Choosing The Right Sign Language - My Little Ears

If you’re raising a child with hearing loss, you will almost certainly come to a time when you will need to consider if your child should learn to sign, and if so, choosing the right sign language is a very important decision. It’s not a well known fact yet amongst the hearing community, but there are actually a few different types of sign language, each with rules, different purposes and designed for different needs.

If you’re choosing to learn sign language to teach your child, here is a rundown of the different choices that are available and what they mean…

British Sign Language

BSL is used in the deaf community and aimed at those with hearing impairments rather than learning difficulties. 

BSL is a language in itself, with its own structure and grammar.

BSL uses finger spelling.

BSL has visual equivalents to represent tone of voice, shifts in formality, reported speech and more.

There are different dialects of BSL and some signs can vary by region.

Sign Supported English

SSE is used in the deaf community and can be used when communicating with deaf or non-deaf people, as it is used alongside verbal language.

SSE is similar to BSL but is used alongside speech and so the grammar and word structure will mimic that used in speech, rather than BSL rules.

In SSE, often only the more important words are signed for clarification.

Similarly, SE (signed English) is a form of sign language that exists, but is rarely used. In SE, every word is signed in exactly the order as it would be in spoken English, but this is a very intensive, long way to get a conversation across so is mostly avoided.


Makaton is used by people with learning difficulties, or often those who are not deaf, but elective mute.

Makaton is only designed to be used alongside spoken language.

Makaton has no grammatical structure. Key words are signed alongside spoken language.

Makaton does not use finger spelling.

Toddler sign groups and television shows for infants using sign usually feature Makaton. A good example is CBeebies’ Mr Tumble.

Gestures are obvious and designed not to require too fine motor skills to mimic.

Makaton signs can be similar to those used in BSL but can differ, and are often more basic.

Makaton is standardised with no regional dialects or variations.