6 Techniques to Improve Your Fingerspelling

I’ll admit it… one of my biggest struggles when learning ASL was fingerspelling.

Even though it may not take too long to memorize the letters, it can feel like it takes forever getting to the point where fingerspelling feels natural and easy.

If you have similar feelings about fingerspelling, let me assure you, you’re not alone.

That is why today I wanted to give you a few helpful tips that can help you get more comfortable with fingerspelling in general.

  1. Focus on clarity, not speed. One common mistake is that we place too much importance on the speed of our fingerspelling. Remember that the goal is to be understood, not to impress. Just focus on producing each letter clearly and accurately so there will be no need to start the word or name over from the beginning.
  2. Give the first letter a little extra attention. Believe me, you are going to have a really hard time being understood or understanding someone else’s fingerspelling if the first letter is missed. If you are the one doing the fingerspelling, make sure the person you’re having a conversation with is paying attention and catches that first letter.
  3. Use context clues. If you know the context, you’ll have a much easier time understanding someone else’s fingerspelling. For instance, are they spelling out what state they are from? Are they trying to tell you about their first car? Are they trying to fingerspell the name of their pet to you? If you know the context, oftentimes you can miss several letters and still understand what they are fingerspelling to you.
  4. Don’t focus on each individual letter. If you’re hearing, it is much easier to understand someone else’s fingerspelling when you sound out the word or name in your head as they fingerspell to you. Otherwise, you’re left trying to memorize each letter in sequential order and then piece them together into something that makes sense like a puzzle.
  5. Relax. I know, I know… easier said than done. However, the more we tense up and stress ourselves out, the harder it can be to focus on the conversation at hand (no pun intended). Remember that you are having a conversation with a person, not a machine. If you miss what it is that they are fingerspelling to you, go ahead and let them know that you missed it. They know you are new to the language, be honest and let them know when they are going too fast or you don’t understand something.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but practice makes better. The only way to get comfortable fingerspelling is by doing it often. So, try finding little ways of incorporating fingerspelling in your daily life. For example, try fingerspelling random things around you everyday. Got a few minutes of dead time? Look up some common names on your phone and fingerspell a few of them. Be creative, have fun, and enjoy the process. 

Go ahead and try a few of the above suggestions yourself and see what works best for you.

If you’d like to test your skills or just get in a little extra practice, be sure to take advantage of our ongoing receptive fingerspelling series.

The first video in this series starts out simple with 3 names finger spelled two times each.

If you missed any of the previous videos, you can check out the whole series here, or you can jump to a particular difficult level listed below. 




If you would like more helpful tips on how you can improve your fingerspelling, here are a few videos you may want to check out.

If you ready to get some real world practice, you are welcome to join our free ASL group practice sessions which are held every week on Zoom. A link is sent out every week through our weekly newsletter where we provide you with valuable tips and resources that can help you learn ASL more effectively. If you’d like to join, you can sign up for free here.

These sessions are a great place to try out some of the fingerspelling tips we shared with you in this article (especially Tip #5 😄). 

To sum up, fingerspelling is an essential skill for any ASL learner. It allows you to communicate words that don’t have a sign, such as names, places, or technical terms.

To improve your fingerspelling, you can practice these six techniques: focus on clarity not speed, pause on the first letter of the word or name you are fingerspelling, use context clues to your advantage, don’t get stuck on individual letters, relax, and be sure to practice on a regular basis.

By applying these techniques, you will be able to fingerspell more confidently and accurately.

If you want to learn more about fingerspelling or ASL in general, check out our blog or our resources page.

Thank you for reading this article and happy signing!

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