Exposure to American Sign Language has been booming in recent years. Many people around the US have quickly taken serious interest in learning it, due to the rising exposure of Deaf people in entertainment media (movies, tv shows, and internet influence). ASL is unique in its own right. Where it may be harder to practice as opposed to spoken and written languages, which are usually taught with ease over apps or quick click websites like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Babbel, the challenge is well worth it.
ASL is a much more visual and physical language, which is a big feat as a new signer because if you’re not already communicating with your hands, facial expressions, and body language, when you start it’ll take some getting used to. Like most things, learning is done best when you’re going all in, so don’t worry about making mistakes too much; you'll get better the more you work at it. In this article, we will dive into ways that are designed solely to help improve your skills on your ASL journey, hopefully you’ll enjoy the ride.
Whether you may know a bit of sign or not any at all, a constant internet search for new signs is a fun and easy way to improve. This practice allows for your mind to get accustomed to using your hands more when speaking and enhances your variety of speech when signing. A lot of new signers often fall into the trap of using the same words over and over again, though it may help them retain memory of certain signs, it doesn’t prepare them for all situations that require them to know other signs.
As you search more signs online for different signs and phrases, you’ll eventually find yourself in spaces on TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram that are categorized as educational ASL videos. These videos are often used in ASL classes and can completely elevate how you speak and look when you sign. Dr. Bill Vicars, an ASL instructor and Deaf educator, is greatly known for his free ASL instructional videos, he teaches about facial expressions, body language, and common phrases, if you find yourself lacking ASL content make sure to give him a search.
Another great way to grow in your signing is to seek out time with other students or Deaf friends in your leisure time. You should do this because it may be more beneficial to participate and communicate with native or other learning signers rather than practicing your language skills only inside the classroom and/or by yourself. Also taking advantage of group studying is a great way to continue learning as well. Whatever you pick up in class you can practice with someone who took the same course and give each other feedback on how things look. In contrast, when you’re alone, you only have yourself to give you critiques but in a group of peers you’re able to pick things up faster.
As you grow in your signing through classes you’ll see that ASL classes have several different levels of advancement such as beginner, intermediate and advanced. DEAF, Inc. provides classes that are completely mindful of new signers, with their slow and fast paced courses meeting the speed of people of all ages and levels. You are able to pick the appropriate classes that fit you best. Taking these classes consistently will hugely contribute to your transformation into a fluent signer. If you’re brand new, slow paced is more than likely the speed you’d prefer, however if you’re not new to signing and just need a general refresher fast paced classes can help get you back up to speed.
While you’re learning in your classes, DEAF, Inc. and other organizations alike, host monthly social events so don’t be shy and give it a shot! The best part is you're making even more deaf friends and hearing peers who can empathize and share common learning experiences with you, making you able to speed up the process of learning ASL even faster. Keep in mind that all types of relationships should be treated like any other friendship. Just because someone is deaf doesn’t mean they should be hounded for their knowledge, just be kind, be respectful, and the rest will follow.
As you press forward, remember that this isn’t a race to the finish, you’ll continue to learn new signs and ways to express yourself for the rest of your life. Even native speakers are still finding new signs and ways to express themselves. Languages evolve over time.
So, have fun and learn (or sign) at a pace you’re comfortable with because one day you might be looking just like a pro. So when you’re studying alone, the use of mirrors or cameras helps a lot when you're done hanging out with your new found friends. Both mirror and camera reflect the expression and body language you carry when signing. Practice makes perfect so look at yourself to see what others see.
Finally another great way to keep up with your solo practicing is the use of flash cards and flash videos, quick written or visual devices that help you retain the things you’ve learned from classes and asking “How do I sign (blank)” questions. In more recent times, phones have been used to practice as well! Just aim your camera at yourself and record your signs over and over until you believe you’ve perfected it. Signing to yourself will improve muscle memory as well as information retention!
Keep learning on your own and improving with friends. The more exposed you are to a culture, the more invested you’ll be in getting to know more about it. You also strive to be more involved in things like their society, culture, politics, and their general interests. You may find that your perspectives may change.
A prime example of this is when deaf parents are told about the health of the child. Once the birthing process is over, a nurse or medical professional takes the baby aside to run some tests and check if they are healthy. A hearing test is usually run during this period. If the parents were hearing, the moment it is announced that the baby is deaf is framed as a failure. In contrast to that same announcement, deaf parents would probably do a backflip in the hospital room in celebration, regardless of the child’s hearing status the bond will be strong. If you weren’t familiar with Deaf culture, you may not realize what is important to us as we raise the next generation of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.
Another example that may give you a changed perspective, is how Deaf people are treated in the workplace. A Deaf man could be an accountant for 25 years straight, he could be promoted six times in that same career, but the moment there is a change in the command, where things like relationships, communication styles, and language backgrounds are impacted, he is forced to fight even harder to prove he knows his job better than anyone in the field just because he is Deaf. Whereas, with a hearing man with the same credentials, he’d more than likely just look like he fit there with no questions asked. The impact of this is damaging to any Deaf person that goes through it. Not to mention, it is humiliating.
Deaf people are everywhere, in every group of demographics (race, LGBTQ+, ethnicity, etc). You can’t just look at them as a community, there are many who are a part of different subgroups that make up this country all with different levels of ASL knowledge, privileges, and lives, etc. So never believe that because you’ve met one deaf person, you’ve met them all. These experiences and differences will help you overcome new language barriers and emerge as an advocate for multilingualism as well as a community ally. And not only that, you’ll become a better signer for it all.