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Learning Sign Language

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Photo by daveynin (Flickr)

One question that comes up time and time again in relation to hearing loss is, “What is the best way to learn sign language?” There is no one answer for this question, but there are quite a few different resources that you can turn to in order to understand how to learn sign language, officially known as American Sign Language, or ASL for short. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that ASL is like any other foreign language: It takes time and practice to become proficient. It also helps to remember that it has its own terminology, grammar, culture, and history. Last but not least, don’t forget to have a sense of humor and have fun!

How long does it take to learn sign language? Well, that really depends on the person. On average, it seems to take anywhere from a year to a year and a half in order to grasp the basics and become proficient in them. But if it takes you longer, don’t sweat it. Everyone learns at their own pace.

There are many online resources that can be helpful, but a few stand out due to their ability to help new students gain a fundamental grasp of the language. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and the American Sign Language University (ASLU) come to mind almost immediately. Information on these sites covers everything from, “Is sign language hard to learn?” all the way through the basics of how to learn sign language in the most efficient manner. It turns out that having someone teach you who is deaf or hard of hearing and has grown up signing is often the best way to learn sign language.

NAD is a deaf and hard-of-hearing rights nonprofit organization that assists those with hearing loss and their loved ones to find resources to help them in life, including instruction in ASL. They have some great ideas on their site about where to learn sign language, ranging from local deaf/hard of hearing clubs to full-blown instruction at a community college.

ASLU, on the other hand, is a for-profit organization, although barely. Dr. Bill Vicars, creator and owner of the site, is a tenured professor at California State University, Sacramento, where his full-time job is teaching the subject of deaf studies. On his website, he does offer quite a bit of basic instruction for free, but he requires you to eventually purchase the advanced courses. The site includes video instruction as well as some graphics to help you understand how the signs are to be made properly. If you are not able to get instruction in person, this site may just be the next-best thing.

Although it’s challenging, learning ASL can be of great benefit, especially if it enables better communication between yourself and your loved ones. Both of the sites mentioned above also have links to books and other study aids for purchase. Take your time and read the reviews on the sites for each product, as it is expert advice given for the best price: free.

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