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Topic:  "The best place to learn ASL" / "The best way to learn ASL"

By William G. Vicars, EdD. 

Is the ocean the best place to learn to swim?

It is a fairly common maxim that "The Deaf Community is the best place to learn ASL."
That phrase gets bandied about quite a bit online.

I would like you all to ask yourself, "Is that really true?"

Or is that phrase instead just a politically expedient thing to say that seems logical on the surface but when explored in any depth falls short?

I'm not "convinced" that the "Deaf Community" is the best place to learn "ASL" any more than the "American Community" is the best place to learn spoken English.

I suggest to you that the "best" place to learn ASL is an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction, massive language exposure, and qualified instruction (provided by inspiring, caring, experienced instructors).

Specifically: Programs that have made "long-term investments in systematic language support programs; ensuring that programs are guided by standardized principles, goals, and benchmark measures; and training teachers in second-language acquisition in both implicit and explicit language support." (Christensen, 2007)

I would suggest to you that the Deaf Community can be a good place to practice and observe the ASL that you have been taught via a solid (or better yet, "awesome") language training program.

On the other hand, the Deaf Community is also often a scary turn-off for many beginning ASL learners forced to attend a Deaf Event before they are ready -- or having been thrust into "deafness" via aging or broken ears. The Deaf Community is populated with folks who are about as qualified to teach their language as the average American is to teach English.

Suppose someone tells you:

"The ocean is the best place to learn how to swim."
Just go on out to the ocean and get started! You'll do great!


Maybe you'd do a little "more great" in a warm, four-foot deep swimming pool with a qualified, experienced instructor?

When it comes to learning ASL -- I suggest to you the following levels of effectiveness:

Good: Deaf Community ("the ocean")

Really good: Awesome Language Training Program (the swimming pool with an instructor)

Better: Awesome Language Training Program combined with a massive amount of hanging out in the Deaf Community.

Better still: Marry a Deaf ASL teacher who doesn't use voice at all.

Best: Marry a Deaf ASL teacher, move away from your home town to attend an awesome language training program, surround yourself with all kinds of ASL learning materials, get a job working at a Deaf organization; carpool to work with Deaf folks, go to Deaf events, and form multiple engaging long-term close-friendships with a variety of skilled Deaf ASL signers.
Posted: August 31, 2018

Christensen, Gayle and Stanat, Petra, (2007, September) Migration Policy Institute, Policy Briefs: "Language Policies and Practices for Helping Immigrants and Second-Generation Students Succeed," Retrieved, 8/31/2018 from:





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