by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady asked,
I would like to find out where I can learn sign language. I have flash cards from the Internet but that is not helpful enough. It has been recommended that I learn, but there doesn’t seem to be any place available in this area to teach me. Thank you for all the help from you I have received from your eZine and web-site.
Another lady explained,
I lost most of my hearing due to chemotherapy medications (but cured of the cancer). I am interested in my husband and I learning ASL. What do you suggest? I don’t work so costly programs won’t work for me.
I understand your situations. However, I have two important questions for you to consider.
First, who recommended you learn American Sign Language (ASL)? Was it a Deaf counselor, or was it a hard of hearing person? You need to know that these are two very different cultures in many ways—and you live in the hearing culture.
Second, why would you want to learn a foreign language (ASL) if you can’t even find anyone in your area to teach you? Who are you going to sign to? If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Unless you want to join the Deaf community, you are probably much better off learning how to successfully live with your hearing loss by using speechreading, hearing aids, assistive devices and using the myriads of hearing loss coping strategies.
That said, I’m definitely not against learning some sign language. In fact, my wife and I sign a few basic signs to each other, but we are by no means fluent. We do not sign ASL, but PSE (pidgin signed English). Hard of hearing people typically use PSE rather than ASL because it is easier—it uses ASL signs but in English word order. However, we mostly use the four above-mentioned coping strategies rather than sign.
However, if you still want to learn to sign, more power to you. I’ve found that a number of churches that have deaf ministries also have free ASL classes. So that is the first thing you should try. I’d also check with the deaf and hard of hearing services organization in your area. You might also ask around the Deaf community and see what they recommend.
You can also find some good on-line ASL stuff—not classes as such, but ASL dictionaries that show you how to sign the word you specify. This doesn’t teach you the grammar, but you do learn the proper vocabulary. In addition, some sites have animations for fingerspelling that are quite challenging, so you can become quite proficient reading fingerspelling from the on-line fingerspelling sites.
Here are a few sign language sites to get you started.
The ASL Pro website.
The “Family Health Reference to ASL” gives you a lot more places to learn and practice ASL, especially the sections headed “Learning the Alphabet and Numbers” and “Popular Phrases”.
One more thing. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to write ASL or any other signed language (and yes, signed languages can be written), check out the extensive lessons available on the Sign Writing website.