How to learn sign language

How does one learn sign language? What is the best way to learn a signed language as a second language (L2)?

There is no one way but the best way is a combination of these learning strategies: listening and practicing with native Deaf signers, doing an immersion, taking sign language classes and a few others. You can combine some of them that work best for you, your schedule, and/or your learning style.

Immerse in Deaf community

Immersing yourself in Deaf community or a real world environment is one of the most efficient ways of learning ASL or another signed language. Why? Context, context, and context.

Socialize both in social events and/or in private gatherings with native- and fluent-signing Deaf friends, schoolmates, or family friends.

Learning a signed language is not without learning its Deaf culture, including norms, values, history, communication behaviors (turn-taking, attention-calling, naming, social introducing, etc.), and most of all grammar rules of ASL. Take notes of syntactic grammar, facial grammar, inflections, tones and variations from native ASL signers in endless various contexts.

Learn sign language alphabet

Fingerspelling is typically one of the starters to learn as fingerspelling is part of sign language, but it's not a language in itself. It's used to spell out a word of another (spoken) language, such as personal names, brands names, a foreign word, etc. It's a life saver for many hearing students whenever they don't know a signed word.

Take ASL classes

Take a face-to-face ASL class in your area or online (as long as it's live and interactive). Interaction with a qualified Deaf/ASL instructor offers an opportunity to give you feedback as well as to help correct your sign production (or "pronunciation").

Take an online course

If a face-to-face course is not feasible for you perhaps because you live in a rural area or transportation is difficult, online courses can be an alternative. Some Deaf organizations and universities, such as Gallaudet University, offer online courses. Do some research to find the best course for you.

Online courses are more flexible because they can be done in your own time, or in a comfort of your own home. You can practice as much as you need, and there is often no pressure to complete it.

Learning sign language solely from online materials isn't the best way unless it's for your educational entertainment, informal self-learning, curiosity or exploration. If one-to-one online interaction is offered, then it's a bit better.

If you consider a career in ASL-English interpreting, perhaps consider taking face-to-face courses, if necessary. Take a good-reputed program in ASL and Deaf Culture Studies before you can take a program in ASL-English interpreting.

Hire a sign language tutor

Hire a private, qualified native-ASL/Deaf tutor if you wish to strengthen your area in grammar or vocabulary. Research local or online, qualified sign language tutors. Ask your Deaf instructors, contact organizations of the Deaf, etc. for information if any available.

Ask a Deaf friend or family

If you want to know how to sign a word, it's okay to ask them during your conversations with them once in every while. But, asking them to teach you sign language needs to be reconsidered. Please be mindful of their personal time and energy. Try to make efforts in learning from courses, online resources, etc. with miminal teaching from your Deaf friend. Friends or coworkers come and go.

Use online sign language resources

Online resources by Deaf experts and instructors such as sign language dictionaries, tutorials, and posts are a wonderful convenience and quick access. These resources are useful for homework and self-learning. Support resources which are run or owned by Deaf.

Watch videos online

Watching videos produced by Deaf signers in signed languages can help develop your receptive skills. There are uncountable vlogs, YouTube videos, etc. that you can watch. Be aware of the various language skills from hearing signers to non-native deaf signers to native Deaf signers.

Love grammar

Alexa Payne's straightforward statement reads "If you don't want to learn grammar, you don't want to learn. Period." If you'd simply rather learn ASL vocabulary and use English grammar in it, you're not actually learning ASL. Embrace grammar.

For some learners, grammar could be a dry subject, but it's actually fun in ASL. Because, grammar in the spatial-visual-kinesthetic environment is different from the spoken form.

Learn Deaf culture

Learning sign language is not without learning Deaf studies, as language and culture are complementary. It means learning Deaf culture, history, heritage, customs, and audism, including its related -isms, such as phonocentrism, cultural appropriation, linguicism, and oppression.


Learning sign language is fun but it takes commitment, patience, and practice, often with a sense of humor.

Be considerate of Deaf people and their language and culture. Practice ethics and respect. And, not only you will be respected back, but also you will be embraced into an Deaf community.

Related posts

If you need to develop your receptive skill in fingerspelling, try this fingerspelling exercise.

Tips on learning immersion in sign language.

Understand the benefits of no voice policy in sign language classroom.

Learning strategies in classroom

Where can one take a ASL course? How to find them?

Signing right-handed or left-handed, which?

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.