BSL / English Interpreters and Lip-Speakers

What is British Sign Language (BSL)?

BSL is a language in its own right, with its own grammar. The word order is different to that of spoken language.

What is a BSL / English interpreter?

An interpreter is someone who is (at least) bilingual but also has the ability and training to be able to work between two languages and facilitate communication between deaf and hearing people.


The correct term is BSL / English interpreter. Informal terms are BSL interpreter or sign language interpreter. Please do not call interpreters ‘signers’!

What do BSL/English interpreters do?

Interpret from one language to the other, ie: voice to sign, providing access for deaf people, and from sign to voice, providing access for hearing people. Interpreting from sign to voice is called ‘voice over’; when the deaf person signs, the interpreter interprets into English, speaking into a microphone.

Who uses sign language interpreters?

  • Deaf people whose first language is BSL
  • Deaf or deafened people who are fluent in BSL, but have English or Welsh as their first language
  • Hearing people who do not use BSL

Bear in mind: Some events and performances are more suitable for interpreting than others; always seek advice first if you are unsure.

How many interpreters will you need?


Some interpreters will interpret a whole show on their own, while others may prefer to work with a colleague; it may depend upon the length of the show and kind of production.

A short, informal meeting where regular breaks can be taken

One interpreter may be sufficient. However, the interpreter will need regular short breaks every 20 or 30 minutes. Always discuss first with booking agency and / or interpreter whether a co-worker will be needed. When interpreter arrives always check how often breaks should be taken.

Conferences or longer, more formal meetings

At least two interpreters will be necessary. If more than one Deaf person is attending and there are breakout sessions or a choice of workshops, more than two interpreters may be needed.

Finding interpreters

Agencies for BSL/English interpreters will only have suitably qualified and experienced people on their books. See website links below for further information on qualifications

Only a few interpreters in Wales are experienced in interpreting for theatre, and they are often booked up far in advance. If you are looking for interpreters for a workshop or lecture, there is a wider choice, but there are still too few to meet the demand. Book well ahead of the event to avoid disappointment.

Action points

  • If you have never worked with interpreters before, you are advised to consult first with a Deaf people’s organisation or with Disability Arts Cymru
  • Check whether Deaf people would be likely to attend the event you are planning
  • Include budget for SLIs in grant applications
  • Contact Sign language interpreters agency well in advance; give the agency as much information as possible

When you have booked the interpreters:

  • Check whether the interpreter(s) will need to rehearse with the company beforehand the script.
  • Interpreter should be provided with a free ticket so that they can watch the show before the interpreted event (an essential part of preparation).
  • Send a video of the performance if available.
  • Send full information about the event. Include:
    • script, transcript of speeches or speakers notes
    • running order or agenda
    • timetable with get-in and get-out times
    • directions and parking
    • contact details of key staff
  • Include interpreters’ names on programme. Note that at meetings and conferences, interpreters should be listed separately, and not included in the list of delegates

Practicalities at the event

  • Delegate a key person to be responsible for liaising with interpreter during the event
  • Discuss interpreter’s lighting and position on stage with interpreter, technician and company
  • Provide microphone for interpreters who are voicing-over
  • Refreshments: Include interpreters when calculating meals and refreshments for company and crew

Useful contacts

Wales Council for Deaf People (communication support). Tel: 01443 485 687 Email: [email protected]
Out of hours number for emergency interpreter bookings: Phone or text to: 07572023052

RNID Communication Services Cymru. Tel: 01792 324477, Textphone: 01792 324455, Fax: 01792 324422, Email: [email protected]

Association of Sign Language Interpreters’ website

Signature’s website

British Deaf Association’s website

Working with Lip-speakers

What do Lip-speakers do?

Repeat what they hear through lip movements, facial expression and natural gesture. They switch off their voice, so only the voice of the speaker will be heard.

Who uses lip-speakers?

People who are hard-of-hearing or deafened and have English or Welsh as their first language

When should lip-speaker be used?

Conferences, workshops, lectures, meetings where deafened and hard-of-hearing people are participating or working. It is very rare for a lipspeaker to facilitate a performance, though one or two instances have been known!

Starting out

If you have never worked with lipspeakers before, contact an organisation that works with hard-of-hearing or deafened people, or Disability Arts Cymru

Action points and practicalities

Same as for sign language interpreters

Useful contacts

Wales Council for Deaf People (communication support). Tel: 01443 485 687, Email: [email protected]
Out of hours number for emergency interpreter bookings: Phone or text to: 07572023052

RNID Communication Services Cymru. Tel: 01792 324477 Textphone: 01792 324455, Fax: 01792 324422, Email:[email protected]

Association of Lipspeakers’ website

Signature’s website

Hearing Concern’s website

National Association of Deafened People’s website

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