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How to learn American Sign Language: All you need to know to master ASL

If you have ever pondered how to learn and sign ASL fluently, then you'll love to read this post. In this article, we dive deep into the structure and learning steps of American Sign Language. You'll also get to learn expert tips and strategies that make ASL learning easier in this comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about learning American Sign Language. Let's dive in.

Updated on Dec 20, 2023
5 min read

Ever since William Stokoe published the first ASL dictionary in his days at Gallaudet University, American Sign Language (ASL) has taken its place as one of the most popular means of communication in the United States; especially in the Deaf community. The   manual signs, facial expressions and complex grammar that make up ASL are not only used by people that are Deaf or Hard of Hearing but by hearing people as well.

If you have ever pondered how to learn and sign ASL fluently, then you'll love to read this post. In this article, we dive deep into the structure and learning steps of American Sign Language. You'll also get to learn expert tips and strategies that make ASL learning easier in this comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about learning American Sign Language. Let's dive in.

How Long Does It Take To Learn ASL?

It takes between 3 months and a year to learn American Sign Language, but proper mastery and understanding of the language takes years. Linguists claim that learning the ASL alphabet and basic concepts takes 10-15 weeks but learning advanced terms, constructing sentences, and understanding conversations in (ASL) American Sign Language takes several months and, in some cases, over a year.

To become an expert in ASL and communicate fluently with ASL signers, it would take years of constant learning and practice.

You should also know that the time frame for learning American Sign Language depends on your level of dedication, the amount of time you put into its learning, and your learning curves and ability to understand new concepts quickly.

So, is American Sign Language hard to learn? Let's take a closer look at that.

Is American Sign Language (ASL) Hard To Learn?

American Sign Language isn't harder to learn than any other oral or natural language. Like other oral languages, American Sign Language-ASL has its rules of grammar and syntax that must be mastered to get a proper understanding of the sign language. Proper learning and signing of ASL starts with understanding the basic concepts of ASL and the American Sign Language alphabet before moving on to more advanced concepts.

You should know that the level of difficulty when learning ASL depends on your goals with the language. For instance, a person who wants to learn ASL just to understand the basic concepts of sign language like signing "hello!" or “goodbye” will find ASL easier to learn because he or she will not dive deep into the advanced concepts of ASL.

However, an American Sign Language student that is studying the language to become an American Sign Language interpreter will face more advanced American Sign Language  classes that offer proper ASL to English and English to ASL interpreting services.

To make learning ASL easier, experts advise sign language students that want to learn American Sign Language to follow certain tips. Let's check out these tips next.

Tips To Learn American Sign Language (ASL)

The following expert tips will make learning ASL fun and easier:

1. Practise as much as possible - like all languages,  practice is key to improving your sign language. The more you will be immersed in ASL, the easier it will be for you! 

2. Learn in groups - The best way to learn American Sign Language is to learn together with other students. This way, you get people to learn and practice with and you also get fellow students to motivate you to keep going.

3. Learn directly from the Deaf - Use SignOn - SignOn connects the hearing and Deaf communities through authentic virtual learning interactions that give American Sign Language learners the unique opportunities to communicate one-on-one with a Deaf ASL Ambassador. Users can personalize their experience choosing to practice everything from basic vocabulary to daily conversation. Use Meetup  - This website has lists of the largest ASL groups in the US. There are  many free practice groups organised throughout the US for all ASL levels. You will find many of these groups on Facebook. 

4. Learn ASL in steps - Learning American Sign Language-ASL isn't any more difficult or different than learning any other language. You should start with the basic signs and concepts before moving to the advanced topics. When you learn in steps, you won't get overwhelmed when introduced to advanced concepts in ASL.

If you are looking to learn some basic signs, check out our YouTube channel ASL Bloom! Our team will introduce you to your first signs. Our videos cover many topics such as the alphabets, the colours, family etc. A good place to start is our 25 basic signs in ASL video. 

Using an ASL dictionary is also an essential tool when learning sign language. An ASL dictionary contains ASL signs, hand gestures, verb inflections, and more. ASL Bloom has an integrated sign language dictionary. It contains every sign used in its lessons. 

Next to a dictionary, you can also use an American Manual Alphabet Illustration Chart.  This chart identifies ASL manual alphabets and signs using fingerspelling, handshapes, and sign language letters. This is an item that all ASL students and signers must have.

4. Devote time to learning American Sign Language - The more time and effort you put into learning ASL, the quicker you'll learn and master the sign language. An example of this might be: practice ASL vocabulary 10-15 minutes a day, connect with a member of the Deaf community through SignOn or a Deaf Meetup 1-2  times a week for 6 to 9 months.

5. Watch instructional videos - ASL is a demonstrative language that is communicated through facial expressions and body movements. When you watch people use and communicate with signs, you'll learn sign language quicker.

If you would like to watch videos in American Sign Language, we recommend checking out the website OIC movies. They offer a lot of videos on a wide variety of content: news, history, comedy etc... 

6. Volunteer in community programs and outreaches - When you take volunteer jobs, you get first-hand practical experience on how to learn and use American Sign Language.

The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center and Bridges for Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers many volunteering positions to practice your ASL skills and support the Deaf community. We recommend also checking out your local association for any opportunities. 

7. Take additional American Sign Language classes - To master ASL, you'll need to draw knowledge from different sources, lessons, and classes. Taking extra sign language classes or online courses exposes you to more details about ASL.

8. Use ASL tools, programs, and software to support your learning - You can also register for an online class and use the online resources to buffer your understanding of American Sign Language.  With our ASL learning app, ASL Bloom, you will be able to learn American Sign Language anywhere and at any time in a fun and effective way. The learning experience consists of 20 modules, each on a different topic and with specific learning outcomes. Try out our premium level to unlock all the learning content! 

9. Relax your fingers and hands - Signing ASL involves making hand shapes and this can be a tiring process especially if you have stiff fingers. Relaxing and wiggling your fingers periodically will help you increase your signing speed and should be able to sign ASL for longer periods.

10. Make mistakes - When learning ASL, don't be afraid to make mistakes because you learn more from mistakes. When you sign incorrectly, you can be corrected by other signers and avoid making the same mistake again.

11. Use facial expressions as much as hand signs - In ASL, hand signs and fingerspelling help to convey the information or message to the audience but facial expressions set the tone and feel of the speaker. You can't sign "sadness or happiness" without expressing it with your face.

12. Set goals you want to achieve - When you set ASL goals, it becomes easier to track your progress and achieve the set goals.

Why Should You Learn American Sign Language-ASL?

Here are the top reasons you should learn American Sign Language:

1. Learning ASL not only teaches you how to communicate with a Deaf person, but you also learn about the cultural values of Deaf people and Deaf culture in the United States

2. Learning ASL will open career opportunities for you as a Sign Language interpreter or ASL instructor. You can render Sign Language interpreting services to Universities, firms, government and private-owned companies, and news publication companies.

3. Learning ASL-American Sign Language is a great way to improve your language skills and communication skills.

4. Learning ASL American Sign Language allows you to use hand gestures and ASL manual alphabets as a means of communication.

5. When you learn American Sign Language, it becomes easier to communicate with a Deaf friend or native signer.

6. American Sign Language brings people together and increases the sense of togetherness between hearing people and Deaf people in the United States.

7. Learning American Sign Language helps to sharpen your mind and cognitive skills. ASL also helps to develop a deep neural network and improve your hand-to-eye coordination.

8. As an ASL user, you get to decode body language and read cues easily.

9. Learning to sign ASL makes it easier to learn other types of Sign Languages including British Sign Language (BSL) and French Sign Language (LSF). ASL language acquisition also makes it easier to handspeak with other signers from different countries.

Is ASL The Universal Sign Language?

You should know that ASL sign language is not the Universal Sign Language. Though there are certain parts of ASL that you will come across in LSF and BSL, these sign languages also have unique structures that make them different from ASL.

It's like knowing and using the British English language and American English language. Though both languages are "English languages", there are still certain parts of both languages that make them different from each other, such as their vocabulary, 1phonology and grammatical usage. The same is the case with ASL, BSL, and LSF. All three sign languages are unique and there is no one universal sign language.

Final Words

In summary, the benefits of learning American Sign Language are numerous. By learning the language, you can communicate effectively with hearing and Deaf people alike. You also get to learn about the rich history of the Deaf culture while connecting with other ASL students.

The career opportunities that become open to you from being able to sign ASL are many. With all of these benefits, it's no surprise that more people enrol in ASL language classes every day.

You can take practical classes on American Sign Language and the manual alphabet or register for online lessons. Regardless of which way you choose to learn ASL, proper dedication, study, and practical experience of the language will go a long way in ensuring that your ASL education goes easily. You should also remember that learning the sign language alphabet and basics first will aid you to understand the sign language better.

As long as you devote time and effort to learning ASL and you follow the tips discussed in this article, you will become an ASL expert in no time.

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