Pictorial BSL – The pros and cons

Recently there has been outrage from the deaf BSL using community over OFSTEDs use of pictorial “BSL translation”.

OFSTEDs "BSL translation"

Bloggers @DeafFirefly and @Limping_Chicken have written responses to this alleged accessibility which are certainly worth a read.



OFSTEDs major error is in their lack of understanding of BSL as a language. I’m sure the document was created with the best intentions, perhaps a level 1 BSL student decided to try and introduce accessibility. After all it was clearly created by a hearing person, where are our deaf representatives in OFSTED?

For those feeling confused, lets be clear in the definition of BSL. BSL is a language, it has its own grammatical structure. It is a visual language that relies on movement, lip-pattern and facial expressions to convey meaning. It can not be written down (unless you are an artsy type trying to translate songs or scripts in which case you may write your own version of written BSL that no one else in the world would really be able to understand!) BSL is not a communication aid, deaf people do not descend into a game of charades every time they wish to converse.

What OFSTED can do as second best to a BSL video is write in plain/basic/simple English which is free from jargon, double negatives and the complexities of the English language. This is deaf accessible and also beneficial for people whose first language is not English.

A previous BSL teacher of mine who shall remain nameless once expressed his dislike for BSL dictionaries, especially the cartoon ones as they often depict more “baby sign” than actual BSL. One example of this is the sign for home.


In BSL the sign for “home” is different from the sign for “house”; it is directional depending on whose home you are referring to and to sign the verb “to go home” in any tense is a different sign altogether.

However, I do believe there is a place for pictures of signs and the use of basic signed vocab. Posters are often seen in educational establishments. I recently ran a drama workshop in a primary school where the pupils knew how to sign “good morning” and practised this on a daily basis. Lovely!

Just a while ago, I was looking through some photos of a trip to Paignton Zoo. I love holidaying in the UK, it can be much cheaper than heading abroad and reminds me of the beauty of this country that we can often overlook due to our busy lives. But my leisure time preferences are neither here nor there, what I did come across was these signs displayed around the zoo.

I personally think it’s fantastic that BSL vocab is getting this exposure. Also CBeebies characters such as Mr Tumble and others created by children’s TV actor Justin Fletcher are using signs to teach and communicate to children.

There is an increasing popularity in baby sign as it has been proven that babies can communicate through signs before they can use words and as a result of all this a form of “children’s sign” has developed as a communication aid and is being widely used.

There is a place for this, I don’t think we should discourage children from using signs but it needs to be understood, especially by government service regulators that this is not BSL. With the introduction of the BSL GCSE children would be able to use their knowledge of vocab from primary school and progress to understanding BSL in secondary school. Let’s keep our toes crossed that the GCSE will be implemented.

3 responses to this post.

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  3. Posted by Mel on June 25, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Can’t believe OFSTED have used this, what a cheek! If it was all done in icons (like the inspector icon in the centre of the sentence) I could understand, as we use that all the time at work to help people with learning disabilities understand the written words meaning. Clearly whoever made your example did not know their audience.
    However, I do love the zoo signs, what a brilliant way to spread BSL. Another thought provoking blog x


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