ASL 101 lesson 1

Welcome to our vibrant, rich world of language and culture -- American Sign Language! This is only the beginning of a long journey, depending on how far you'll be going.

We hope you will appreciate our unique, rich Deaf/ASL community, language, and culture and recognize us as a cultural-linguistic community. ASL is the core of our cultural-linguistic identity and we highly value our own language.

These lessons online are only for your personal interest, self-learning activity, learning journey, or extracurricular resources, not for a credit nor it's a formal instruction.

Typically, on the first day of class, your instructor may discuss your course' syllabus at your college/university.

Teaching ASL sign language

Syllabus in Teaching American Sign Language (ASL)

The syllabi of sign language courses vary among programs in colleges, universities, and other educational institutions.

As ASL classes have been quickly growing popular since the 1980s, a curriculum for teaching students ASL as a second language (L2) was developed and standardized for a higher quality of instruction and learning -- Learning Outcomes for American Sign Language Skills Levels 1-4.

A syllabus basically includes the following:

ASL 101/111 + ASL 102/112 syllabus

General description: An introduction to American Sign Language and its Deaf culture and community... to develop communicative competency and receptive and expressive skills...

Instructor: (this section contains an instructor's name, contact information, etc).

Course materials: (this contain a textbook, course materials, etc). The student workbook Signing Naturally currently is a common ACTFL-standard textbook on the market.

Evaluations (credit course): this section contain information about the evaluations which may consist of assignments, projects, journals, presentations, tests, quizzes, mid-term exams, oral exam (communicative competency), and/or final exam.

Grading: This contain information on an educational institution's grading system. E.g. A for 90-100%, B for 89-80% and so on.


Kim Brown Kurz, Phd; Marty M. Taylor, PhD. Learning Outcomes for American Sign Language Skills Levels 1-4. Download this document in the public domain at

Wilcox, Sherman; Wilcox, Phyllis Perrin (1997). Learning to See: Teaching American Sign Language as a Second Language (second edition). Gallaudet University Press.

Baker-Shenk, Dennis Cokely Charlotte (1980). American Sign Language: A Teacher's Resource Text on Curriculum, Methods, and Evaluation. Gallaudet University Press.

Related posts: curriculum in sign language education.


In most cases, your qualified/certified ASL instructor may be culturally Deaf. If she/he is, you're lucky. Trust me. Or, your instructor may be a coda (child of d/Deaf parents).

Regardless of who may be teaching ASL, practicing "no voice policy" is crucial for some cultural and historical reasons in the instructor's world as well as for your visual-spatial training and language acquisition on your part as a learner. I should remind that "no voice policy" is not that "no English policy." Yes, catch-22, I know. Not exactly, catch-22. While you're not allowed to use vocal English, you can use other means such as fingerspelling (yes, you can use English only in fingerspelling) or writing with your classmate.

Typically, there is an ASL-English interpreter present on the first day of class only. After that, all instruction is conducted in the target language, ASL. This practice is no different from other foreign (spoken) language courses. English (that is, written) is used for instructions and such. The instructor will not only give an instruction for a task-based activity in written English but also subsequentially instruct in ASL (translation) for the purpose of language exposure in the target language.

Understand the benefits of no voice policy in classroom and the importance of practicing it. Most importantly of all, respect everyone of all diversity.

Benefits of no voice policy in classroom

"No Voice" policy in classroom: ASL zone

asl zone

You might sometimes see a yellow zone sign "SIGN LANGUAGE SPOKEN HERE" at some places, such as school for the deaf, organizations of the deaf, offices of the ASL instructors, and so on. It is a friendly warning sign to indicate that the area is to use ASL only or where everyone uses ASL.

No voice policy is a standard policy in ASL instruction. ASL is taught entirely in classes with a "no voice" policy. From the time you arrive in class, all conversation should be in ASL until you leave at the end of class.

The classroom is a speech-free zone for two major reasons: learning environment and cultural respect. Not only it is a classroom policy, it is also a socio-cultural norm and custom in the Deaf world. Learning a language is not without learning its culture, inseparable.

Learning environment

A student's learning ability is greatly enhanced by this no voice environment. Full immersion helps develop better receptive and expressive skills. Using voice may distract or interfere other students' learning process.

In the early stage of learning ASL (e.g. level 100), "no voice" policy is crucial. Some students may think it is easier to or may be tempted to learn ASL by using vocal English. Easy start but bad start -- it doesn't help in the long run in language skill. It's probably challenging for some of them in the beginning but a breakthrough will be rewarding in the long run. Those who choose the easier way in the beginning may face a more challenging receptive/expressive skills in the later stage.

Another reason is to maintain that ASL is a language of its own. Students are taught to think in ASL, not English while signing ASL. Using voice (English) while signing ASL may interfere with language development in vocabulary and grammar: incorrect uses of ASL vocabulary in different contexts (semantics), an incorrect grammatical structure and/or a limit of grammar skill.

Respect for a culture of the language

Classroom is a good place to train and learn to practice "no voice" habit that will be applied to a cultural behavior and norm in the ASL/Deaf world outside a classroom. Hearing people who know ASL usually talk in ASL in any ASL/Deaf space or in front of any Deaf person to respect their culture and language. The use of voice is a rude or offensive behaviour in Deaf space. It demonstrates an ignorance or disrespect for their culture as well as a reminder of the historical oppression.

Language and culture are inseparable, intergrated, and intertwined. ASL students are not just learning this language, you also learn their culture. Your role is to be an ally. For ASL is the most valued identity of their culture, the ASL natives whose language is regarded as the most precious gift of their culture share their language with you.

Learning ASL in class is usually a fun and interesting experience. Students often have a positive learning experience, but also make sure the ASL instructors have a positive teaching experience also. Respect is a peaceful language across all languages and cultures.

Learning strategies in classroom
Learn sign language the best way

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.


ASL/Deaf Awareness Quiz

The fun part. What's more fun about it is that there is no grade for this quiz. Your instructor may be likely giving your class a Deaf awareness quiz found in Signing Naturally. For a different set of questions, take another awareness quiz.

Many students arrive in ASL class with some common preconceptions about Deaf people and their language. These misconceptions surprise many students. In the end, the awareness quiz often brought excitement to the students about learning more.

Assignment: If you have take your ASL/Deaf Awareness quiz in your class, write your reflection paper about the awareness quiz.

About learning a second language

Learn about the reasons why people learn a foreign or second language, particularly American Sign Language.

Why does one learn sign language?

Why does one learn a signed language?

There are many reasons why people learn a signed language -- American Sign Language (ASL), for example.

Required course

If you are a student at school, college or university, it's possibly the reason for being required to study a foreign or second language.

Family and friends

You may be interested in communicating with a deaf relative or friend. If you date a Deaf person or a coda whose parents are Deaf who speaks a different signed language or give birth to a deaf baby, you may learn their language. And, naturally they know your (written) language. It's a nice gesture to show your reciprocity.

"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." -- Nelson Mandela.


When one enters a Deaf community (via marriage or lifelong friendship), they learn the "local" language to communicate and integrate with the Deaf community.

"One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way." -- Frank Smith.

Work and career

Teachers, counselors, and some other professionals in the related fields may be required to know the language (e.g. ASL) to work with these ASL-speaking people.

Knowing the language in other professions such as firefighting, police, etc. may increase your chances of finding a job or a promotion.

But, a LPI (Language Proficiency Index) conducted by a qualified national organization may be required for some jobs. If you are an organization or company, be sure to ask for a formal LPI result. Certified professional interpreters are required in formal settings, such as medical, legal, and educational.


Knowing the sign language allows you socialize with ASL-speaking people directly and enjoy subtle interactions including humor, joke, chit-chats, and more.

A basic language skill in ASL can help you get by, such as ordering food and drink, finding your way around, asking for basic information, etc. With more advanced skills, you can have everyday conversations with people.

"A different language is a different vision of life." -- Federico Fellini.

Appreciation for literature and arts

You probably are interested in learning the language to understand and appreciate a poem, a drama, or a story in ASL directly that its linguistic nuances, rhymes, meanings, language play, and such cannot be translated or interpreted. Maybe you learn the language in order to gain a better understanding of their culture and way of thinking or perspective.

"The limits of my language are the limits of my world." -- Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Linguistics studies

Maybe you are interested in learning or studying the linguistic aspects of ASL.

Love at first sight

Maybe sign language has been always fascinating since you were a kid and you have been wanting to learn it. You think it's beautiful, expressive, and graceful.

Multilingual baby

You probably learn ASL (along with French, Spanish, First Nations' languages, or another) to teach your baby another language to boost its cognitive expansion.

If you have any other reason for learning sign language or have a comment, email me.

Related posts: Top benefits for learning signed language.

one of the most studied language in North America.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.



Read learning strategies in classroom and practice a few critical strategies to focus on for the next weeks.

Learning strategies in ASL classroom

Learning strategies in sign language classroom

Not everyone, who wants to learn sign language, has the opportunity or convenience to language learning immersion in a Deaf community of the target language (American Sign Language). Language learning in a classroom is another common option.

Combine some of the ideas and strategies to attain your signing skills and learning process and to work best with your learning style.

Learn in the target language

The instructor teaches in the target language (ASL) through contextualized tasks and activities. Focus on meaning rather than word/sign. Avoid word-for-word translation in your mind. Focus on the forms of the target language (signs) and their meaning.

One of the students' strategies is to look at the sentence meaning first before scrutinizing the smaller components of the sentence meaning.

Another student's tip is "When switching back to English for clarification is probably the worst. Stay immersed in ASL and learn those problem solving skills in ASL. Remain immersed in ASL because 1) you allow yourself to learn more, and 2) it is pretty hard to switch back and forth when you are learning."

Maximize your time to practice ASL in class and you have other resources to reinforce outside class.

Focus on the signer's face, not hands

You absorb whole information from signed words to facial grammar and nuances by primarily focusing on the signer's face.

Take notes of syntactic grammar, facial grammar, inflections, tones and variations from native ASL signers in various contexts.

Commitment: attendance and homework

Follow up with your study from classes to refresh your memory. Practice and practice signing by yourself or with your buddy team.

Attending every class is a great value for its contextualized learning and human-to-human signing practice. Learning a set of vocabulary from the dictionary or online materials doesn't bring the same benefit and effect as this environmental type of immersion.

Have fun.

Ligthen up if you're afraid of making mistakes in ASL class. Toss fear away and be brave to communicate and to learn better. Laugh when you make a naive silly mistake.

More learning strategies and tips by students

"Try my best to maintain a signing environment in and around class and on breaks."

"To encourage my family to participate in my learning process." "Signing with your family members or friends/roommates even if they don't know the language." "Practice signing by teaching your boyfriend/girlfriend at home."

Don't forget to take the opportunities to interact with your ASL/Deaf instructor who can offer you corrective feedback with your sign production ("pronunciation"), grammatical structure and more.

Use a mirror to look at yourself when signing. Check your facial grammar, such as furrowed eyebrows for wh-questions and raised eyebrows for topicalization and yes/no questions.

Videotape yourself and look at your signing from a different perspective in time that you wouldn't be able to assess the same way with the mirror.

Also see: How to learn sign language the best way

You may also be interested in signing tips for video assignments.

Video criteria tips for assignments or projects.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.


Most people are right-handed, but if you happen to be left-handed. Learn about right-handed and left-handed signing.

Which left or right-handed should you sign?

Right- or Left-Handed?

Most signers are right-handed. A few ones are left-handed. Whichever is normal.

"I am dominantly left-handed. Should I sign with my left hand?"

If you are dominantly comfortable being left-handed in sign language, then you can sign with your left dominant hand. Though even some people, who are dominantly left-handed in writing, are right-handed in signing.

In this case, those left-handed people in writing may develop right-handed from the beginning of learning sign language. In most cases, left-handed people remain to be left-handed in signing.

Whichever right- or left-handed you are, remember that you must be consistent with it. If you are right-handed, use your right hand as dominant. If left-handed, use your left hand as dominant. It is not interchangeable. If you are ambidextrous, you should choose one as your dominant hand and stay consistent with it.

"As a lefty person, how do I sign properly? Should I do the 'mirror image' way?"

Yes, but watch out for the exceptions, such as giving a direction, describing a room, and such from a signer's perspective. You do not want to give the driver a wrong direction by using a mirror approach.:)

"I have a permanent paralysis of my arm? How can I sign with one hand? Is it possible?"

Yes, it is workable. Some ASL words are one-handed. Some others are two-handed, in which some of these two-handed words have dominant-passive roles. One can still understand a word without its passive complement.

Video above: an ASL word "wedding" signed by seven-year-old, right-handed Juli holding a cat in her arm. Normally, the sign for "wedding" is two-handed.

It is common that native signers talk with one (usually dominant) hand when s/he holds a baby or a box in the other arm. Or, even a cast on her/his dominant arm. Humans are naturally adaptable.

Learn about dominance rules why it's the way it is.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.



How to sign HOMEWORK?

Feeling overwhelmed or nervous? If you are new in ASL classroom, most students in this level share invariably similar experience: excitement, naive, fear, curiosity, etc. You are not alone. It is a normal process. It is a very beginning of your journey.

You're not relaxed, still? Aren't they comforting enough? Okay, here is some pharmakon to help ease you up. :)

Become familiar with how to use survival phrases for use in classroom.

Survival vocabulary and phrases for first classes of ASL 101

Survival phrases in ASL 101 classroom

Learn a few useful ASL phrases that you can use in ASL classroom. Ask for clarification or ask your instructor or student to repeat, to explain, or to rephrase.

To get the instructor's attention, raise your hand.

If you miss a signed word or a short ASL phrase, ask the instructor or a student to repeat it (sign again). If you catch the signed word but do not fully perceive it, you can produce the (imperfect) sign and ask to repeat it.

If the instructor produced a full sentence, make sure you repeated the previous signs to indicate which sign you want to have it repeated. For example:

T: ix-ref man study five year ix university
S: (raising hand) study five what?
T: year (and/or repeating the whole phrase or sentence).

If you don't understand, don't be afraid to tell the instructor immediately after a demostration or explanation.

If you don't get what your teacher instructs, request her to "explain again please".

When your instructor wants you to copy her, she would sign copy-me.

If you understand the whole ASL sentence except for one sign, you might want to ask what that sign means. First produce the sign that you're not familiar with and ask what it means: [signed word] ix mean what?

When signing is a bit fast or you miss it, ask the instructor or a student to sign "slowly please".

Ask when you're not sure what you should do in an activity.

If you wish to talk with the instructor (or vice versa) or if you have a question that you want to ask at the end of class, inform her: ix-me want-to talk later.

Ask what is for homework?

Feeling stressed out about your first days of class? Lighten up yourself with humor

Signing right-handed or left-handed, which?

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.


Become familiar with transcription symbols for writing and reading basic glosses. It might be beneficial for you to write down notes in class.

Glossing: transcription symbols in sign language

Gloss: transcription symbols

The website "Handspeak" uses two different colors to identify ASL and English: gloss in blue to indicate ASL and green in translation for English.

What is gloss? Wilcox describes gloss as follows:

Glossing is the practice of writing a morpheme-by-morpheme 'translation' using English words. Glosses indicate what the individual parts of the native word mean. Glosses do not provide a true translation, which would instead use appropriate English ways of saying "The same thing."

For example, German Es geht mir gut may be glossed as "It goes to-me good" (the hyphenated gloss "to-me" indicates that it refers to a single word in the original). A true English translation of this expression would be something like, "I'm doing fine."

Below is a list of some conventional and few modified symbols, their examples and explanation. The Handspeak site uses a video illustration whereever possible, so it uses less symbol details to reduce complexity.

Transcription symbols

capital letters. An English gloss in capital letters represents an ASL word or sign. It is known as gloss. Remember this is not a translation. It is only an approximate representation of the ASL sign itself, not necessarily a meaning.

The hyphen - is used to represent a single ASL word/sign when more than one English word is used in gloss. E.g. stare-at

The plus sign + is used for ASL compound words. Eg true+work for sure enough, mother+father for parents.

The plus sign ++ at the end of a gloss indicates a number of repetition of an ASL word. Eg again++ (signing "again" two more time) meaning "again and again". Another example, HELP+++ for "help many/several times" or "help from time to time" depending on the duration of the movement and spatial reference to convey different meanings.

t is a shortcut for "topicalization", usually with raised eyebrows.

fs- represents a fingerspelled word. Eg fs-alice

# represents a fingerspelled loan sign. Eg #all

ix, a shortcut for "index", is for a referential point in space. IX1 can mean one side and IX2 for another side of the signing space. It doesn't matter which side it is as long as you establish a spatial reference for a noun and you keep consistent with it in a sentence or paragraph until the subject is changed.

cl is a shortcut for "classifier" which can function as a "pronoun" or another form that represents an ASL noun and/or its verb predicate. It is used in a verb phrase as well as prepositional phrase.

loc is a shortcut for "locative", a part of the grammatical structure in ASL.


Baker-Shenk, Charlotte and Cokley, Dennis. "Transcription Symbols." American Sign Language: A Teacher's Resource Text on Grammar and Culture. pp 1-29.


[1] Wilcox and Wilcox. "American Sign Language". Handbook of Undergraduate Second Language Education. Edited by Rosenthal, Judith. P 120.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.


NAME, WHAT?, WHO; all alphabetical letters; NICE, MEET-YOU
Using a wh-question signal.
Fingerspelling one's name.
Understanding pronouns and spatial referencing.
Pointing; acting out: strategies of asking what the sign is for.
Understanding a basic OSV structure.
[action] IX-me #DO++ WHAT?
[object]/\ YOU [verb] (giving a command)
Farewell: BYE.

Work in progress

Greetings: asking how one is.
Telling whose object is
Understand the difference between pronouns and possessives.
Voc: YOU, ME, YOUR, MY, etc.
Recognizing same/different

Opposite and category: strategies of asking what the sign is.
Use a basic constructive structure (grammar).
Use [objects] WHOLE IX+ SIGN WHAT?
Describing basic feelings.
Use a yes/no question signal. IX HAPPY, IX?
Negation: NOT
Basic activities: What is one doing?
Use a verb LIKE, NOT+LIKE.

Work in progress