Starting the journey to learn a new language is not that easy. With a myriad of resources online for language learners, you need to do your due diligence to make sure that you are using high quality tools to learn a language accurately. We learned this firsthand when members of the deaf community pointed out to us that an ASL class we highlighted a few weeks ago – led by a hearing teacher with 20 years of experience – had a number of incorrect signs. (We’ve since stopped pointing to this class, of course.)
To help identify what people should look for in a quality ASL course, we reached out to ASL experts: Renca Dunn, a deaf activist and designer with a large Instagram following; Melissa Malzkuhn, director of the Motion Light Lab at Gallaudet University, founder of The ASL App and Obama 2018 member; and Felicia Williams, MA in Sign Language Teaching and recipient of the Dr. Nathie L. Marbury Award from the ASL Department at Gallaudet University. All members of the Deaf community, the three led a broad discussion with CNN Underscored, covering everything from reasons why students should do homework to what to look for in an ASL course and great options for teaching. learning ASL.
From that discussion, we’ve created this guide – which we plan to update constantly – on where those who want to learn ASL can start.
The National Association of the Deaf refers to the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA) for setting standards for American Sign Language instructors. The ASLTA notes that a qualified instructor will be accredited by them and will have at least five years of experience in using the language. Many qualified instructors have also graduated specifically in ASL or Deaf Studies, are members of ASLTA chapters, or regularly attend professional events in the field of ASL education or Deaf studies.
The experts we spoke with – Dunn, Malzkuhn and Williams – pointed out that there are additional benefits to having a Deaf individual (or community member) teaching the course, as they are personally familiar with “l ‘deep and rich history of ASL’ in the deaf community.
In short, if the person leading the ASL course you are looking for doesn’t mention an ASLTA certification, ASL degree, or Deaf Studies degree, don’t state whether or for how long they have been immersed in the Deaf community. or, worse yet, if you miss these three completely, your best bet is to look elsewhere.
This context is particularly important to take into account when turning to e-learning sites, such as Skillshare or Udemy. Although Udemy offers a number of ASL courses taught by people who are part of the Deaf community or have degrees in ASL and / or Deaf Studies, there is no general requirement for the courses to be be managed by people holding certificates of any kind. “No approval is required for an instructor to start and create a course,” Cara Brennan Allamano, senior vice president of people, places and learning at Udemy, told CNN Underscored in an email. . “Traditional education has many rules about who can teach and what should be taught. We believe that anyone with expertise and passion can share their knowledge with the world.
Therefore, due diligence is the responsibility of the student who chooses the course – and it is best that you read each instructor’s bio to confirm that they meet the above criteria. “Our platform is like the Amazon of learning; Although every course goes through a technical review before being released to the market, we believe that students are best equipped to assess the effectiveness of Udemy courses, ”says Allamano. “Grades and reviews are completely transparent to students – students decide if a course is useful for them. ”
When you are considering ASL classes, a teacher or instructor who is part of the Deaf community will help you make sure you are learning the appropriate signs and understanding the cultural context.
Malzkuhn emphasizes the importance of learning from a member of the deaf community, who knows the language and is immersed in the culture. “It’s like traveling – sometimes you meet people who say, ‘I’ve been to this country’, but it’s really an airport stopover,” says Malzkuhn. “There is no immersion. It’s the same when you take an ASL class with a random, unqualified teacher – you only get one layover.
Culture manifests in the nuances and manners of ASL, something you would miss if you learned ASL from the wrong instructor. Similar to spoken language, in which different accent or pronunciation inflections can create a difference in tone, ASL cues include body language and facial gestures. Simply, someone in the Deaf community can convey them to an ASL learner, and opting for an instructor who has not been immersed risks missing out on this essential knowledge for properly communicating with ASL.
Dunn further explains that it’s not just about signing with your hands, it’s about “incorporating history, culture, people, body and facial grammar.” And that’s why [some] people are not qualified to teach because they don’t have all that wealth.
Thus, when you opt for a poorly qualified teacher, you risk lengthening the ASL cycle which can hamper the community. “When hearing people learn sign language poorly, then they become our interpreters. They become our communication port. And then we Deaf people continue to suffer from language deprivation and communication deprivation because of these people interpreting and signing incorrectly, ”says Dunn.
There are many Deaf people and other qualified teachers who offer classes and the opportunity to learn ASL through digital lessons as well as in person. We’ve taken the lead from Dunn, Malzkuhn, and Williams to showcase some of your best options:
The ASL app is a digital tool available on Android or iOS that teaches conversational ASL that emerged after its creators discovered that social media users were posting how-to-sign videos on their feeds. Some were right and some were not, but social media tends to offer a lead regardless of the quality.
As a result, a group of culturally deaf native signatories – including Malzkuhn – got together and created the app. The ASL app is designed to be a starting point and to help bring communities together. It’s a pretty robust app, with a large social media following – currently with over 47,000 Instagram followers – with a large library of content available. It’s also a great place to start and get a foundation of basic conversation pieces. You can find it in the App Store for iOS or iPadOS and in the Play Store for Android.
ASL Connect at Gallaudet University
Offering in-person and online classes, ASL Connect’s learning options span the gamut from beginner spelling classes to ASL classes at various levels and others that delve into the Deaf culture. These include an introduction to Cultural Studies, Deaf Women’s Studies, ASL Literature, and Black Deaf Studies. This language school aims to be a resource for learning American Sign Language and for teaching Deaf culture, two essential aspects to look for in a course. The cost varies by course, with spelling classes at $ 316 each and ASL I to IV at $ 950 before textbooks and other materials.
Gallaudet also offers introductory “ASL for Free” courses, which are divided into vocabulary and interactive online conversations.
This language learning option goes further than most by connecting you with one-on-one mentors, many of whom are deaf. Basically, you can sign up, select an ASL topic that interests you, and partner with a professor. The sessions are conducted online and you will need to purchase credits to attend the classes. ASL Mentors sells 30 minutes of credit for $ 15 or a full hour for $ 30. Those interested in becoming a mentor will complete a short application form asking if they are qualified Deaf or native speakers. After that, the ASL mentors will review the candidate.
Options for beginners
In addition to the ASL app and free Gallaudet University courses, there is a plethora of beginner courses. Signed With Heart is a YouTube channel that features several lessons taught by Ashley Clark, all available for free. Clark uploads to his channel, but also offers a 101 spelling course for $ 15. Both can provide a fundamental building block for learning ASL.
Likewise, DawnSignPress offers instructional videos and books for learning ASL that incorporate elements of deaf culture. This is a great option to pass after learning the basics. And those looking to learn as a family or with young children should take a look at the VL2 storybook apps, which use ASL and English-based storybooks to aid literacy development.
There are a number of social media accounts that teach elements of ASL for free.
@TheASLShop on Instagram posts a new sign video every day; recent words covered include “brick”, “bridge”, “allergy” and “seem”. Stephanize Zornoza, member of the Deaf community, teaches each video. It has more than 73,000 subscribers on the platform and a catalog of more than 200 videos.
@deafinitelydope aka Matt Maxey not only signed and rapped in videos on the platform, but also started teaching basic ASL. Maya and C3 (@thearielseries), Stacy Abrams (@whyisign), Justin Jackerson (@TheASLLab) and @QueerASL also offer sign language lessons as videos on Instagram, and all have been recommended by the experts with whom we have spoken.
@DeafFamilyMatters seeks to educate viewers about Deaf Sign Language culture through their family, which is a mix of deaf and hearing members. It’s a great way to learn about the culture and sign language at the same time in bite-size form.
In the same vein as VL2 Storybook above, @WhyISign is a great account for families to follow while learning sign language as they highlight the personal stories of community members.