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CEFR Sign Language – Preliminary Design Study

Background and aims

The Swiss Association for the Deaf (SGB-FSS) funded a preparatory project. The objectives of this preliminary project were: to review the existing teaching material for Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) in order to establish compatibility with the current Can-Do statements in the CEFR Self-Assessment Grid; to advance the state of progress compared with other European sign languages; to develop a basis for exchange and cooperation between stakeholders (SGB-FSS, sign language instructors, the interpreter training programme and continuous training for sign language instructors provided by HfH) and the scientific community (HfH, ZHAW, European projects for CEFR adaptation).


The focus for the preliminary project lay with German-speaking Switzerland. The first stage was to look at existing teaching materials in order to clarify how they correlate with CEFR levels A1 to C1. In September 2011 the ESF ran a workshop on Development of Theoretical and Practical Guidelines Workshopfor the Adaptation of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) to Sign Languages to promote networking between existing European projects aimed at adapting CEFR for sign languages and to facilitate the exchange of ideas.


Expert courses served to train stakeholders for a role in the project team. The goal is for the trained experts, most of whom are deaf, and the linguistic specialists to continue their close cooperation in a follow-up project. The expert courses formulated a common understanding of the CEFR and its underlying assumptions and concepts. A central milestone was the development of a well-motivated team of deaf and hearing members able to function effectively together.

A review of teaching materials for Swiss German Sign Language produced by SGB-FSS and of HfH materials indicated that the SGB-FSS materials corresponded largely to reference levels A1 and A2. The materials used by the HfH for its sign language interpreting course and its training for sign language instructors (AGSA) have not yet been reviewed. This will be the next step. Work to date suggests that these materials will reflect reference levels B1 and B2, and perhaps partially C1. Moreover, linguistic and culture-specific differences between sign language and the spoken languages that inform the CEFR have been recorded; these will form the basis for the subsequent SNF project.

Transfer of Findings

Having commissioned the preliminary project, SGB-FSS plans to undertake further projects to develop all three sign languages in Switzerland within the next ten years. The implementation of three working groups for the three language regions is to begin this year (2013). The University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education (HfH) and Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), Department of Applied Linguistics, are currently designing the research project "Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS): Empirically based foundations for pragmatic and linguistic CEFR descriptors”. An application for financial support will be made to the Swiss National Fund. The project has been designed to include cooperation with other European projects devoted to accommodating sign languages within the CEFR.

Further Plans

Nationwide Swiss conference for sign languages teachers and trainees in Olten in November 2012. Active representation of the preliminary CEFR project at theExternal link: ECML ProSign Project ProSigns Projektworkshop in Graz in April 2013. Enhanced cooperation with other research groups in Europe, in particular networking and exchange with the Web-based network External link: CEFR for Signed Languages European Programme, which has been online since September 2012.

More Information

A video and project description of the preliminary project on a CEFR for sign languages can be found in German, French and Italian on the website of the Swiss Association for the Deaf (SGB-FSS).



Project Management

Prof.   Hermann-Shores, Ed.M


Project team


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

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