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How to learn sign language

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Learn to communicate through your hands
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Learn sign language, or teach yourself!

Being able to communicate without speech has been something that has interested people greatly. Learning sign language is not only fun and interesting, it also brings a great amount of understanding and appreciation for the language.

Sign language may be learned in a number of ways other than the traditional classroom. Though formal instruction is still a very good way to learn American Sign Language (ASL), the internet is increasingly becoming a great educational tool. There are many excellent resources for educating deaf children and reinforcing classroom time and work done with a specialist.

Below is some information about ASL itself as well as good resources to start learning sign language:

About ASL:

As the name suggests, ASL is the sign language used in the United States and English-speaking areas of Canada. Just like any other language, sign language develops differently in each country.  There is no "universal sign language." Learning ASL is the same as learning any other foreign language. In fact, ASL has its own rules for syntax and grammar ... completely separate from English ... and so should not be considered a "gestural form" of English. As with any other language, ASL changes and develops with its users; it is not dependent on English.


Learning the ASL alphabet is usually the starting point of any instruction. The alphabet is used when spelling individual things such as people's names and specific places. People can also have name signs, a specific sign which indicates the name without spelling it out every time. Each letter of the alphabet is signed with one hand only, using a combination of the fingers as differentiation between letters.

Signs for Words:

The real heart of sign language lies in the signs for words Each word has its own individual sign, giving it a personal meaning. These signs give sign language the fluidity that spelling would not be able to produce. Unlike individual letters, the signs for words are more reliant on movement and facial expression. The movement of eyebrows and the positioning of the hands are all very important.

Learning ASL:

  • The Classroom:  Learning ASL in the classroom is one way to effectively learn sign language. With an instructor and peers, you will be able to be able to participate actively with other people.

  • Personal Teacher:  If you know anyone who already knows ASL, this kind of instruction may benefit you more than learning in the classroom. One-on-one instruction always offers the most help for each learner's specific needs.

  • The Internet:  The Internet is increasingly becoming a great learning tool for many things.  Another beneficial aspect to teaching yourself sign language over the internet is that there are many free sites dedicated to teaching sign language. A few such sites are and Websites such as these have interactive components, visually displaying signs. They have interactive quizzes to test your progress, all designed to help the learning process. If reading books is easier for you, they also have books available for purchase.

    If you are not using the Internet as your primary learning tool, it is also great for review and extra practice.  Sites such as these are designed specifically to help anyone learn sign language.
There are many ways to learn ASL from finding an instructor to teaching yourself.  Anyone can learn sign language if they try; it can even be learned for free using the Internet.

Deaf Resource Library

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