Digital Tools for Learning ASL
Learning any new language can be a challenge. Experts will tell you that the more ways you can immerse yourself in your linguistic exploits, the more successful you will be. Learning American Sign Language is no different.
Obviously, having the help and support of experts and native speakers will always be beneficial. However, personal help may not always be available. So what are some ways to study and practice your ASL skills when you are on your own?
Thankfully, there are plenty of digital options for conveniently expanding your ASL knowledge! Whether you are seeking to improve your ASL vocabulary, helping someone explore the language, or simply need a handy reference, here are some helpful digital tools to make the process both painless and engaging.
The ASL App
Platform: iOS & Android
Price: Free app with several vocabulary packs included; additional vocabulary packs available via in-app purchases
The ASL App is an American Sign Language learning tool that uses video tutorials to teach common words and phrases. The videos are filmed at a high enough resolution that gestures are clearly discernable. Many of the videos also offer speed settings to allow users to slow things down to catch important nuances and movements. Some of the videos even include alternate camera angles as well.
A nice added feature is the included set of handshape exercises. These provide helpful ways to keep hands and fingers both flexible and nimble!
While the ASL App is no replacement for a proper ASL course or ASL tutor, it can be a handy way to help novices build their fluency with common, everyday phrases while on the go.
Similar Apps: Marlee Signs (iOS - Free, in-app purchases); ASL Dictionary HD (iOS & Android -$5.99 or Kindle - $6.99)
Platform: iOS & Android
ASL Translator is an internet-enabled application that allows users to translate text into ASL signs. Once the user inputs text to translate, the app uses an algorithm to try to determine the most efficient and widely used ASL phrasing. The app provides results as helpful videos demonstrating how to communicate the inputted text through sign.
While there are over 100 phrases that are included in the application for offline use, the majority of the app’s features require an internet connection. This is something to keep in mind given the fact that the app’s primary functions involve downloading streaming video (especially for those with sensitive cellular data plans!).
Platform: virtually any web-enabled device
You can learn just about anything on YouTube. The challenge is, with over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, how do you know where the quality content is hiding?
There are several excellent channels on YouTube dedicated to providing quality educational content for ASL learners.
- Rob Neilson – Rob is a deaf, certified ASL teacher. His channel is chock full of lessons focused on topics ranging from colors and body parts to jokes and holidays. The content is clear and well produced.
- Dr. Bill Vicars – “Dr. Bill” provides a plethora of online resources through his website to help ASL learners. The video content on his YouTube channel is some of the best. Most videos feature “Dr. Bill” communicating with a student while key components of the conversation are captioned clearly on a monitor behind them.
- My Smart Hands – This channel is an awesome resource for boosting your ASL vocabulary. While the site features songs and content focused toward children and families, that doesn’t make it any less engaging!
Real-time translation of both text and speech have become commonplace technologies on modern computers and smart devices. Sign language is also getting in on the act!
Technologies like Uni ( created by the Rochester, NY based company MotionSavvy) are helping improve communication between the deaf and the hearing. The Uni application uses the built-in video cameras on compatible smart devices to translate sign language into spoken text. As a result, deaf individuals can use the tool to effectively communicate with people whom they otherwise would be unable to speak with. Within the same application, vocal responses are translated to text making possible genuine, authentic conversations between sign language and spoken word.
Technology has made learning languages a much more interactive and convenient process. ASL is no exception! When paired with instruction from certified experts, learning ASL has never been more accessible!
Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey and as a writer for The Knowledge Roundtable, a free tutoring marketplace. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Thomas has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. His core educational beliefs stem from the notion that all students can be successful; it is the role of educators to help facilitate growth by differentiating and scaffolding student learning on a personal level.