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- While there are many different forms of sign language, American Sign Language is used by over one million people in the US and Canada.
- Below are 10 affordable or free online classes, apps, books, and websites to help you learn ASL as a beginner.
- Read more: As a TEFL-certified teacher, here are the 12 online courses and apps I recommend for learning English as a new language
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If you want to help make the world more accessible for Deaf people, learning sign language can be both an exciting and worthwhile challenge. There are many different types of sign language – even countries with a shared spoken language (like the US, UK, and Australia) might have variations in their sign language. American Sign Language (ASL) is used by roughly one million people as their main form of communication in the US and Canada.
I have mild to moderate hearing loss, and I recently started to learn how to fingerspell in ASL because I want to communicate better with other members of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community who do not use spoken language. It’s been very helpful to start small with free resources that I can use at my own pace.
If you’re looking to learn American Sign Language, there are many affordable classes, apps, and books to help you learn how to fingerspell, remember key vocab words, and get meaningful practice with other people.
The 10 best online courses, apps, books, and resources to learn American Sign Language:
If you’re going to learn ASL, you may as well start with Gallaudet University, the first university in the world specifically founded to accommodate Deaf and hard-of-hearing students. (It’s also featured in its alumnus Nyle DiMarco’s Netflix series “Deaf U.”) Gallaudet’s ASL Connect is free and has videos that go over core vocabulary to express emotions and basic needs. ASL Connect also has four practice modules that will walk you through the fundamentals of ASL, such as introducing yourself.
American Sign Language University, created by UC Sacramento ASL instructor Bill Vicars, teaches its users a plethora of crucial vocabulary words and even offers online quizzes for free. A really neat part of this website is its First 100 Signs section, which teaches you 100 common signs used between parents and young children. This is a great place to start if you want to learn American Sign Language but don’t know where to begin. If you like ASL University, you can access additional lessons for $9.95 a month (or $59.95 a year) here.
If you want to learn how to fingerspell – signing the letters in a word instead of using the sign for the word – this free app is a great place to practice. Fingerspelling can be helpful while you’re expanding your sign language vocabulary and spelling out people’s names. There are two modes on this app: expressive and receptive mode. With expressive mode, you fingerspell the word seen on screen. With receptive mode, you watch the fingerspelling and type the word you see.
In this course, you’ll learn fingerspelling, basic greetings, and even a little about Deaf culture. In addition to about two hours of instructional videos, there are lab practices where you can try using what you just learned. And even after the course is over, you have unlimited access to all the instructional materials.
For screen-less learning
For those who want to learn American Sign Language while taking a break from never-ending online time, a copy of “Signing Illustrated: The Complete Learning Guide” might be a good first step. It has over 1,350 signs to practice and includes vocabulary review exercises.
Once you know the basics, learning how to sign different phrases is the clear next step to communicating with other people in American Sign Language. With over 500 phrases, this book focuses on a range of topics, from travel to religion. The phrases in this book also range in difficulty — as your signing improves, you can always try to give more detailed responses that are outlined in the book.
For immersive learning
If you’re looking for a self-guided way to progress from beginner-level to intermediate ASL, this free, three-level course might be right up your alley. Start ASL provides learners with access to 170 video lessons by nine different signers — and 1,100 videos for specific vocabulary words and phrases.
Sign School not only provides different ASL resources for free, but also makes learning fun. At Sign School, you can learn sign language through videos and also engage in interactive learning exercises, quick lectures, and reviews. You can also play games to test your knowledge and receive a short “Sign of the Day” video sent to your inbox.
For one-on-one attention
The language learning platform italki connects instructors with learners over video chat, and you can meet with instructors to learn or improve your American Sign Language skills. There are 11 ASL teachers on italki, with each one charging a different fee. Of available teachers, trial lessons start at $5 an hour and regular lessons start at $8 an hour.
SignOn was created with the intention to teach people American Sign Language while also exposing students to Deaf culture. In 30 minute one-on-one lessons, Deaf ASL ambassadors work with students to improve their ASL skills, whether through practicing basic vocabulary or engaging in conversation. SignOn sessions range from $25 for one session, $45 for two, or $100 for five, although there are also free practice topics available on the website.