How can I learn sign language?

Hi there!  I recently I shared a few videos on Instagram and Facebook of me signing and introducing myself and explaining why we are learning sign language (specifically ASL or American Sign Language for us, and yep there are different versions of sign language depending on where you live!).  Totally put myself out of my comfort zone, but I have been inundated with support and love after putting myself out there!  I have been overwhelmed (in a good way) with wonderful responses and interest, so I decided to compile a list of resources for learning sign language if you are interested!

It’s been a real challenge to fit in time to learn a new language amidst being a new mom, all Odin’s therapies, speech school and appointments, researching and learning to be an advocate for our deaf son, and Odin being such a troubled sleeper.  However, we have made it work, and below my resources I am also sharing some of the tactics I’ve employed to help kickstart our learning and integration of ASL!  Please keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but it’s a place to start!  I’d love to know of any additional resources you have used or come across, so feel free to comment!  Thank you for reading and enjoy!

 

Online resources:

Lifeprint – amazing site that offers free self-study lessons including an ASL dictionary, signing videos, a printable sign language alphabet chart (for fingerspelling), Deaf Culture study materials, and resources to help you learn sign language.  I love this site because Dr. Bill Vicars goes into great detail about hand position and orientation, he’s descriptive about the signs and gives helpful ways to remember, and there are always multiple videos and pictures.  I use this website and the two below like online dictionaries to look up signs I don’t know and compare them to one another.  

Signing Savvy – another great online video ASL dictionary!  I don’t know much beyond the dictionary, but I use this site almost daily in conjunction with Lifeprint and Handspeak to look up new signs.  

Handspeak– awesome online video ASL dictionary, and I love that I can view the videos at “slow” and “slower” paces.  In addition, a friend of mine showed me that there is a ton of helpful information about language acquisition in deaf and hard of hearing babies, toddlers and children, as well as ideas for incorporating sign language into play with your baby/kiddo!  Go to the ASL for Kids tab to learn more!  

Sign It – wonderful program for learning full ASL (including grammar, which is quite different from English).  This program is free to families who have kids with hearing loss ages 0-3, and the price is reasonable for others.   I also found a link to sample a few free chapters here, so enjoy!  You also have the option of converting this to a shortcut on your phone or iPad, which has the look and feel of a phone app 🙂  Highly, highly recommend, especially if you have a little one for whom you are learning!  

ASL Nook – this sweet family of four provides super cute and fun videos on different topics to help others learn sign language.  Sheena, Manny, and Shaylee are all Deaf, and their youngest daughter Ivy is hearing, but they are a signing family!  I love watching them!  The girls are adorable, and this site is a fantastic way to learn more about sign language, Deaf Culture, sign language, and how beautiful and expressive sign language is!

Phone/tablet apps:

The ASL App – app designed by Deaf adults to teach you conversational ASL.  I love that it also goes over the alphabet, which you’ll need to know for fingerspelling of names, proper names like brands and states, and for words that you don’t already know the sign.  You can upgrade to include more topics like food, emotions, outdoors, etc for about ten bucks once you’ve completed the basics.  

ASL Video Dictionary and Inflection Guide (National Technical Institute for the Deaf) – I love this dictionary app because you can search by the word you’re looking for or categories, such as animals, bath time, clothing, etc.  You can also opt to see the word signed in an English sentence, ASL sentence, and it shows you other signs that look similar.  So many times, I get signs confused when there is another sign that is very similar, and this helps give me a clear video on what each sign is supposed to look like.  

 Sign it – great app (I believe this is also accessible online) that serves as an introductory sign language course.  There are 10 units that teach beginning conversational ASL (vocabulary, sentences, grammar, and syntax) and Deaf culture using video skits with multiple signers.  I find that this one takes more time to use than simply looking up a word using the ASL dictionaries, BUT here you get to see it put together as well as dissected for a better understanding of how sign language works and is used in conversation.  

 ASL Fingerspell American Sign Language – fingerspelling is hard.  Super hard, and “reading” it as someone else is fingerspelling a word is even more challenging!  I love this app because you can search for a specific word or you can play the game or do the quizzes to practice your receptive skills and understanding fingerspelling.  You can also choose to watch words with a certain number of letters being finger spelled, as well as watch a word on a loop or slow it down.  Awesome.

ASL Dictionary – There are two of these on the app store with amazing reviews, one is $4.99 and the other is $7.99.  I have not personally used these particular dictionaries, but some of my friends love them and swear by them.  

Signed Stories – I LOVE to watch these and see just how animated and fun story-telling is in sign language!  Story-telling is a HUGE pastime in Deaf Culture.  These apps are a great way to learn how to sign a story and/or book and improve not only your vocabulary, but ASL grammar and facial expression/body language.  You also have the option to have subtitles included or not.  

Glide – this is a video chat app that is WONDERFUL for practicing sign with others!  I have actually found a group of moms who are learning ASL for our kids with hearing loss, and that has been both fun and great emotional support for me at the same time!  

Youtube:

Ashley Clark Fry – Ashley is Deaf and was born to a hearing family, and she has a passion for sharing ASL through social media!  Her youtube channel is full of how-to videos, ranging from “25 Basic ASL Signs for Beginners” to individual words and grammar, as well as an interview with her parents about raising a deaf child.  She is also widely known on Instagram as @signedwithheart.  

Learn ASL in 31 days with Rochelle Barlow on YouTubethis channel is actually where I started.  She has multiple playlists on her channel, but I really enjoyed her ASL in 31 days playlist because she introduces you to ASL with detailed instruction on the alphabet, and then each daily video has a specific topic (questions, emotions, numbers, etc.), and all the videos are short and digestible so that you aren’t overwhelmed by too much info and too many signs at once.  

AASD Accessible Materials Project – One of our local schools for the Deaf, Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD) has created a channel to make sign language more accessible to families and people out in the community.  There are ASL lessons, short stories, songs, speeches, parent resources, and more! 

Books 

If you are old fashioned like me and like to feel a book in your hands and flip through the pages, go to your local library to check out some ASL books!  Some of my favorites are: 

1000 Signs of Life: Basic ASL for Everyday Conversation

Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of ASL

The American Sign Language Handshape Dictionary

Classes:

Oftentimes colleges, schools and churches will offer sign language classes at certain times of the year.  Currently, I am taking an ASL class at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf (AASD) that is helping me tremendously!  The teachers are Deaf and SO funny and expressive and wonderful, and I get both the benefit of structure and immersion that I need to learn the language.  Also, being in person and learning from a Deaf adult, I find that I am also learning soooooo much about other elements of sign language that are challenging to learn from books and online, such as facial expression and body language.  These are HUGE to communicating using sign language!  You can also look up events for your local Deaf Community and make some new friends!  Having a friend to learn with and from is one of my favorite ways to learn and practice.

DVDs/TV:

Signing Time – amazing TV series designed specifically for teaching children sign language.  The videos are themed, signs are demonstrated by Rachel Coleman, her daughter Leah and nephew Alex, as well as super cute videos of children demonstrating the signs.  There is a ton of repetition, which is great for learning, and the videos are cute and fun and easy to sing along and dance to with kids.  

Switched at Birth – TV drama about two families who come together after learning that their daughters were given to the wrong family in the hospital when they were born.  The cool part is that one of the daughters who was switched lost her hearing due to meningitis and became deaf, so their family learned ASL, and now everyone is incorporating ASL into their lives!  The show also incorporates information and poignant scenes about Deaf Culture, Deaf history and behavior norms, a school for the Deaf, Gallaudet University, as well as the divide between Deaf and hearing people.  

Tips and techniques I used to pick up sign: 

Be meaningful:  Since I was learning in order to teach my son, I started with the alphabet and looked up the signs that we used most throughout our day:  

  • Eat, drink, water, more, mama, daddy, I love you
  • As I got more familiar with these signs, I started looking up more signs here and there depending on where Odin’s interests seemed to lie.    

Think in categories:  Eventually, I compiled list of objects, toys, animals, and foods found in Odin’s room, the bathroom, kitchen, the park and any places we go or play regularly.  Then I looked up signs for a few of those words every day and began incorporating them into our days when we’d play so I could slowly build my signing vocabulary without getting overwhelmed.  

Books:  Signing while reading books is so much fun!  Books are a great way to build sign language vocabulary and also improve literacy in deaf/hard of hearing children.  Initially, I picked out a few books with one or two pictures per page and looked up the signs for the animals/objects/actions and began there.  Toys are also great to help add a 3D component so that Odin could see the picture in the book and connect what he’s seeing there with my signing as well as the toy he is able to see and hold and feel.  As I became more familiar with the books, I was able to connect the individual pictures into a story.  I position Odin beside me or in front of me so he can see both me and the book, and then I sign/act out the book for him, and we just love it!  We get very animated with our facial expressions and our signs and do sound effects and make it silly, and he has come to really love books and wants me to read and sign them to him.  

Baby/kid games:  A friend of mine taught me some cute games to play with your baby using sign language.  A couple of ideas include a peekaboo type game where you hide and reveal yourself with a different animal each time, hand over hand signing with your baby (you’re doing the signs with your baby’s/child’s hands) signing and saying, “Hi!  Your name is Odin!  I’m your mama!  It’s nice to meet you!”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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