What BSL is, how to work with an interpreter or a Communication Support Worker.

What British Sign Language (BSL) is

Sign languages are fully functional and expressive languages. At the same time, they are very different to spoken languages. 

According to the British Deaf Association, BSL is a visual-gestural language with a distinctive grammar. It conveys meaning by using: 

  • handshapes
  • facial expressions
  • gestures and body language 

Working with an interpreter

The interpreter will:

  • work at the direction of the deaf student
  • interpret everything that is spoken or signed in the room
  • voiceover or sign in the first person for the student
  • make it clear if they’re asking for clarification for themselves for interpreting purposes

Talk directly to the deaf student and look at them. Try to avoid asking the interpreter ‘Does he or she understand?’ or ‘Could you ask him or her….’ for example. 

Conversations and group work

Interpreters interpret simultaneously. They see and hear the source language, process it, deliver it, while also checking it, and seeing and hearing the next bit of the source language.

There may be a time-lag in the conversation, as it takes time for the interpreter to process the message before relaying it to the student.

When asking questions of a group, you may need to pause to allow the Deaf student time to respond, as the deaf and hearing students may get the information a few seconds apart. If you ask a question and students are allowed to shout out the answer, the deaf student won't have finished getting the information before someone else replies.

The interpreter can only interpret one message at a time. It’s important that only one student speaks or signs at a time.

Interpreters are there to interpret for everyone.    

Position, lighting, and additional time

The student must be able to see the interpreter. The interpreter will need to be lit if you’re watching a film clip or if something is projected onto the board.

Be aware of your positioning and try not to walk backwards and forwards, or stand in front of the interpreter.

The deaf student can’t look at a handout, board, or book and look at the interpreter at the same time. Allow the def student time to read things before you start talking about them.

Course material 

Interpreters need to understand in order to interpret something.  Access to presentations, text books, lesson plans, video clips, even a list of subject specific vocabulary in advance of a session is very helpful.

What a Communication Support Worker (CSW) is

A Communication Support Worker: 

  • supports deaf students in educational settings
  • enables communication access
  • They do this using:
  • British Sign Language (BSL) 
  • written notes
  • clear speech

CSWs facilitate access to the curriculum and the wider learning environment in: 

  • schools
  • universities
  • colleges of further education
  • adult education centres
  • other learning environments 

CSWs are skilled at matching the communication needs of the deaf student. They can also work 1:1 to give clarification and individual support to the student.

The CSW will interpret everything that is spoken or signed in the room, through speech or BSL. If they’re taking notes, this will be a summary of the main points of the information.

Contact us
Sensory Support Service
Elmfield House
Greystoke Avenue
Westbury-on-Trym
BS10 6AY

Phone: 0117 903 8442
Text: 07810 506 669
Email: sensorysupportservice@bristol.gov.uk