Tabitha Laksimi: The UK needs BSL as a second language. Here’s why

Posted on October 27, 2014

Before the why’s – How?

We can make use of those who would be interested from the estimated 70,000 who already know and use BSL, along with those interested in learning it, to develop teachers who can then teach it to primary school children from age 4 until secondary school, by which point they should be fluent.

Once the first wave of children have become parents, employees and teachers, BSL can be taught to even younger children at home and in nursery school, and throughout primary and secondary school.

By this time, BSL would not have to be taught as a separate subject, but used to deliver other subjects. This would ensure continued use and fluency until university age.


1. It would eliminate segregation of the D/deaf and the Deaf-Blind communities

The D/deaf community is not small. In the UK 1 in 6 people have hearing loss. There are 356,000 Deaf-Blind people.

38 per cent of people believe disabled people are a burden on society

BT – ‘Ready, Willing and Disabled Event 2011

BSL was given official recognition in 2003. My mind boggles that by 2014, society not only continues to rudely ignore over 10 million of its own populace, but also suffer from the financial burden of doing so.

2. It would benefit the hearing community

By ignoring sign language, the hearing community is depriving itself of doing something that comes at least as naturally as speaking.

Cognitive and verbal/language development in hearing children is consistently more advanced in those who learn signs from a very early age and beyond, in comparison with children who don’t.

Children as young as 8 months old can reproduce signs they have been shown repetitively for the previous 2 or more months.

Through signs they are able to communicate their needs before they have developed the ability to speak. The result is less frustration and the reduced need to cry as a communication method to ask for what they want.

3. It could assist people who have other types of challenges

Children who are autistic, have Downs Syndrome or Learning Disabilities, as well as children who demonstrate certain unsocial behaviours that stem from difficulty in verbal communication, are all found to benefit from knowing and using sign language.

4. It could improve communication generally and benefit society as a whole

Sign language apparently improves the relationship between the parents and young children who use it, due to the need for constant eye contact. If true, then it is possible that relations between teachers and students might be made easier and less challenging.

Undoubtedly, with BSL as our second language, we will end up being a friendlier society, with more tolerance for people who have physical challenges of all kinds.

Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of people have admitted they avoid disabled people because they don’t know how to act around them

BT – ‘Ready, Willing and Disabled Event 2011

5. Others who would benefit:

People who lose their hearing suddenly, gradually or later in life would not suffer as severely from the loss as they do today.

Hearing parents would automatically have the ability to communicate with their D/deaf child/ren.

840 babies are born in the UK each year with significant deafness. The vast majority of these are born to hearing parents.

BT – ‘Ready, Willing and Disabled Event 2011

Anticipated resistance:


The financial decisions Governments make are influenced by their desire to stay within budget and look good to their people. This is why real progress rarely happens.

The initial costs of a teacher-training program and employment of teachers of BSL would be the highest costs, but they would only run for the first decade or two.

Once BSL became a true second language, the costs would practically disappear.

Or an excellent investment?

I couldn’t find any statistics, but it is highly likely that the costs of dealing with millions of D/deaf and Deaf-Blind people would mount to a fairly pretty penny; In the form of unemployment benefit or disability allowance, misdiagnoses and similar problems that arise from misunderstandings, compensation and interpreter’s fees.

If BSL were the nation’s second language the D/deaf would have genuinely equal opportunities in education, training and employment. We would be better able to contribute economically.

Savings might also be found in those of us who opt out of using or updating audio technology. Also perhaps a reduced need for support teachers for children with learning disabilities etc.


Some will not immediately recognise the value of teaching BSL to their children. They may argue that other subjects would have to be given less time in order to accommodate BSL. As usual, the problem itself presents the solution, and it would be better anyway to incorporate BSL into other lessons, to be used little and often, which is the best way to learn a language.

Already in progress

Signature states that GCSE BSL is on the horizon, and they are encouraging existing teachers to start learning BSL.

Other countries are taking steps towards getting their sign language onto the curriculum (and a few other countries already have).

A close second language

These are steps in the right direction, but if BSL is only taught to a basic level then unused and forgotten, or as a subject for Deaf students only, or as an optional ‘foreign’ language, it will by and large remain as it is today.

In return for some re-organization and extra costs over a decade or so, we could have a nation that would most likely be more intelligent, integrated and inclusive, with lowered costs in the longer-term. I say it’s a no-brainer.


Tabitha Laksimi has moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss, constant tinnitus, and recruitment. She recently started learning BSL, after realizing she was long in the habit of isolating herself from others due to her deafness. She would love to live in a world that is D/deaf aware (so she doesn’t have to keep repeating herself!) and for hearing loss of any kind to not impact negatively on anybody.

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