So You Want to Learn American Sign Language? – Part One
by: Brooke LaTurno, EIPA 4.0 - Interpreter Coordinator
As attested in Kathleen Stephenson’s series “What’s Your Story?” as sign language interpreters, we are often asked how we learned American Sign Language (ASL), whether it took a long time, how hard it was to learn, etc. The next question many people ask is:
Where can I learn sign language?
If you are curious about American Sign Language and Deaf culture, then this blog is for you!
The first thing to consider is whether you prefer formal instruction (e.g. ASL classes) or informal instruction (e.g. ASL tutoring).
The best in-person resources available to you will vary depending on your local area. Below are some ideas of where to look for in-person instruction:
Local Deaf clubs
Adult and community education programming
Local colleges and universities
If you are interested in a more structured and formal learning environment, check out the below links to Lisa Hendrickson’s series of blog posts highlighting Deaf-related educational programs across the USA, by region:
If you are a student in high school or college, find out whether your school has an ASL club on campus. ASL clubs tend to have consistent dates when they meet, and usually organize extracurricular trips and host fun events related to the Deaf community.
If you prefer to learn ASL online, you are in luck! There are rich resources available online these days. Try doing a web search or use keywords to find ASL content on your favorite social media platform. Some ideas of possible search terms or tags to try:
American Sign Language
Deaf Content Creator
In addition to social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, etc., YouTube also has a sizable community of Deaf creators. One benefit to watching content on YouTube is their unique feature to adjust speed and slow videos down, which can be helpful when you are first learning. Many of the individuals posting videos online also include closed captions, which you can use as a support if you are struggling to understand part of a video.
You will find a diverse selection of Deaf creators and signers of all different backgrounds posting videos on the internet. When you start searching for content, you will be astounded by the results that come up! When you find great learning materials, engage with the creator. Post a comment to let them know that you enjoyed their post, and what you learned.
Keep in mind that you may find video recordings from people who are just starting to learn the language, like you. Be thoughtful about the background and expertise of individuals whose videos you are watching. You may want to think about questions like:
Is this person deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing?
Is ASL their primary language?
What is their relationship to the deaf community?
How did they learn ASL?
How long have they been signing?
Is this person an ASL teacher?
Do they have a family member who is deaf?
What region* do they live in?
*Some signs vary by region, so if you are watching someone’s video and they live in a different part of the country than you do, you may learn some signs specific to their region that are less common in your own area. You may also find videos in signed languages from other countries, like French Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, or Israeli Sign Language! My recommendation would be to learn one language at a time.