Learning a new language is a very intimidating task.
The internet however puts many resources at your fingertips to make this task easier and more accessible. There are many resources that offer help learning sign language online, many of these are poorly organized and quite overwhelming to newbies out there. What you’ll find here is a roundup of three websites that I believe will benefit beginners looking to kick start their signing skills. Remember though that this is strictly for absolute beginners so we’re focusing on very specific areas.
Fingerspelling is one of the first skills I believe all signers should learn. The alphabet makes for a logical starting point as many signs utilize letter hand shapes and knowing the alphabet allows you to form any word you like. There are lots of fingerspelling test and practice games online and really any will do. Personally I’d recommend the one made by Lifeprint.com/Dr. Bill Vicars, you can find it here – http://asl.ms/
You’ll find a great ABC Slideshow that helps you learn the basic shapes and letters. Once you have those down pat you can head over the test and begin practicing your reception skills. You can control the max number of letters in the words shown and adjust your speed as you improve. I found it amusing to see Deaf as a speed option just above fast, after testing it a few times ( I got them all =P ) I’ve concluded that it’s more or less on par with what you could expect from the average Deaf person, however some are faster. You can also increase the speed even further if you’re up to the challenge, after raising the speed a couple clicks past the Deaf setting it gets really hard to follow but is fun nonetheless.
Sometimes you’re only interested in learning a few specific signs and for that a general ASL dictionary is needed. ASL Pro’s main dictionary is the place to go for this. It’s not the prettiest site you’ll find but is the best I’ve seen as far as usability goes. The interface is simple and straightforward, the dictionary is quite extensive and there are videos of every sign. One nit I have to pick with this site is the lack of accompany pictures of the hand shapes used in signs. They’re pretty standard across many sites so it is disappointing to find that they’re missing from ASL Pro’s dictionary.
Often the journey to learn a new language begins with curiosity about the background of that language. Sign Language has a truly unique origin that differentiates it from every other language in the world. For a quick history I’d recommend reading through this page of the NIDCD – American Sign Language. It answers many questions that I know I would have regarding sign language and points you in the direction of other good resources.
While these online resources offer great information and practice, there’s no substitute for a real live class with a qualified instructor. If you’re still interested in learning sign language and ready to take a next step, head over to the currently registering classes page to see what’s available!