Learning American Sign Language

Learning American Sign Language (ASL) takes time, patience, practice, and a sense of humor.

If you are a parent of a newly-identified child who is deaf or hard of hearing, you can request ASL instruction from your child’s early intervention system. Early intervention systems are designed to help your child develop in all areas. These systems also are designed to provide services to families so that families can support their child. More information is available at Sign Language for Parents.

Individual signs are relatively easy to learn. Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. To learn enough signs for basic communication and to sign them comfortably, can take a year or more. Some people pick up signs more slowly than others, and if that is the case with you, don’t be discouraged. Everyone learns sign language at their own speed. Be patient and you will succeed in learning the language. The rewards will be well worth the effort!

You can start learning ASL by attending a sign language class. Sign language classes can be found at community colleges, universities, libraries, churches, organizations/clubs of the deaf, and lots of other places. You can also expand your knowledge of ASL by practicing your signs with people who are deaf or hard of hearing and also know ASL. Generally, people who know ASL are patient about showing new signers how to sign different things, the correct way to sign something, and usually, they will slow down their signing so that you can understand them, too. They are also willing to repeat words or statements if you do not understand them the first (or even the second) time.

Other ideas include:
* Local/State Colleges & Universities
* Community Centers for the Deaf
* Speech and Hearing Centers
* American Sign Language Teachers Association
* State Schools for the Deaf
* Deaf Education programs within local mainstreamed schools
* NAD State Association Affiliates
* State Commisions/Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
* State Chapters of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)

ASL is a visual language. With signing, the brain processes linguistic information through the eyes, and facial expressions and body movements play an important part in conveying information. It is possible to sign without using facial expressions or body movements, but doing so may give a mixed message, be confusing, or be misunderstood. It will also look odd or unnatural to native signers.

Sign language is not a universal language — each country has its own sign language, and regions have dialects, much like the many languages spoken all over the world. If you were to travel to another state and have an opportunity to sign with a person who knows ASL, you may notice that s/he will use some signs differently than you. These signs are known as “regional” signs, and you can think of them as the equivalent of an “accent.” It does not mean that people in your state are signing incorrectly. It is just a normal variation in ASL, and such regional signs add flavor to your understanding of ASL.

When you don’t know the sign for something, spell the word or words (called “fingerspelling”). When you discover there is no sign for a word, you should not invent or make up a new sign. To do so may violate the grammatical rules of ASL, or may be unintentionally offensive.

Speed is not crucial in sign language. It is more important to sign clearly, even if you have to do it at a slower pace. When people often ask you to repeat yourself, it is a signal that you should slow down and try to sign as clearly as possible. Do not feel embarrassed if you sign slowly. It is important to get your message across, to connect with another person, and to be understood. There are no shortcuts to effective communication.

See below for a list of resources provided by the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center:

  • Apps for Learning ASL ASDC suggestions to support family learning of ASL.
  • The ASL App (ASL for the People), is about teaching conversational ASL. It includes over 1,000 signs and phrases for adults as well as ASL with Care Bears for kids to learn ASL.
  • Four ASL apps links you to four popular apps to learn ASL: iASL, ASL Pro, Sign 4 Me, and ASL Dictionary
  • Marlee Signs highlights video demonstrations of Marlee Matlin teaching the basics of ASL, including the signed alphabet, basic vocabulary, and common expressions in everyday life.
  • VL2 Storybook Apps, developed by the Visual Language Visual Learning Center (VL2) at Gallaudet, providing interactive stories in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English.
  • ASL Connect is an online resource for learning American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. ASL Connect provides paid learning content, as well as language learning services designed for businesses and families.
  • ASL Deafined is a subscription-based website provides ASL video lessons. The content is for anyone who wishes to learn ASL, regardless of age. It has been designed to instruct deaf students, parents of deaf children, and the community-at-large. You may cancel your subscription at any time. Nationally certified interpreters teach all lessons.

Enjoy the journey learning ASL!