke. Sign language is a much more physical, expressive language…

We often fall into the trap of thinking that British Sign Language mirrors the English language. But that is absolutely not the case; BSL is a language in its own right and has been recognised as such since 2003. It has its own grammatical structure and syntax, with the main subject being introduced first, followed by any additional or descriptive information:

English question: What is your name?

BSL question: Name – what?

Name you what in BSL
Source: British Sign Language

And just like any other language, it has its own regional dialects, so to speak. Signs can vary from city to city across the UK. And interestingly, British Sign Language is very different to American Sign Language (ASL); the languages share around 30% of signs, and fingerspelling (the signing of the alphabet) only uses one hand in ASL, but two in BSL. Similarly, French sign language is different, as is Australian, Irish and so forth…

I would highly recommend watching this TV programme, documenting the comedian John Bishop’s sign language story and journey with his son, Joe. Together, they learn BSL, and John builds up to doing a small stand-up comedy gig in sign language. It’s a real eye-opener to the challenges that the Deaf community face, but also to the importance of making sure that in any industry, we value the Deaf community and are willing to do our part to make sure that all services can be made accessible to a BSL user.

Here are five advantages to hiring a BSL interpreter for your upcoming conference, expo or online workshop:

1. Better accessibility

BSL interpreters are able to break down communication barriers to give Deaf people equal access to services, the same information and networking opportunities as hearing people. Interpretation can convey more information to BSL users than written words.

2. Promoting inclusivity

Making BSL interpreting available shows that your company is non-discriminatory and that you are considerate of others when planning events. It is also worth mentioning, that as increasingly more companies make the move towards becoming a B Corp, being more mindful of incorporating BSL policies where appropriate may really help in your B Corp application.

3. Expert insight

Our BSL interpreters are well-researched, professional linguists. They can prepare for the event in advance and are aware of the nuances of regional sign language.

4. Improved relationships

Having BSL interpreters at your event means that Deaf people can easily interact with everybody in the breaks or when there are networking opportunities. This can improve communication and help to build relationships between all people present.

5. Flexibility

Interpretation can be carried out online or in person. You can have an individual interpreter, a pair, or even a team of interpreters depending on the size of your event.

The charity SignHealth estimates the number of people who use BSL as their preferred language in the UK at around 70,000 people. If you want to make sure that your conference, forum, or company workshop is accessible to all and fully inclusive, perhaps you should consider providing BSL interpreters at your next event? Or, if you are in need of an interpreter for a medical, legal or private appointment, why not email us at [email protected] or book a call with one of our team to find out how to get started?

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