Most of the time when someone thinks about picking up and learning a new language, it normally involves Spanish, French, Japanese, or other well-known and very commonly used languages. Sadly, not a lot of people will think of turning to sign language as their new skill.
ASL (American Sign Language) is only known by approximately one million people. And only around half aren’t deaf or hard of hearing, with most non-deaf people who learn ASL doing so to communicate with a loved one.
For example, I have a non-verbal niece and have found learning sign language to be invaluable in communicating with her in ways that would otherwise have been impossible. You haven’t seen cute until you’ve seen a young family member attempting to sign her favorite song to an Amazon Alexa.
Learning sign language is one of the best things you can do. It’s relatively simple to pick up and is a valuable skill that could mean the world to someone.
Uses of ASL
If you work in hospitality, customers who need to use ASL will be very pleasantly surprised to find that they can communicate effectively with you. It could also end up being an amazing skill to have should you, a friend, or a family member ever find it’s necessary for any reason.
Even if you have no immediate need for it, there’s really no reason not to pick up ASL classes online if you have enough time to do so. It doesn’t come with the same grammatical complications of most other languages and can be learned by anyone.
We’re going to look at why learning ASL online is important, how it’s used, and where you can learn this amazing and highly accessible language online from the comfort of your own home. Online ASL classes are abundant, some free and some paid, and here we list some of the best.
If you only need a basic understanding of ASL, or are confident you can learn enough on your own without professional help, then you’ll be fine to undertake the free versions and trials of the online ASL classes listed below.
If you’re after true fluency and provable credentials, however, then it is worth looking into the paid options.
Why You Should Learn ASL
- Better with friends and family
- Communicate effectively with deaf people in customer service positions
- Teach babies and non-verbal communicators conversation skills
- Improve mental acuity
Because sign language is a very important – and extremely underknown – skill, there are plenty of free online ASL classes available to anyone who wishes to learn.
Everyone starts learning from somewhere, and here we’ll see some great examples of great places to take your first steps in signing confidently. From there, you can either continue learning on your own or move on to more professional, paid courses.
Many of the courses shown today contain both free and paid options, so we will take a detailed look at both.
Gallaudet University – Our Top Pick
Free ASL Classes
Gallaudet University offers some free online ASL courses ideal for complete beginners or those of you who just want to brush up on some basics.
Beginning with basic introductions and greetings, you’ll learn signs that make simple conversation easy with enough practice. After that you’ll on to more complicated signs like directions, explanations, questions, and even specific vocabulary courses for things like food and sports.
The free ASL classes offered by Gallaudet University won’t be much use to those of you who already have extensive experience, but it will prove an invaluable asset to people just getting started or otherwise lacking confidence in their signing knowledge.
People who rely on signing for communication tend to be very good at picking up on physical ticks and facial expressions with greater attention to detail than others. Because of this, it’s important to understand how anything from mouth to eyebrow movements affects how you’re understood.
And so, one of the more impressive additions of Gallaudet’s ASL classes is the introduction to the non-manual language, which includes facial expressions and body language, to give you a great understanding of non-verbal communicative methods.
The free ASL classes at Gallaudet can be a little difficult to navigate, however, so looking for specific vocabulary is a bit tricky. Advanced users looking to brush up will also find the pacing of each course to be quite slow.
Paid ASL Classes
Being an accredited university, Gallaudet also offers full, traditionally taught ASL courses. Most of these require attendance at their campus in Washington D.C. though options for remote attendance are available as of 2020.
The paid ASL classes offered here are a step above the free courses, in that they are taught in person by a professional and will earn you significantly higher understanding, even fluency, if completed. Most of the courses are also graded on a pass/fail basis, meaning you don’t need to worry about being top of the class to get your certification.
The courses don’t just cover sign language. They also offer insights into deaf communities, how to get more involved in community programs, and even the history of the various forms of sign language, all taught by fully trained, deaf professionals.
As far as paid ASL courses go, Gallaudet is the most impressive of them all, seeing as how, according to its website, the campus is home to ‘the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world.’
As for the price, this depends on which of the many courses you want to attend. The most basic of the courses, which include contextual fingerspelling and skill-based vocabulary, start with tuition fees of $316.
The more complex ASL classes (which are also worth more credits) start at $950 for tuition, and will teach you general ASL to various degrees of fluency similar to any language course. With these courses, you’ll gain further knowledge of ASL, its history, the various contexts with which certain signs are used, and a greater understanding of the deaf community and communicative methods as a whole.
These fees do not cover external expenses, like course materials and textbooks, and if you’re planning on taking every course then it will cost you about $7914 in tuition fees alone, which – considering you’ll leave with 25 college credits and fluency in ASL – could be well worth the price.
Online binge-learning advocate Takelessons offers online ASL classes that emphasize learning in your own time, but encourages clearing your schedule all the same. It does this by opening its doors entirely to you from the get-go, letting you take on as much learning material as you’re capable of handling within whatever time scale you choose.
This would seem like a lot of pressure were it not for their 14-day trial. As a sign language user myself, I can tell you that with enough dedication, you can learn a heck of a lot of ASL in two weeks if you have the time to spare.
Takelessons offer both live classes every day of the week, as well as videos on demand for a good brushing up of your signage. The 14-day free trial doesn’t restrict you like many others do, and includes unlimited access to everything during that time, including the live lessons.
These lessons have earned a lot of praise for being welcoming and very accessible to all levels. Asking questions is encouraged and expected, and can even be done via a chat interface if you’re not comfortable speaking up.
The tutors are more than happy to answer these questions, and the entirety of the online ASL classes are done in a casual but educational format, which puts you at ease as you learn at your own pace.
You can access these classes with any internet-enabled device, meaning they’re accessible via computer, tablet, or even your phone. Camera and microphone capabilities are optional and can be toggled easily, so you’ll never feel put on the spot or singled out by the teacher or other students even for asking a question or requesting clarification.
If you want to continue your learning once the trial is done, the cost is a mere $19.95 per month, which is a lot cheaper than standard higher education tuition fees.
Because ASL takes significantly less time to learn than most other languages, you’ll likely need little more than a few months to become confident in your fluency. This means you shouldn’t need to break the bank to learn ASL effectively.
If you prefer one-on-one lessons, Takelessons can arrange that for you for a cost ranging from $15-$35 per half hour depending on the teacher and the kind of lesson you’d like. Though it is worth noting that these tutors are largely freelance, and you will need to work around their schedules, especially if you opt for the more popular educators.
Language101 courses include a range of different language classes, with ASL being one of the many they have on offer.
Another self-paced selection of online ASL classes, Signlanguage101 offers some free tutorials and videos to get you comfortable with the basics before deciding whether or not to opt for their $50 (outside of sales) fee for full access to their ASL classes.
With 20 bite-size lessons spread over two separate courses, you’ll learn ASL with Signlanguage101 completely at your own pace. These 20 lessons also come with videos, catch-up and refresher material, tutorials, and community spaces to practice and talk with your fellow learners.
The price may seem steep given there are only roughly 8 hours of content, but given the unlimited access to this content and the professional and highly accessible lessons it provides, $50 isn’t a steep price at all.
Signlanguage101 won’t get you to the university-level fluency and cultural understanding that Gallaudet will, nor will it offer the same kind of resources as Takelessons, but it’s hard to argue with that price for what are incredibly in-depth online ASL lessons with no pressure to get to a certain level within a locked timeframe.
You will gain a certificate of completion for finishing each course, which looks great on a resumé and acts as proof of your extended communicative skills. If you want to take online ASL classes but don’t have the funds for a college nor the time for live lessons, then Signlanguage101 will provide the perfect medium to learn without having to break the bank or reorganize your schedule.
For more of an idea of what you’ll be getting with Signlanguage101, you can view their collection of free introductory videos here.
Did you think this would be a list of online academies and video lectures? Think again!
Inspirisles may not be released yet, but it looks to be an extremely engaging, educational, and fun way to learn simple sign language for adults and children alike.
A tabletop RPG, like Dungeons and Dragons or World of Darkness, this game inspired by the likes of Never Ending Story and Labyrinth incorporates fingerspelling and sign language (either American or British) to cast spells, solve puzzles, and unearth clues along with their unique adventures.
The Grail Guide is a player who acts as a Dungeon Master, changing the scenarios of the game to make them more exciting and dangerous, or easier and less overwhelming for younger or less experienced players.
Throughout the game, players will need to use fingerspelling to cast spells (get it?) by signing out the words for ‘fire’, ‘ice’, and the other elements incorporated into the magic system. All of these signs are laid out clearly with images on the various spell cards.
The details of Inspirisles as both an amazing-looking game and educational experience in ASL are far too numerous and expansive to include here. For more information, you can join me in checking out (and even donating to) their Kickstarter campaign here.
As an extra incentive, you’ll get early access to their sign language tutorials to help you gain a simple understanding of ASL, as well as prepare you for the adventure ahead.