Learning American Sign Language (ASL) – Start Here!

By Kelli Atangan, Speech Language Pathologist

What is ASL?

American Sign Language (ASL) is the primary manual language used by Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in the US and Canada.  ASL is a complete and complex language, meaning it has it’s own set of rules for phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. ASL is a fascinating language to study and it is recognized as a foreign language in Virginia high schools.

Who should learn ASL?

I highly encourage parents with deaf and hard of hearing children to learn ASL to provide their children with a solid language base.  Whether you are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing, learning ASL does not interfere with spoken language development.  Children have an innate capability to learn multiple languages that they are exposed to!

What is the difference between ASL and Baby Sign Language?

ASL is a complete language whereas baby sign language uses ASL signs (or Signed Exact English or sign approximations) along side the spoken word.  Learning signs for common words is wonderful to help babies communicate their wants and needs when they are pre-verbal and can help them acquire spoken language more quickly.  If you are interested in learning some basic signs to help your baby or toddler communicate, read more about our Baby Sign Language classes here.

Ready to Learn ASL?  Start with these resources:

Dictionaries/Apps:  Dictionaries are great for when you need to look up vocabulary, but just as a Spanish dictionary wouldn’t teach you grammar, an ASL dictionary likely won’t either.  Use dictionaries as a reference, but rely on the videos and courses below to learn the language.

Videos: Videos by native Deaf ASL-users are a wonderful way to build your receptive ASL skills.  While there are many videos online, many are made by ASL students as projects and are not always accurate.  Check out these reputable videos below!

Online Courses:  These free and paid courses are a great way to get started learning ASL.

In Person Courses in NOVA/DC: The best way to learn ASL is from a native user of the language, such as a Deaf ASL instructor.  Here are the classes that we know of in the DC and NOVA area.

 Loudoun

Fairfax

DC

Deaf Community-The best way to gain fluency in a language and understanding of the culture is to go straight to the source.  Finding Deaf community to interact with will help take your ASL skills to the next level.  Locally, check out McLean Bible Church, take a tour of Gallaudet’s campus, and look for Deaf happy hours, socials and silent dinners.

We hope you find these resources helpful!  If you are local to Northern VA and have a child age 0-5 with a hearing loss, please contact Kelli to learn more about our free monthly ASL family playdates in Eastern Loudoun.

Want to add a resource to this list?  Contact us!