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Online BSL Courses: 5 things to know before you buy

Online British Sign Language courses are incredibly popular right now. If you want to learn BSL, it is difficult to work out which course is any good and value for money. So, here are 5 things you need to know about online BSL courses – this will probably save you money in the long run too.

Before continuing, I have to declare an interest in this topic – we run online sign language courses. All our tutors are Deaf, native BSL users who provide a high-quality learning experience. I am also a sign language interpreter and have worked with the Deaf Community for 20 years so I know and understand the value of learning BSL.

Key factors you should consider before you buy an online BSL course:

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

BSL Accreditation

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. How do you check if a course is accreditated? Look at the Signature or iBSL website – they are the only two awarding bodies that can award real BSL qualifications. An in-depth explanation of BSL qualifications can be found at Everyday BSL.

Deaf Tutor (accountability):

Where you learn, 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 course actually teaches BSL? Contact the tutor. Any decent course provider will give you an opportunity 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 BSL competence. Learners often discover that using BSL with a native sign language user is quite different from learning it online without any tutor support.

BSL: Online, classroom or both?

Unfortunately, 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 are 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. Learners are likely to see this type of learning being offered in the future.

How long does it take for BSL accreditation?

Signature and iBSL are the only two awarding bodies that can offer 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!).

What is the cost of BSL courses?

Some online BSL 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.

There are also those who offer BSL for free….and we all like free, right? Again, this is great if you just want to say hello or 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). 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.

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:

Online BSL course comparison

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

The cheaper courses tend to be created by hearing people rather than native sign language users so the quality of the content may be questionable. Also, many of these 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 content of the course materials. Choosing a BSL course on a large learning platform means missing out on a quality learning experience with a culturally rich Deaf tutor.

If you’re looking for a BSL course, then contacting one of the accredited providers on our list would be a great start. We don’t get commission for supporting other organisations, we are focused on quality experiences for our learners so why not get in touch with a BSL tutor today!