online bsl courses

5 factors to help you find the best (online) BSL course

Online British Sign Language (BSL) courses are incredibly popular right now. The various lockdowns have encouraged people to do something constructive so learning sign language is a perfect activity to while away the hours. If you want to learn BSL, (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t!) it is difficult to work out which is the best online course. But what determines ‘best’? We outline 5 factors to consider before buying an online course – these tips will save you a whole lot of time and money. Our recommendation is to try out one of the course providers in our list below.

Before continuing, we have to declare an interest in this topic – we run online sign language courses. All our tutors are Deaf who provide a high-quality learning experience.

5 key factors you should consider before you buy an online BSL course:

  • Cost
  • Accreditation
  • Deaf tutor
  • Online/classroom or both
  • Time

Cost

Some online courses are cheap which is great if you like cheap, quick and easy with marginal value. These courses are like eating fast food – they are enjoyable for that brief moment but not something you would want to consume in any large quantity. Ultimately, you get what you pay for which is a list of signed words, not BSL. In fact, many of the low priced courses cover the same information you can find free on Youtube.

If you just want to learn BSL for a bit of fun, then why not check out some of the vocabulary clips on Youtube, some are created by deaf tutors. You can also check out our recommended list of BSL websites that provide signs on a range of topics, free of charge.

In fact, there are plenty of places where you can learn BSL vocabulary for free….and we all like free, right? The free online videos are great if you just want to learn how to say ‘good morning’ to your neighbour. However, a major issue with learning from free resources is that you are likely to develop bad habits that could impact your learning at a later date (and could ultimately affect your exam success if you want to pursue learning further). There is also the likelihood that you won’t understand native sign language users. Time spent on free resources could be counter-productive if that’s all you rely on to learn BSL.

Accreditation

If you are someone who wants to take their learning seriously, then you might want to find a course that gives you a nationally recognised qualification.

Many of the online BSL courses use words such as ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ or ‘accredited’. One or two of them suggest that their course is taught by an ‘expert’. The words ‘accredited’, ‘Diploma’ and ‘expert’ have power because they give an impression of legitimacy. So, how do you check if a course is actually accredited? Look at the Signature or iBSL website – they are the only two awarding bodies that can award real BSL qualifications. If you need an in-depth explanation of BSL qualifications you can check out Everyday BSL.

Deaf Tutor (accountability):

The person who teaches you Sign Language is important. Deaf tutors who run BSL courses are accountable for what they teach you – their reputation is on the line. Tutors know how important it is for you to sign properly. So, you can save yourself some time and money by learning BSL from the (real) experts. How do you check if your tutor is bona fide and actually teaches BSL? You can always ask to speak to a tutor directly before starting a course.

BSL competence is really important. So another thing to look for is whether you need an interview to attend the course. For Level 2 and above, most tutors assess students to check their signing at the correct level. Learners often discover that signing with a native sign language user is quite different from learning BSL online without any tutor support.

Online, classroom or both?

We know that some people do not have the time to spend 2-3 hours in a classroom every week for a year. So online BSL courses are great if you work shifts or can’t get to a class.

Equally, some people prefer to learn in a classroom. If home life is hectic then learning in a classroom is a great idea. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.

Blended courses have become the best (and most modern way of learning). A blended course is a mix of online content and face to face group sessions (or live sessions if you are learning during a lockdown). The UK is a little bit behind in this form of learning which has proved successful elsewhere in the world. However, Covid-19 is changing the way BSL is taught so learners are likely to see this type of learning being offered in the future.

How long does it take to get a qualification?

Signature and iBSL are the only two awarding bodies that offer genuine BSL qualifications. Both organisations are regulated by Ofqual. So, any qualification has to fulfil certain rules to be classified as a real qualification. For example, to achieve BSL Level 1, a student has to do a minimum of 64/66* hours guided learning hours with an additional 25+ hours of private study. If an online BSL course is offering a ‘Level 1’ accreditation in less than 60 hours, then it will not lead to a nationally recognised qualification.

Even if you don’t want a qualification, attending a course that is accredited by Signature or iBSL means you can keep your credits and do a qualification at a later date. Sadly, you cannot do that with some of the online courses. If you decided to do a qualification, you would have to start all over again (and pay again, of course!).

So now that we have looked at the factors that need to be considered before parting with any cash, how do these courses compare?

Online BSL course comparison:

Below is a chart that compares a number of online courses:

bsl course comparison
Online BSL course comparison

Here is a downloadable version of our online BSL course list.

Many of the cheaper courses are featured on larger websites such as Udemy, Reed and other online learning providers. These providers focus on quantity i.e. enabling learners to access a wide range of courses. They do not assess the quality of the course materials or provide much needed guidance for a visual based language. Choosing a BSL course on a large learning platform also means missing out on a learning experience with a culturally rich Deaf tutor.

For us, the best online BSL courses, would be one of the following:

We want you to have a fantastic experience with high-quality tutors, so why not check out one of the online courses on our list.

Did we miss any course providers, get in touch and we’ll add them to our list.