A Guide to Learning ASL: Getting Started

We know getting started with learning sign language can be a little overwhelming at times and figuring out how to improve our expressive and receptive skills over time can be a challenge.

Here are 5 suggestions that can help you both get started and continue to increase your skills over time.

1. Build up your lexicon. Anytime you start to learn a new language, one of the most crucial aspects to making progress in the beginning is building up your vocabulary. One way we can do this is by investing in a good dictionary. Here is a video where we share a couple of our favorite (and most accurate) ASL dictionaries that we recommend.

2. Take a class. As convenient as learning independently on the internet can be, it can be hard for many of us to learn a language without the structure of a class. If you can, try taking a class with a Deaf instructor at your local college. If that isn’t an option, then we’d recommend checking out Lifeprint.com. Lifeprint is operated by Bill Vicars, a Deaf professor, and on his website he offers ASL lessons that you can follow in a structured manner.

3. Immerse yourself in the language. Increasing your exposure to your target language is essential. According to the Family and Community Engagement 2013 Research Compendium by Lois Bridges, PhD, there is a direct correlation between exposure to a language and vocabulary. If you’re learning a new language, do your best to immerse yourself in the language as much as possible.

4. Use YouTube to your advantage. In the book, The Innovator’s Mindset, author George Couros shares a story about a group of students from Nathan Hale Middle School that built a functioning hovercraft using a leaf blower, plywood, a tarp, and some good old-fashioned duct tape. Along with utilizing what they were learning from their classes, they also found YouTube videos for inspiration and to learn how to build it. If you’d like to do something similar with learning sign language, here are some of our favorite ASL channels on YouTube.

5. Practice with others. Learning vocabulary and growing your lexicon is a great start, however, at some point you’ll have to take what you’ve learned into the real world and start having conversations. Practicing sign language with others in real time will help you by providing you with input, communication, feedback, meet new people, and find a supportive community. Don’t be shy, going outside of your comfort zone is one of the best (and fastest) ways to learn!

Learning a new language can certainly be a rewarding and enriching experience and these 5 suggestions should help you get off on the right foot in your new language journey. To quickly review…

  1. Build up your lexicon
  2. Try taking a class in person or online
  3. Immerse yourself in the language
  4. Utilize YouTube to your advantage
  5. Practice with others as much as possible

On the other hand, if you have been faced with a variety of challenges and roadblocks in regard to learning sign language, try setting some realistic and specific goals for yourself, reward yourself for your efforts, find ways to make learning fun and enjoy the process, seek valuable feedback and support from others, and remind yourself of your reasons and benefits for learning a new language.

By following some of these tips, you can be assured that not only will you reach your desired destination, but you’ll be able to enjoy the journey along the way.

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