The Role of a British Sign Language (BSL) Interpreter

BSL Interpreting is the process of transferring a spoken or signed language into another spoken or signed language to ensure that effective communication takes place. S/he usually interprets simultaneously, i.e; at the same time as the language is spoken or signed.

  • Capability – A qualified BSL interpreter is fluent in both of the spoken/signed languages in which s/he interprets. This enables an accurate reflection of the intention, information, opinions and culture of the speaker/signers.
  • Impartiality – A qualified BSL interpreter is impartial, which means s/he ensures effective communication. Through clarification, the BSL interpreter aims to achieve clarity of discussion and the avoidance of misunderstandings, either cultural or language based. S/he does not act as an advocate for either the Deaf or hearing client and adheres to a strict set of boundaries to ensure all parties are able to access the dialogue uttered in the domain without bias or preference. 
  • Confidentiality – A qualified BSL interpreter ensures that information exchanged during an interpreted session remains absolutely confidential to that domain and does not discuss or use the information for their own gain.


Qualified BSL interpreters should be registered with a professional organisation, such as the NRCPD (National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People) or RBSLI (The Regulatory Body for Sign Language Interpreters and Translators). This means the interpreter has to agree to adhere to the code of conduct, as stipulated by the organisation with which s/he is registered.

As part of the criteria for registration, the interpreter usually has to provide evidence of:

  • A current, clear and Enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Certificate.
  • Appropriate Professional Indemnity Insurance (PPI)
  • Engagement in Continuous Professional Development (CPD)

Categories of BSL Interpreter

There are two categories of registered Sign Language interpreter with NRCPD:

  • Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) – Yellow Badge
  • Trainee Sign Language Interpreter (TSLI) – Purple/Blue Badge

(Diagram used with permission from NRCPD)

Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI) – Yellow badge

An RSLI is a BSL interpreter that has met the recognised standard of competence and professional practice through the successful completion of a formal qualification. Once qualified, interpreters are allowed to use the initials RSLI to indicate their professional status.

The courses are both academic and practical and provide in-depth interpreting theory and linguistic study as well as demanding a high level of BSL and English skill. This is to ensure the interpreter is able to process the meaning of dialogue accurately and impartially when producing BSL from spoken English and/or a Voice Over into spoken English from BSL. These skills need to be transferred in a wide variety of settings with adults and children of all language abilities.

Trainee Sign Language Interpreter – Purple/Blue badge

As stated by the NRCPD, TSLI status is available to people who are undertaking an approved sign language interpreter training course or an approved development plan leading to registered status; (this usually requires the TSLI to have achieved BSL skills of Level 6 or equivalent)

TSLIs must meet the requirements set out by the National Occupational Standards for Trainee Interpreters, which include; demonstrating Level 6 Language ability and sufficient interpreter training or experience to be aware of the professional boundaries regarding practise and competence.

Welcome to BSL Link for Communication

The NRCPD website states that ‘TSLIs may not work in the criminal justice system or mental health settings. TSLIs must exercise caution when accepting work in a social care setting.’

Ideally, RSLIs should be used, whenever possible. However, there are some situations where it may be appropriate to use TSLIs; education, team meetings and some basic medical settings such as dentists, physiotherapy and some GP appointments.