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First of all:

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 (eyes/hands/face/body) language used by members of the Deaf Community throughout North America, much of 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 English.

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 learning this language.

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 grades.

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 Deaf people, 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.  

Additional Reading:

Deaf:   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 uppercase.

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.  I also believe that visiting another country doesn't constitute an "immersion" method.  People in other countries know "some" English.  An "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.  Many 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.  It takes 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 ASL.

[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.

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