Learning to sign may be both easy and difficult depending on your predisposition, what you need it for and how you are learning to do it. The best advice about learning American Sign Language is to approach it the same way as you would normally with any other foreign language. It takes time and effort to master a language that is not your mother tongue and if your goal is to work as an interpreter, you will need to follow certain steps that will allow you to practice this profession.
American Sign Language (ASL) is spoken by the deaf community in the USA and some parts of Canada. ASL is used by schools and organizations and has gained a status equal to all oral languages. There might be several reasons to learn to sign – from personal to professional and so, there are various challenges the learner could face.
How Difficult it is to Learn to Communication Using ASL?
Learning how to sign for communication purposes is similar to adding a second language with the same goal – it takes time but gets much easier with personal interaction. With time you learn more and more expressions and your fluency improves.
It is important to take into account, that learning to sign differs from learning another foreign language in one main aspect – you cannot immerse into the new language completely. If you want to polish your German, for example, you can travel to the country and have yourself surrounded only by native speakers with the language being all around you. With sign language, you may have limited options for practice outside the classroom. Your communication might be limited to a single family member or friend. That can be improved if you try to participate in more events organized for and by the Deaf Community in the USA.
You need to keep in mind that learning to sign becomes more difficult with age, which is also valid for adding any other foreign language to your skills. Follow a speed that is suitable for you and find the best approach to learning ASL that makes you feel comfortable – personal lessons, video tutorials, apps or books or a mixture of all will help you develop your skills.
Another serious challenger for beginners will be the speed of social interaction. Communication can go quite quickly and it takes time before you learn to follow the hands and facial expression of the speaker. The more you are exposed to such social interaction, however, the quicker you will adapt and polish your understanding and signing skills.
What Does it Take to Become an ASL Interpreter?
If you want to learn ASL with the idea of becoming a sign language interpreter, you should be prepared to face more difficulties than simply learning to sign for communication purposes. While in a friendly conversation you can use simple fingerspelling and phonetic skills to sign words you are unfamiliar with, a professional interpreter needs to be able to convey the message clearly and with the respective nuances of the original spoken word.
The first challenge for ASL interpreters is to learn not to think straight English. It is not possible to interpret spoken language into signs word by word, the same way it is not possible to interpret German into English word for word. In addition to that, a professional interpreter needs to be familiar with the jargon of a given field or industry that they work in – engineering, law, healthcare, etc. In order to become an ASL interpreter, you need a bachelor’s degree in ASL interpretation and you can also get certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).
If you choose the career of an American Sign Language interpreter, you need to be prepared to invest time in your studies and to gain experience, so that you can provide high-quality services that facilitate the communication between the deaf and the hearing communities in the country.
How to Learn American Sign Language?
There are several ways to learn American Sign Language and they mostly depend on why you need to do it. If you are looking at a career as a sign language interpreter, the best way is to attend college or any other program especially dedicated to ASL. You can, of course, use some of the other sources listed below to help you in your studies.
If you want to learn ASL for communication purposes you can choose between any of the options below, depending on your personal preferences:
- Enroll in a sign language class – this will give you the opportunity to learn and practice the language and will allow you to meet other like-minded people.
- Take an online course – if you do not have the opportunity to visit a class personally, you can opt for an online course. It gives you more flexibility in learning to sign.
- Use video tutorials – YouTube is a great place to find a lot of free lessons on American Sign Language. You can watch the video as many times as you need and repeat the signs while in front of the computer.
- Hire a personal tutor – a private tutor can be the best option you want to speed up the process or you don’t feel comfortable in larger class settings.
- Use books – if you prefer reading from a book to using online resources, you have that option as well. There is a great variety of books, tutorials, sign language dictionaries available both in bookstores and in libraries.
- Use an app – in our highly technological surrounding, you can simply download a few apps on your smartphone and use them to learn American Sign Language at a time and place that you find convenient.
It is always possible to combine the different approaches in order to get better results. Most important of all is to practice whenever you have the opportunity, so it is a good idea to join a local deaf club or group and participate actively in their events.
As a whole, ASL is more than using your hands and fingers to communicate. You need to pay special attention to facial expressions and the position of the hands compared to the body of the speaker. It may not be easy to learn to sign, however, it is worth the effort as it gives you the chance to understand more people and learn about their needs and interests. Becoming an ASL interpreter is also a wonderful career path for those who like challenges and feel that bridging gaps is part of their mission.