So, you want to learn American Sign Language. You are about to embark on a journey into a world of magic and beauty. Since you already know what ASL is about, now you need to have your questions answered and know what resources are out there to help you learn this magnificent language.
Your Sign Language Goals
Before choosing a method for learning ASL, think about what you want to achieve. Some possibilities include:
- You have a new friend who is deaf or hard of hearing and uses ASL
- You want to be able to communicate with deaf people in your community
- You’re a teacher, and a deaf student has just entered your class
- You want to enjoy the dance of fingers and expressive faces that are part of ASL
Of course, there may be other reasons why you want to learn ASL, but it’s a good idea to think about what they may be.
First, the Answer to Some Questions
Is it hard to learn sign language?
Learning to use the basic signs is relatively easy. The harder part is learning to read the signs when someone is communicating with you.
How long does it take to learn ASL?
How long it takes for you to master ASL depends entirely on you and the method you use to learn it. Theoretically, it could take 5 months or 5 years.
What is the fastest way to learn ASL?
Taking sign language classes where you can interact and practice with other students would be a quick way of learning ASL.
Does ASL require two hands?
ASL requires two hands for some signs, but not all. Fingerspelling only requires one hand.
Options for Learning ASL
The options for learning ASL come in many shapes and sizes, and the best method for you will depend on your learning style and your purpose for learning the language. Learning options include:
- Teach yourself
- Take courses at your local college or university
- Get ASL apps
- Visit centers for the deaf
- Check speech and hearing centers
- Watch online videos
- Hire a sign language interpreter or tutor
- Contact individual or state-run schools for the deaf
- See what deaf classes or programs are offered in local school districts
- Contact your state offices for deaf and hard of hearing
- Check out available online ASL courses
Following are more details for each of the learning methods above.
For some, this is the best method to learn ASL. In addition to apps and some of the sources listed below, using books with pictures of the signs is the best way to learn this way. This method requires significant self-discipline. On the downside, for people not inclined to set aside regular time to study, this is not a good option. For all you self-teachers, here are a few books to consider:
- American SIgn Language for Beginners
- American Sign Language Dictionary, Third Edition
- American Sign Language For Dummies with Online Videos
If you don’t want to shell out money on books just yet, you can check out Gallaudet’s Learn Basic ASL resource page here.
Take Courses at a Local College or University
In the last decade, the number of sign language courses at colleges has grown significantly, and they are considered an option for the language requirement. You can experiment with keywords, but a direct search approach would be “Sign language classes or courses in (name city or town).” The downside of this option is that there are tuition costs involved.
Get ASL Apps
Hand Talk is a wonderfully convenient and highly-rated translation tool you download right onto your phone. It is the equivalent of a pocket dictionary and will show you the signs for any words or phrases you enter. It can either be used as an on-the-spot translation device or as a tool to study and learn signs. There are two versions of the app – the free version, which includes ads, and the paid version, which is ad-free.
Visit Centers for the Deaf
To find deaf centers in your area, type in “centers for the deaf” in (your city or town name). Better yet, include ASL in your search term, and you’ll find organizations that will give you a close-up view of Deaf culture. The advantage here is that you’ll have first-hand experience with deaf people in their own environment.
Check Speech and Hearing Centers
The number of speech and hearing centers has exploded in recent years, and they can be a source of help and information for you. Consider them as more of a resource that can point you in some good directions and places to learn sign language.
Watch Online Videos
Enter YouTube. Just enter “learn sign language” and you’ll discover a plethora of choices. The advantage of these videos is that you can watch while actors demonstrate the signs and enter into conversation. The downside is that it is difficult to keep stopping the video to review the signs. One of the popular channels is Learn How to Sign by Meredith.
Hire a Sign Language Tutor
If you learn better with a tutor or teacher, then you can look for one by contacting local colleges or deaf centers. Although they are often busy, a sign language interpreter would be an excellent option for helping you learn.
Contact Individual or State-run Schools for the Deaf
All states have either private schools or state-run schools for the deaf. Contacting a deaf school would be one way to put you in touch with helpful resources. The downside to this option is that a school may not be located near you.
See What Is Offered in Local School Districts
Just like the growth of sign language classes in colleges and universities, there are also sign language classes offered in local school districts. Call your local school district and see what resources would be available.
Contact Your State Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
All state offices offer a number of services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, one of which is classes in ASL. The disadvantage is that you may need to make several phone calls to find what you want.
Check Out Available Online Courses
This link provides descriptions and links to 10 online ASL courses. The descriptions for the courses are detailed and include discussions on:
- What You’ll Learn
- How You’ll Learn
- Fun Facts
Not only is there thorough information but the courses listed here are also ranked. If you learn well online, you’ll find a course here that will suit your needs.
A Final Thought
Whichever method you choose for learning ASL, you will plunge into a magical world where your fingers dance, and you communicate to a depth of clarity and passion that is not achievable in the spoken language.
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