How To Learn ASL: A Guide for Beginners

Updated on: October 31, 2023

Learning a new language offers significant benefits, and if you're interested in how to learn ASL (American Sign Language), you're in for an enriching experience. Mastering ASL connects you with the deaf culture and community, opening doors to new friendships and providing a profound sense of inclusivity and understanding. Moreover, it enhances cognitive abilities like memory and multitasking, which can positively impact your daily life in numerous ways.

ASL proficiency can be a unique skill that sets you apart in the job market. Many employers value employees who can communicate in ASL, especially in education, healthcare, and customer service. Your ability to bridge language barriers can lead to increased job opportunities and a rewarding career path.

In an increasingly interconnected world, learning ASL can be a game-changer. It enables you to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and foster cross-cultural understanding. By learning ASL, you're not just picking up a language; you're gaining a universal key to communication, empathy, and inclusivity in an ever-shrinking global village. It's an opportunity to be part of something much more significant than yourself, and this guide will show you how to take those first steps into this extraordinary world.

Getting Started with ASL Language

ASL Alphabet

ASL isn't just about spoken words—it's a visual, expressive language that relies on a distinctive set of handshapes, movements, and positions.

Understanding this alphabet is the foundation for effective ASL communication, and it opens the door to expressing any word or concept using your hands. There are various resources and methods at your disposal to make it easier. 

One of the most valuable tools for learning the alphabet is flashcards. ASL alphabet flashcards typically display a handshape or movement on one side and the corresponding English letter or word on the other. These can be physical flashcards that you can purchase or digital ones available as apps.

Mastering the ASL alphabet is like learning the ABCs of spoken language—it's the first step toward fluency. Familiarizing yourself with each letter and its unique sign and practicing them regularly will set a solid foundation for your ASL learning.

Basic ASL Grammar

Like spoken languages, ASL has its own rules and conventions for constructing meaningful sentences. In ASL, word order and facial expressions are crucial for conveying the intended message. 

Unlike English, where word order often defines meaning, ASL relies heavily on facial expressions, non-manual markers, and body language. These elements work together to convey emotion, tense, and more nuances.

  • Facial Expressions: Pay attention to your facial expressions. They play a significant role in ASL grammar, indicating questions, statements, and emotions. Use them to convey the nuances of your message.
  • Non-Manual Markers: These are essential for indicating the tone and intensity of your signs. Practice using non-manual markers, such as raising your eyebrows for questions or tilting your head to show a yes/no question.
  • Body Movements: Body language, like body shifting and head movements, shows subject-verb agreement and can add depth to your signing.
  • Use of Space: ASL uses spatial referencing to show relationships between objects or people. Mastering this aspect is essential for clear storytelling.

Common ASL Phrases

Learning these phrases will enable you to start speaking and communicating in ASL more quickly than you might have imagined. These phrases will be helpful for simple conversations and everyday interactions with the deaf community.

Tips and Tricks for Learning ASL

It's essential to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make the early stages of learning smoother. Here are some practical tips and tricks to help you along the way:

  • Mnemonic Devices: Mnemonics are memory aids that can help you remember ASL signs more effectively. For example, for the sign "family," you can think of forming a roof over your head with your hand, symbolizing the protection and unity of a family. Creating these mental associations can make learning ASL signs a breeze.
  • Daily Practice Routines: Dedicate a specific time each day for ASL practice. Even just 15-30 minutes of daily practice can yield significant progress. You can use flashcards, ASL learning apps, or online resources to practice vocabulary and fingerspelling. Repetition is your friend.
  • Record and Review: Record yourself while signing. Video recordings allow you to review your progress and identify improvement areas. It's a valuable self-assessment tool that can boost your learning.
  • Set Achievable Goals: Break your ASL learning process into achievable goals. For example, aim to learn several signs each week or focus on mastering a particular topic. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and keeps you motivated.
  • Sign While Speaking: Start incorporating ASL signs into your spoken language. For example, when you say "thank you," sign it simultaneously. This reinforces your memory and helps you apply ASL in practical situations.
  • Watch ASL Content: Explore ASL content on YouTube, in ASL storytelling, or even ASL news broadcasts. These resources expose you to the language's natural flow, facial expressions, and the deaf culture.
  • Practice with Deaf or Fluent Signers: Whenever possible, practice with native ASL signers or fluent speakers. Conversations with experienced signers provide practical experience and valuable feedback.

Advanced ASL Learning Tips

The world of American Sign Language is vast, and there are plenty of exciting opportunities for advanced learning. Here's what you can do to further your ASL skills:

  • Explore Complex Grammar: Advanced ASL grammar introduces intricate structures and sentence constructions. Dive into the nuances of ASL grammar rules, including conditional sentences, temporal aspects, and more. 
  • Expand Your Vocabulary: Just like any language, ASL has an extensive vocabulary. Work on building your vocabulary with more specialized terms and idiomatic expressions. Consider learning signs related to your interests or profession, making your ASL knowledge even more valuable.
  • Attend ASL Meetups and Events: Look for local ASL meetups, deaf events, and workshops in your area. These gatherings offer a chance to interact with native signers, practice your skills, and learn from experienced ASL users.
  • Online Communities: Engage with ASL communities online. Social media platforms, ASL forums, and video chat groups are ideal places to connect with people from different backgrounds. These spaces allow one to ask questions, practice, and share experiences.
  • Volunteer or Join Deaf Organizations: Consider volunteering with Deaf organizations or participating in community service related to the Deaf and hard of hearing. These experiences not only offer practical exposure but also contribute to the well-being of the community.

Online Courses to Learn ASL

You'll find that online courses are a substantial resource for taking your skills to the next level. These courses offer structured and comprehensive learning experiences that cater to different proficiency levels. 

Let's explore some of the most popular online ASL courses and discover what each offers.

  • Gallaudet University's ASL Connect Gallaudet University, known for its commitment to Deaf culture and education, offers a comprehensive ASL learning platform. Their ASL Connect program provides a range of courses suitable for beginners and advanced learners. Its strong emphasis on cultural awareness and community engagement sets this program apart. You learn the language and gain insights into the Deaf community's rich culture. It has a structured curriculum for all levels, emphasizing deaf culture and community, experienced ASL instructors, and various topics and resources.
  • Start ASL: This user-friendly online platform caters to learners of all levels. Their courses are designed to provide a well-rounded ASL education, covering vocabulary, grammar, and cultural nuances. What makes Start ASL stand out is its interactive approach. You can connect with fellow learners and practice signing skills through group discussions and assignments.  You will have access to a supportive ASL community, video lessons, and practice sessions.
  • Sign It ASL: This one offers a specialized program focusing on religious and faith-based sign language. This course is designed for individuals interested in signing within a spiritual context. It covers a wide range of religious vocabulary and expressions. Sign It ASL provides an in-depth understanding of signing within a religious community, making it a unique option for those with specific interests.

ASL Tutoring

Tutoring plays a pivotal role in language learning, offering personalized guidance and support that can significantly enhance your language skills. In the realm of American Sign Language (ASL), where visual and gestural elements are crucial, the assistance of a qualified tutor can be invaluable. 

  • ASLDeafined: The standout feature of ASLDeafined is its video curriculum. Students can access a vast library of video lessons and assignments that align with their tutoring sessions. This blend of live instruction and on-demand content ensures a well-rounded learning experience. Plus, their tutors reinforce your understanding of ASL grammar and vocabulary, making it an excellent choice for learners who want to build a strong foundation. 
  • TakeLessons: A versatile platform connecting you with qualified ASL tutors for one-on-one lessons. What sets TakeLessons apart is its vast network of tutors, allowing you to choose an instructor whose teaching style aligns with your preferences. This platform offers flexibility, allowing you to schedule lessons at your convenience. With the ability to read reviews and profiles of available tutors, you can find the right fit for your learning goals.
  • VIPKid: This is a unique platform for those interested in teaching ASL to children. It specializes in connecting students with qualified tutors who can provide kids structured and engaging ASL lessons. The platform's tutoring sessions are designed to be interactive and fun, making it an excellent choice for parents who want their children to learn ASL. Tutors on VIPKID use various teaching tools and resources to make the learning experience enjoyable for young learners.

Apps to Learn ASL

Regarding American Sign Language (ASL), apps offers the convenience of learning anytime, anywhere. Let's explore some popular ASL language learning apps that can fit right in your pocket.

  • SignSchool: A user-friendly ASL app that caters to all levels of learners, from beginners to advanced signers. One of its standout features is its structured curriculum, covering various aspects of ASL, from vocabulary and fingerspelling to phrases and sentences. The app employs interactive quizzes and games to reinforce your learning, making it engaging and fun. Additionally, SignSchool offers video lessons by Deaf instructors, allowing you to observe natural signing and gestures, ensuring an authentic learning experience.
  • ASL Coach: It focuses on one of the fundamental aspects of ASL—fingerspelling letters and numbers. This app is particularly helpful for beginners who want to become proficient in fingerspelling. It provides step-by-step lessons and quizzes to help you master this aspect of ASL. ASL Coach is an excellent choice for those who want to start with the building blocks of ASL.
  • Marlee Signs: This is an ASL app because it was created by Marlee Matlin, a renowned Deaf actress and advocate. The app offers video lessons by Marlee herself, providing a personal touch to your learning journey. It covers various ASL topics, from basic signs to complex expressions. What sets Marlee Signs apart is its emphasis on interactive lessons and storytelling. You can practice your skills through real-life conversations and scenarios, enhancing your ability to use ASL practically.


Books are a direct source of knowledge for those who seek in-depth learning of American Sign Language (ASL). 

  • "The American Sign Language Phrase Book" by Lou Fant and Barbara Bernstein Fant: A resource for ASL learners of all levels. This book is a comprehensive guide to essential ASL phrases and expressions. It covers various topics, from everyday conversations to travel, food, and emergencies. The book is structured in an easy-to-follow format, making it accessible for beginners and intermediate learners. Inside, you'll find clear illustrations, step-by-step instructions for each sign, and helpful tips for proper signing.
  • "American Sign Language for Dummies" by Adan R. Penilla II and Angela Lee Taylor: This book is part of the renowned "For Dummies" series, known for simplifying complex subjects. This book is an excellent introduction to ASL, making it ideal for beginners. It covers ASL basics, including the alphabet, numbers, greetings, and everyday conversational signs. The book also delves into Deaf culture, offering valuable insights into the community. With its friendly tone and straightforward approach, "American Sign Language for Dummies" is an inviting choice for those taking their first steps into ASL. 
  • "Signing Naturally: Student Workbook, Units 1-6" by Cheri Smith, Ella Mae Lentz, and Ken Mikos: The student workbook, covering Units 1-6, offers a structured curriculum for in-depth ASL learning. It focuses on teaching ASL naturally and immersively, allowing learners to engage with real-life scenarios and conversations. The book includes video materials to enhance your signing skills and comprehension. "Signing Naturally" is an excellent choice for those who want a classroom-like learning experience and are ready to invest in a more comprehensive ASL program.

Videos and Podcasts for Learning ASL

These modern tools bring ASL's visual and auditory richness to your fingertips. Whether you're a visual learner who thrives on seeing sign language in action or you prefer to tune into audio lessons and discussions, videos, and podcasts. 

  • ASL That: Is a popular YouTube channel that offers a wide range of ASL content. Whether you're a beginner or looking to expand your ASL knowledge, this channel has something for everyone. You'll find video lessons that cover ASL vocabulary, grammar, and Deaf culture. Its engaging and approachable teaching style sets "ASL That" apart. The channel's instructor provides clear explanations, interactive practice, and a friendly atmosphere, making it an excellent resource for newcomers and those progressing in their ASL learning process.
  • ASL Nook:  Hosted by a Deaf family, these are lessons and conversations in a way that immerses you in ASL naturally. The benefit of "ASL Nook" is that it encourages you to focus on understanding ASL through listening. You can follow along with the podcast's lessons to enhance your receptive skills, an essential aspect of sign language learning. "ASL Nook" provides a unique and auditory perspective on learning ASL.
  • Sign Language 101: This source offers a structured course with video lessons, perfect for individuals who appreciate a more classroom-like experience. This comprehensive course covers ASL basics and guides you through various topics, including grammar, fingerspelling, and conversational phrases. What sets "Sign Language 101" apart is the opportunity for direct interaction with the instructor, ensuring that you receive personalized guidance. 


This step-by-step guide has equipped you with the essentials for your ASL learning, from grasping the unique alphabet and grammar to mastering common phrases and embracing advanced learning. With the plethora of resources available, including online courses, tutoring, mobile apps, books, and engaging video content, your journey to fluency is within reach. As you dive into this beautiful and expressive language, remember that patience and consistent practice are your allies. 

By immersing yourself in ASL's rich culture and connecting with deaf communities, both online and offline, you'll become a proficient signer and gain a profound appreciation for the Deaf world. 


How long does it take to learn ASL? 

Learning ASL's basics can take a few months of consistent practice. However, becoming proficient and fluent in ASL may take several years, as language proficiency varies from person to person.

How hard is it to learn ASL? 

ASL can be challenging, but it's learnable. It requires dedication, practice, and time. The difficulty level may vary based on individual learning styles and prior language learning experiences.

How can I learn ASL quickly? 

To learn ASL quickly, consider immersive experiences, like Deaf events, and utilize resources like online courses, tutoring, and ASL apps. Daily practice and exposure to the language are essential.

How can I learn ASL at home on my own? 

Learning ASL at home is achievable with the right resources. You can build your knowledge using ASL apps, online courses, books, and videos. Practice regularly and consider online communities for support and feedback.

How can I become fluent in ASL? 

Achieving fluency in ASL involves ongoing learning and interaction. Attend ASL events, engage with native signers, and continue to expand your vocabulary and grammatical skills. Consistent practice and immersion are essential for fluency.

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Carolina is a skilled content strategist and storyteller with over 7 years of experience in language education and the development of engaging learning materials. Leveraging her background in linguistics and scriptwriting, she crafts immersive stories and content that help language learners grasp new concepts. Carolina's work in the film and media industries allows her to bring a creative lens to language instruction and utilize multimedia tools to connect with diverse learners.