American Sign Language is a very useful, interesting, and fun language to know, plus it counts as a foreign language for homeschoolers!
My Megan has always been interested in languages. When she was 12 years old, she found out about an American Sign Language class being taught by a Deaf woman at a local church. Her younger sister and I tagged along and learned a lot, but it was Megan who took to it like a duck to water.
When we moved away from that city, Megan quickly found the Deaf community in our new city. They were a thriving group of diverse individuals who met for coffee every Friday at a local coffee shop and once a month for “Silent Supper” at various restaurants.
We all became fast friends, and it was in this group both Megan and I were given our “sign names” – names in ASL that can only be designated by a Deaf/deaf person.
By the way, there is a difference between Deaf and deaf.
*The capital “D” delineates those individuals who have lived fully immersed in Deaf culture where ASL is more than just a language – it’s a way of life.
*The lower case “d” most often refers to those individuals who have lived and gone to school within the hearing community, and don’t identify solely with the immersive Deaf culture.
Now, Megan is going off to college to study to be an ASL interpreter! It’s been her dream for many years, and it’s finally coming true!
Before I share any resources with you, it is important to note that American Sign Language is its own language with its own rules and nuances. There are other forms of sign language – like PSE (Pigeon Signed English) and SEE (Signed Exact English) that do not count as a foreign language for homeschoolers because they use English as their base. Please be aware of this difference as you look for resources for you students!
Learn Sign Language from the Local Deaf Community
As I mentioned above, Megan started learning ASL from a Deaf woman who taught free classes at her church where they also held a deaf service every Sunday. She would often hold the classes in the fall and end the class every year by teaching the group to sign hymns for the yearly Christmas service.
Anyone who is familiar with foreign languages knows it is best to learn from a native “speaker,” and American Sign Language is no different. Our teacher was highly qualified, having interpreted from ASL to Chinese Sign Language and back again for students. She was very patient and welcomed questions.
Frankly, every Deaf/deaf person I know has been extremely open to helping you learn the language. They like to see people trying to communicate, and they are quite forgiving of errors.
So, if you can connect with the deaf community and find a mentor in the group, that is one of the best ways to learn ASL.
Join in Deaf Community Events
When you learn any new language, it is always important to immerse yourself in the language, and there’s no better way to do this than to attend and participate in local Deaf community events.
The way we found the Deaf community in our last city was by asking an interpreter we saw at a community program. She gladly gave us the information and introduced us to a few people.
From there, we attended weekly coffees and monthly dinners (called Silent Suppers) We became involved in their lives and shared our lives with them as well. We became friends and learned so much about Deaf culture and ASL over the 4 years we lived there.
Learn Sign Language at Church
As I mentioned before, my daughter’s first ASL mentor taught her classes at the church where local services were signed. Sometimes church services are held separately, but more often than not, they are signed alongside the English and the members of the congregation who are Deaf or hard of hearing sit in the pews nearest the interpreter.
All you have to do is search for churches near you with an ASL interpreter, and take the time to visit. Be sure to avoid taking seats that are intended for the Deaf unless you are invited to sit there. Many Deaf people have eyesight issues as well and need to be as close as possible to their interpreter.
It would also be nice to brush up on your signs of introduction so you can at least say hello and introduce yourself through fingerspelling.
Which leads me to the very BEST place to start learning American Sign Language…
Take American Sign Language Classes Online
I learned to sign a little when I was young, so I knew how to fingerspell and some very simple signs. However, because I learned from a book that didn’t show the movement of the signs, I didn’t learn a few of the signs correctly. That is why I highly encourage using an online course where you can visually see how the signs are formed.
Lifeprint is a free site that is phenomenal! It is laid out as a curriculum taught by “Dr. Bill” (William G. Vicars, Ed.D) who was born hard of hearing and now considers himself Deaf. (Yes, that’s a big D – Deaf – because he is now fully immersed in Deaf culture, married to a Deaf woman and lives as a Deaf individual. See the blue box above if you have no idea what I’m talking about.)
Megan counseled at a Deaf and Hard of Hearing camp for kids with fellow counselors who had no other training than their studies on Lifeprint! It is THAT GOOD!
Another site I highly recommend is SignIt! This course was developed by Rachel Coleman of Signing Times and features signers from all walks of life, including her daughter, in a fun interactive platform.
SignIt! offer scholarships to parents with hard of hearing or deaf children because of the sad reality that hearing parents rarely learn ASL when one of their children is diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing.
Because of Mercy’s Stickler Syndrome Type 2 diagnosis, which can include hearing loss, we were graciously given a scholarship and I took most of the classes, and used the program as my next oldest daughter’s ASL credit for high school.
The main reason I like this program so much is because you get to see MANY different signers. Just like English, there are “accents” in ASL, and you can get hung up on how a person signs. SignIt! has Deaf, deaf, Hard of Hearing, CODAs (Children Of Deaf Adults who are not Deaf themselves), and hearing persons all signing so you get an idea of just how different each sign can be depending on who is signing.
As a side note, I remember when I first started noticing these “accents” at Deaf Coffee. There were people who seemed to “slur” their signs, others who signed crisply and were easy for me to understand. There were people who vocalized while they signed and others who never made a noise. It was fascinating and allowed Megan and I to learn far more than we would have only being exposed to one signer.
A good ASL dictionary resource is Handspeak. If you need one word here and there, this is great reference site!
Now, if you really want a book, Megan suggests these:
You can watch Megan’s video from 2017 for an inside look at these resources and other suggestions: