Resources for Learning Sign Language (2024)

Learning sign language can be a fun experience and help you communicate with more people in the deaf and hard of hearing community. It can alsolead you down many different paths.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced signer, it's good to understand the different aspects of the language. This includes the basic signs and techniques, where you can find resources to learn it, and the various types of sign languages used throughout the world.

Resources for Learning Sign Language (1)

Sign Language Alphabet

Learning to sign the alphabet (known as the manual alphabet) is usually the first place to begin.

  • Sign language alphabet: Each of the 26 letters in the English alphabet is represented with a unique sign in American Sign Language (ASL). They're relatively easy to understand and some mimic the shape of the letter they represent. Practice these and commit them to memory for a good foundation for signing.
  • Fingerspelling: Once you know the individual letters, you can use them to form complete words. This is calledfingerspellingand it's an effective way to communicate, even if you don't know the real sign of a particular word.

Learning Sign Language

Once you have learned to sign the alphabet, you can dive deeper into ASL. There are many ways to approach it, including online and print sign language dictionaries and classroom instruction. For many people, it's useful to do a combination of these techniques.

As with learning any language, there is great value in attending a class. It allows you to learn from an instructor who can explain some of the finer nuances of the language that you simply won't get from a book or website.

Fun and Expression

Sign language can also be used to have fun and there are many opportunities to be creative with the language. Examples includesign language games, creatingsign language names, and "writing"ASL poetry,idioms, or ABC stories. There is even awrittenform of sign language that you can explore.


What good does it do to learn sign language if you don't practice it? Like any language, if you do not use it, you lose it. The deaf or signing community offers many opportunitiesfor practice.

You can usually learn about ways to interact with others by contacting a local resource center for deafand hard of hearing people or a hearing and speech center. For example, signing people often enjoy going to silent orASL dinnersand coffee chats.

Different Flavors of Sign Language

It's important to understand that sign language comes in multiple styles, much like unique dialects in a spoken language. What you sign with one person may be different than the way another person signs, and this can be confusing at times.

For instance, some people sign "true American Sign Language," which is a language that has its own grammar and syntax. Others usesigned exact English (SEE), a form that mimics the English language as closely as possible. Still others use a form of sign language that combines English with ASL, known as pidgin signed English (PSE).

Sign language is also used differently in education. Some schools may follow a philosophy known as total communicationand use all means possible to communicate, not just sign language. Others believe in using sign language to teach children English, an approach known as bilingual-bicultural (bi-bi).

Sign Language


Sign language has a long historybehind it and ASL actually started in Europe in the 18th century. At one time, sign language was dealt a severe blow by a historic event known as theMilan Conference of 1880. This resulted in a ban on sign language in the deaf schools of many countries.

However, a number of individuals and organizations kept the language alive. Additionally, no matter what new hearing or assistive technology comes along, sign language will survive.

There will always be a need for sign language, and its popularity has held and even grown. For example, a number of schools offer sign language as a foreign language and many offersign language clubs as well.

Hearing Sign Language Users

While many deaf people need sign language, so do others who are not deaf. In fact, there has been a discussion in the deaf and hard of hearing community about substituting the term "signing community" for the term "deaf community" for this very reason.

Non-deaf users of sign language include hearing babies, nonverbal people who can hear but cannot talk, and even gorillas or chimpanzees. Each of these instances points to the importance of continuing the language so that communication is more inclusive.

International Sign Language

Sign language in America is not the same sign language used around the world. Most countries have their own form of sign language, such as Australia (Auslan) or China's Chinese sign language (CSL). Often, the signs are based on the country's spoken language and incorporate words and phrases unique to that culture.

A Word From Verywell

A desire to learn sign language can prove to be a worthy endeavor and a rewarding experience. As you begin your journey, do some research and check with local organizations that can offer you guidance in finding classes near you. This will give you a great foundation that can be fueled by practice signing with others.

By Jamie Berke
Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.

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Resources for Learning Sign Language (2024)


What is the most efficient way to learn sign language? ›

If you want to improve your Sign Language skills faster, hiring a tutor is probably the fastest way to do it. Search for a good professional near you, or even online, and start practicing as soon as possible.

What is the best platform for learning ASL? ›, also called ASL University or ASLU, is a wonderful free resource for ASL learners that has fantastic lessons for beginners. Look for the ASL Lessons section in the upper-right corner of the homepage. The site is run by Dr. William G.

What is a website you can use to help you study ASL? ›

ASL Connect is an online resource for learning American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. ASL Connect provides paid learning content, as well as language learning services designed for businesses and families. ASL Deafined is a subscription-based website provides ASL video lessons.

Is there a free way to learn ASL? ›

ASL University: Lessons is a free course designed to teach ASL not through traditional topic-based lists, but by the frequency of use in real-world conversations.

Can you learn ASL by yourself? ›

Most importantly of all, you will need to start having lots of interaction with real deaf people. All in all, it is not really possible to teach yourself ASL. If you want to start holding meaningful conversations in ASL, you will need formal instruction and practice.

How long does it take to learn sign language fluently? ›

It takes an average of 8 or more years to become fluent in American Sign Language (ASL). The proficiency chart below (created by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) shows levels of skills and knowledge in learning a foreign language. At the bottom of the pyramid is the Novice proficiency level.

How to learn ASL at home for free? ›

SignSchool is a free online sign language class that steps you through the basics (starting with how to spell your name) and then moves you through lessons that progress in difficulty. However, you can select any difficulty you want if you're already knowledgeable; pick between Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Is it better to learn ASL or BSL? ›

It actually depends on the person willing to learn the language. However, you should consider which sign language is used the most in the area you live in. If you live in the UK, you should learn BSL, and if you live in the US or in the English-speaking regions of Canada, you should go for ASL.

What app helps you learn ASL? ›

Lingvano is the fun, fast and easy way to learn Sign Language! Our bite-sized, interactive lessons in combination with our ASL dictionary will help you develop the skills you need for real-life communication. Learn American Sign Language (ASL) hands-on and build bridges!

Can I learn ASL online for free? ›

Start learning free, basic ASL vocabulary with our fun videos, which are organized by topic.

What is the best free app to learn ASL? ›

7 Best Apps For Learning Sign Language
  1. Lingvano. Lingvano is one of the best sign language apps that allows you to set learning goals and stay consistent. ...
  2. ASL Bloom. ASL Bloom is an app to learn ASL, especially useful for beginners. ...
  3. The ASL App. ...
  4. SignSchool. ...
  5. InterSign ASL. ...
  6. ASL Fingerspelling Practice. ...
  7. Marlee Signs.
Jun 19, 2023

Do any language apps teach ASL? ›

SignSchool. This free app works for those wanting to learn American Sign Language or develop their ASL vocabulary. Choose from a diverse group of signers and dialects in the dictionary and reinforce your learning with multiple-choice games.

Does Duolingo do ASL? ›

Duolingo is a popular, useful website for learning new languages. Unfortunately, it does not offer ASL as a language option, despite offering minor languages like Scots Gaelic (only about 60,000 speakers), High Valyrian (from Game of Thrones) and Klingon (from Star Trek).

Why is ASL so easy to learn? ›

Sign language is not a difficult language to learn, as many signs are often commonplace gestures. Also, there are now way more tools and sources to learn from than ever before. There are many courses out there and new ones keep appearing rapidly.

How to study for an ASL exam? ›

5 tips for to prepare for a sign language exam
  1. Plan and prepare. Grab a pen and paper to jot some ideas down. ...
  2. Get to grips with the basics. For any sign language exam, the basics of the language are crucial! ...
  3. Switch off your voice. ...
  4. It's all about body language. ...
  5. Practice makes perfect! ...
  6. Think and take your time!
Jan 29, 2018

Is ASL or BSL more useful? ›

It actually depends on the person willing to learn the language. However, you should consider which sign language is used the most in the area you live in. If you live in the UK, you should learn BSL, and if you live in the US or in the English-speaking regions of Canada, you should go for ASL.

Can you learn ASL in 3 months? ›

It takes between 3 months and a year to learn American Sign Language, but proper mastery and understanding of the language takes years.

Can you learn ASL on Duolingo? ›

Although Duolingo doesn't offer sign language courses, there are self-study apps explicitly designed for ASL learners that utilize a similar gamified approach to teaching this visual language. Some top options for these types of apps include Lingvano and ASL Sign Language Pocket Sign.

How long should I practice ASL a day? ›

Keep in mind that consistency is more important than intensity. Learn ASL every day! You don't have to learn for an hour each day. 5-10 minutes are enough to improve your skills.


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