Dear ASL Hero,
I'm glad you are here. You
can learn ASL!
Learning American Sign Language is fun and can open the door to a new world of
friends and interesting people.
ASL is a living language. It is a visual-gestural
members of the Deaf Community throughout North America,
Canada, and many other places too. (But not everywhere.)
ASL is not English on the hands. It uses a different grammar system.
Some people confuse ASL with "Signed English." Much of the vocabulary is different. They are two separate
ways of communicating. Some people who think they are signing ASL are actually using Signed
Unless you are a young
child growing up in a "Deaf household" chances are you
are going to have to put some
serious work into
I assure you it will be worth it.
Let me make a few quick suggestions and point out a few things:
1. While taking this course, during your everyday life, you should constantly be
striving to think in ASL.
2. Signs vary from region to region. No two Deaf people
sign exactly alike. While in this course focus on learning the signs that your
instructor uses. That doesn't mean the signs you learned from your "friend" are
wrong, it just means that there is variety out there and you are choosing to add to your
vocabulary the signs that your instructor prefers. He or she is the one giving
3. As with any living language, ASL changes over time to meet the needs of the
people who use it. Stay flexible.
4. Seek out Deaf people to converse with:
"Learning to sign without interacting with
is like learning
to swim without water." -Bill Vicars
Technically it might be possible to learn to swim without getting in
the water, (but it is much more fun to get wet). And you can learn ASL (to some degree) without spending
time in the Deaf community, (this website is working proof). But, still, you
ought to strive to meet and interact with Deaf people.
5. Work hard and have a good time.
Some authors, when spelling Deaf with an uppercase "D" are
referring specifically to the
status of being culturally Deaf. This is not the same as being physically deaf
(lowercase "d"). I used to "strive" to be consistent with
that approach, but as time goes on it seems more and more people (bloggers,
writers) are using the uppercase "D" and avoiding the lowercase "d."
Lately it seems to me that unless you are specifically discussing the
differences between physical deafness and cultural Deafhood then you should
go head and capitalize the term "Deaf." This website has thousands of
files. As I revise pages and come across the lowercase "d" I ask myself "Is
there a reason for this to be lowercase?" If not, I generally change it to
Learning: "Perfect practice" It
is possible to learn
to swim without water. It is also possible to learn almost any number of other
skills without actually physically being involved with the related activity. For example,
many prisoners of war come home with abilities they didn't have previous to
captivity. Their cell mates taught them how to play musical instruments or use
sports equipment that existed only in their minds. Sports psychologists,
Olympic athletes, and peak performers of all kinds are familiar with the concept of
"perfect practice." Doing a thing perfectly in your "mind's eye"
until you are able to do it near perfectly in real life. If you don't have easy access to
the Deaf community you can still learn quite a bit of ASL by practicing on your own--but
remember--those POWs put in many hundreds of hours of mental practice to become good at
their new activity.
[used by] Note: ASL is not "universal." There are
many different sign languages in use throughout the world. It would be
a safe bet to say though that ASL is the most widely used gestural language
in the world.
[learning 2] Note: What I mean by this is that young children are
"wired" for learning languages. Their brains pick up language much better
than the brains of adults. I believe so-called "natural methods" of
learning a language are more applicable to young children than they are to adults.
also believe that visiting another country doesn't constitute an "immersion"
method. People in other countries know "some" English.
"American" visiting Germany will pick up German very quickly because he has to
use it frequently. It is important to note though that he is NOT in an immersion
environment. He is actually in a "mixed language" environment.
of the shopkeepers, waiters, and other "front line" Germans know quite a bit of
English. They may speak to him in German but will provide ready support in English
if necessary. My point here is that I'm not convinced "NO
ENGLISH" and "Target Language Only" classrooms provide the best
language learning environment.
[serious] Note: How long does it take to learn ASL? Deaf
kids growing up in Deaf households learn it in a few years. I've seen college
students learn how to communicate "visually/gesturally" using a combination of
signed English and ASL within about 10 weeks. Does that mean they "know
ASL?" Heck no. It just means they know how to mime, point, fingerspell,
gesture, mouth words, and sign some English with an occasional ASL phrase thrown in to the
mix. And you know what? Communicating is a bunch of fun! I used
to take groups of students on "silent" trips to
Disneyland. I aimed for a mix of about 8 hearing and 4 deaf.
Most of the hearing students had about 30 hours of ASL instruction, but
some (believe it or not) had only "six hours" before getting on that van! It
was amazing. From Utah, the trip took about 14 hours, (including rest
stops). By the time we got to Anaheim the newbies were signing up a storm.
Were they using ASL? No. They were not. BUT, they were
communicating, and they were learning at an amazing rate! Many of
them kept it up and eventually became skilled in ASL. (Quite a few
went on to become interpreters).
Let's face it though, learning a language, ANY language takes time.
years to learn ASL. It takes 60 to 90 hours (plus some "practice" time)
to memorize a "book" of signs. Most students can then string those
signs together using English syntax (word order) and have a "passable"
conversation with a Deaf person. More often than not the conversation succeeds
because the Deaf person is bilingual and can understand the signed English being
"thrown at" him by the hearing sign language student. If that student
keeps studying and keeps having conversations with Deaf people, he will eventually learn
[vary] If you are not sure about how a sign should be done and you
don't have access to the Deaf community, an alternative method to figuring out the
"right way" to sign a concept is to go to a large library that has lots of ASL
books. Lay ten of them out on a table and turn in each to the sign you want to
master. Compare each author's version of the sign. If you notice nine
authors are doing the sign one way and only one author is doing it the "other
way" then you can pretty much bank on the "majority rule" approach.
But just because 10 books say it is a certain way doesn't mean that other ways aren't also
right. I recommend instead of asking your instructor how to sign
"something" you instead ask him (or her) to show you "some of the ways to
sign ______." That way he will be more inclined to elaborate on the various
ways a concept can be signed.