In today’s connected world, there are opportunities all around. Sign language may have been around for centuries and evolved into over 130 different vernaculars, but you can find the right opportunity to learn whether that’s online, on your phone, or using a tutor.

Signing is an invaluable communication tool for the deaf community, but is also being used in a variety of other ways including:
  • for people who can hear, but not speak (whether due to a physiological disorder or an acute traumatic issue);
  • as part of stroke rehabilitation allowing patients with language impairment to communicate with family and healthcare providers;
  • with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who demonstrate higher quality communication when signing.

Ways to Learn Sign Language

Sign language is a visual communication tool. While you can learn the alphabet and the hand gestures through books and online, it’s equally important to practice with someone experienced so that you can get a feel for the flow and motion of sign language.

By observing someone using sign language it’s quickly apparent that it is holistic and expressive bringing together hand shape and movement, facial expressions, body orientation, and palm direction. Once you learn some basic signs (at least the 100 most common words or phrases), it’s time to find a practice partner or venue and build your skill and vocabulary.

The best tools to learn sign language fast

  • Classes teaching sign language offer basic to advanced instruction as well as an environment for practice and skill development. Options include:
    • free classes offered at public libraries, schools, alternative education outlets, and
    • paid classes found in most communities through colleges, universities, private schools, and tutors.
  • You Tube, the video hosting site, has a seemingly endless variety of videos covering everything from fingerspelling the alphabet to common phrases to and multi-lesson tutorials. Numerous industry experts host channel subscriptions that are routinely updated and refreshed, but also offer thorough, insightful guidance that can be stopped, replayed, and revisited as needed.
  • Web-based resources are available through individual websites offering courses, quizzes, and various types of learning techniques and skill levels. Like You Tube, this video format allows maximum flexibility while studying a new and complicated challenging language.
  • Apps are available for both iOS and Android phones with features such as dictionaries, puzzles and games, and full-blown lessons and tutorials. Many are free or have minimal in-app purchase options.
  • Books, flash cards, and puzzles can be purchased or borrowed through your local public library. These resources are especially good for self-paced learning that focuses on repetition and recall.

Opportunities to Practice Your New Skill

Just like learning any new language or skill, once you have a good working knowledge of the basics, seeking out opportunities to use your skills greatly increase the learning curve.  Let’s look at five ways to use your new-found skills and strategies that make the journey easier and more enjoyable.
  • Find a sign language group where you can communicate, practice, and try out new vocabulary.  This will make your entire experience more meaningful and you might meet some interesting and fascinating people.  Meetup.com is an example of a site where you can locate social groups that focus on sign language interaction as well as provide community and social interaction.
  • Volunteering locally at a school for the deaf or a hospital is a great opportunity to use your new sign language skills while also contributing to the community.
  • If you have friends and family that are proficient in sign language, they are probably a sure bet to help.
  • Many associations for the deaf and hearing impaired will partner you up with someone so that you can practice signing.  Contacting your local community association also allows you to interact locally and participate in their ongoing programs and fundraising activities.
  • Online resources offer practice games, challenges and tournaments and while not actually face-to-face interaction, can offer valuable opportunities to try out new skills.

Interest in learning sign language has grown significantly over the last number of years.  It’s being used more frequently in business, sports, and recreation.  From scuba divers to stock traders - police officers to firefighters, sign language is proving useful in unexpected ways.
Whether you are learning sign language as a necessity (i.e., a caregiver or family member of someone hearing impaired) or as a general interest, bilingualism boosts brain activity, develops better listening skills, and promotes greater cognitive flexibility.  Complex and challenging, the most successful students immerse themselves in this new language and search out ways to interact with the real world.

We wish you the best of luck as you tackle this challenge.  We’d love to hear about your experiences in learning sign language.  Let us know how it’s going in the comments section!