Learning to communicate with American Sign Language is a journey enriched by a unique culture, values, and beliefs. From expressions and idioms to jokes to being gifted your own unique name sign, there is a lot to discover beyond just signing.
People decide to learn American Sign Language (ASL) for a variety of different reasons. Your reasons are your own, but some common reasons are:
- You recently lost your hearing
- You were born deaf and have so far gone through life reading lips and the printed world
- You have a friend or loved one who is audibly impaired
- You think that ASL is an interesting or beautiful language and you just want to learn it
- You want to become a professional ASL interpreter
- You want to work at a school or somewhere else where there people who are deaf
Whatever your reason, kudos to you for taking the first steps to learning to sign ASL. It won’t always be easy, but learning another language never is. It takes dedication and persistence in order to succeed.
In case you were confused or surprised by the term “audibly impaired” used above, it’s more encompassing because ASL isn’t just used by people who are deaf. It is also the means of conversation for many people who are hard of hearing.
American Sign Language is just easier than verbal communication for some people.
It is also a good language to know if you find yourself in a situation when verbal communication isn’t ideal. That doesn’t necessarily mean a dire situation. It could just be that you are trying to plan a surprise party for someone without that person knowing.
Signing with someone for fun can really help you improve your ASL conversation skills. Whether you’re learning for fun or for necessity or even so you can someday become fluent, practice with friends and family. If you enjoy your work, you’re more likely to stick with it.
American Sign Language Classes
Like any other language classes, those for American Sign Language are going to start out with the basics and become progressively more complex.
Class content will go from counting and fingers spelling the alphabet to holding full-blown conversations with another person. It will take time and practice, but if you stick with it, you will eventually be fluent in the language.
American Sign Language classes are offered in a variety of places. Some people opt to take them as a second language in school. Others might attend classes at their local community center. Yet others will take to the internet, seeking out websites such as Rocket Languages.
American Sign Language for Beginners
Learning American Sign Language isn’t just all about the rote memorization of signs. It goes far beyond that into culture and a deeper understanding for people different than you.
This is important to keep in mind, especially when you are just starting out. Learning another language is in part learning about other people. It can also be about learning more about yourself. Some concepts struggle to transcend across language barriers. Learning ASL can enrich your life.
Reach out to other locals learning American Sign Language. By engaging in your local signing and deaf community, you’ll have the opportunity to practice with other people. They might be able to provide you with helpful tips and encouragement when you are struggling.
If you are looking for more structure in your learning, though, it is easy enough to find.
If you are looking to learn in a physical group setting, many schools—from pre-school to high education—offer classes. Keep in mind, though, higher education classes aren’t free, and they aren’t always cheap, either.
You can also take higher education ASL classes online, but the tuition factor is still something to consider.
If you are looking to learn at your own pace while keeping some structure in place, check online. Rocket Languages is a great resource if you need some flexibility and some structure. Lessons are online and you can work at your own pace.
If, however, you don’t want to do any of the things mentioned above, there is still another option. You can just search online for American Sign Language videos. However, it isn’t guaranteed that these videos are completely accurate because many are just put out by people looking to share.
If you do opt to go this route, try to find videos that are sponsored by a school or organization with credentials for teaching ASL. Try to steer clear of videos put out there by amateurs who could possibly be providing you with inaccurate information.
If that is not enough warning to be cautious, know that many of these videos are also disorganized. They are often unstructured, jump around with the content, and overall lack much professionalism.
A building is only as strong as its foundation. If you aren’t provided with accurate content from the start, it’ll take longer and be more difficult to make corrections later on.
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American Sign Language Courses
Courses in American Sign Language, as stated previously, can be taken in person or online. Online is sometimes a little more difficult a path because you are more accountable to yourself.
Online classes are going to take even more discipline and self-motivation. You aren’t going to be in a classroom every few days having a teacher or professor tell you where you should be at that point. You’ll need to be very organized in order to be successful in an online course.
On the upside, you don’t have to get dressed and go to class. You can work during the time of day when your mind is most receptive to new ideas (the idea of a night owl versus an early bird).
If you aren’t all that tech-savvy, or if you would just prefer to take a course face-to-face, a physical classroom is a good choice. However you learn best, do that.
A course in a physical classroom is going to ensure that you are surrounded by peers. If you are a hands-on type of person, this might really help you. In a classroom, students can help each other learn.
American Sign Language courses might be different than other courses you have taken. Many of them are almost informal and conversational. That means a lot of the teacher asking questions in either ASL or spoken English and you replying, usually in American Sign Language.
But, if you aren’t a fan of practicing in front of people, you might not be comfortable in this setting. Other students generally would try to help you instead of laugh at you. If you are afraid of be made fun of, though, that is a completely understandable concern that you should consider.
To end on a high note, taking a course in a classroom is going to give you easy access to the teacher and peers if you have a question or need clarification. The response after you as will almost always be immediate.
Keep in mind that some schools might even offer hybrid courses. These courses utilize both an online platform and time in a physical classroom.
American Sign Language Interpreters
Are you interested in becoming an interpreter for American Sign Language? It definitely has the potential to open up new job opportunities.
Not sure what an interpreter does? They bring people together. They break through language barriers. They help diversify our public gatherings and celebrations.
Does that sound like something you would be interested in doing?
Excellent. But it is going to take some work to get to that point. Unfortunately, there are kind of a lot of hoops you’ll need to jump through before you can be an interpreter. Fortunately, it’ll be worth it.
A sign language interpreter is someone who volunteers or is hired to interpret between someone who speaks a sign language and someone who doesn’t. In order to be as accurate as possible, the interpreter must be incredibly fluent in the sign language.
After becoming fluent in American Sign Language, an individual hoping to be an interpreter would have to go through specific training. This training is geared toward teaching the individual how to interact as an interpreter.
It teaches them what they should expect and what is expected of them.
An interpreter must be able to seamlessly communicate between spoken English and American Sign Language. This is why fluency in the language is so important.
If you want to be an interpreter, you must also be fluent in deaf culture.
Once you have achieved all of that, the fluency and the training, you’ll be ready to take the certification test. Websites like Rocket Languages can help you ensure that you are as fluent as possible before you apply to take the test.
If you pass the certification test, congratulations! You can officially be an interpreter for American Sign Language.
Now the hard part: getting that dream job.
It might be beneficial for you to research local schools and organizations that might be interested in an interpreter. You could also approach a local interpreter agency.
Depending on demand in your area, however, you may have to widen your net and be willing to move to where there are more interpreters needed.
With the growing influence of technology on everyday life, you may even be able to find work as an interpreter online. There is actually a pizza shop in San Francisco, CA that utilizes remote web-based interpreters to communicate with phone orders.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when looking for a job as an interpreter.
If you are instead someone looking to hire an interpreter, follow the same advice as above: look for local agencies and online.
American Sign Language Lessons
There is a reason that scientist teach animals sign language: it relies more on comprehension than verbal capabilities. Even though a gorilla, for the most famous example, isn’t able to speak a human language, it can still learn how to sign.
This is also why babies as young as a few months old can learn to communicate with their families via sign language. Even if they haven’t yet figured out how to work their vocal chords and everything into words, they still understand word association.
Word association is how people learn new words. When you were first learning your vocabulary, you might have done an exercise where you had to label pictures using words from your vocab list. You understood the link between a symbol (a picture) and a meaning.
If a baby can learn to associate a bottle with food, they can learn how to associate a sign in ASL with food.
Likewise, you can learn how to associate different ASL signs with different words and meanings, starting with the basics.
You’ll need to learn how to finger sign the alphabet early on. Finger spelling is great for a couple of reasons:
- It is ideal for spelling out the names of people and places that don’t have a specific sign. While eventually you might be given a unique sign to signify your name, in the beginning you will have to spell it out each time.
- If you are unsure what the sign is for something, you can ask and spell out the word. For example, if you don’t know the sign for “dog,” you can ask in sign how to sign it then spell out D-O-G. Then the person you are conversing with can teach you the sign for dog.
Take your time and focus on your understanding of the various signs at each stage of your language learning journey.
American Sign Language Tutors
If, however, you are really struggling on a section of your studies, or if you want some specific guidance, hiring a tutor might be a good plan.
Tutors are great resources no matter the subject. When it comes to American Sign Language, you can find a tutor to help you with any of the many aspects of your studies.
If you are struggling with signing certain vocabulary, you can find a tutor to help.
If you are struggling with the grammatical nuances of signing, you can find a tutor to help.
Struggling with understanding deaf culture? You guessed it, you can find a tutor to help.
To find a tutor, try talking to the appropriate people at local schools and community centers. This might be someone in academic counseling, a campus learning center, or maybe even a notice on a bulletin board.
If you don’t have any luck finding a local tutor, trying surrounding communities or the internet. Tutors for many subjects can be found online.
American Sign Language Schools: Schools for the Deaf
American Sign Language schools, more commonly called schools for the deaf, are where audibly impaired kids can go to learn their subjects in ASL.
Some of these schools for the deaf are day schools. Kids have a regular schools day then go home in the evening. The biggest difference is the distribution of subjects including ASL classes, and the fact that classes aren’t taught with the spoken word.
There are also residential schools for the deaf. Students reside on a campus for the weekdays and then go home to their parents on the weekends. Again, communication is primarily in American Sign Language.
Some of these schools are private and have tuition, while others are public schools.
While many lists exist of the grade schools and colleges that are designed for the deaf and hard of hearing, there doesn’t seem to be a well-known list detailing the best of these schools.
Learning another language is always a journey of discovery. American Sign Language is an excellent language to take if you are looking to broaden your understanding of the people around you.
Whether you are learning it for yourself or for someone else, there are many resources you can utilize in order to streamline your learning efforts.
Rocket Languages is a shining example of one of these resources. The website offers a variety of languages, including American Sign Language. The lessons include videos and easy to remember content.
If you doubt your abilities to learn sign language, believe it or not, you probably already know some. Some examples are the signs for:
- I love you
- Come here
- Rock and Roll/Rock out
If you have ever used any of these ASL signs that have made their way into the general population, you have already started learning American Sign Language.
Isn’t it cool how you can just pick up parts of entirely different languages and use them in every day conversation? You can continue to do this, slowly becoming more and more fluent in American Sign Language.
If it helps, do try to incorporate some of the signs you learn into your everyday conversations. Not only will it help you remember things better, you will also be exposing other people to this language.
Go out there and spread your newfound appreciation for American Sign Language!
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