How to Learn Sign Language – 9 Tips and Tricks

Published: October 11, 2023

Educating oneself on  ‘how to learn sign language’ is a special skill that can make a significant difference in the lives of individuals with hearing loss and the Deaf community. With billions of people worldwide experiencing some form of hearing impairment, understanding and acquiring sign language becomes crucial. 

Statistics show that approximately 1.5 billion people globally live with hearing loss, emphasizing the importance of knowing how to learn sign language to communicate effectively.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plays a vital role in protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

By learning sign language, you gain the ability to communicate inclusively and comply with the ADA’s requirements. As a result, the ADA ensures equal access and opportunities in various aspects of life, such as education, employment, and public services, positively impacting the Deaf community.

Two young girls communicating in sign language

Whether you have a personal connection to someone with hearing loss or want to expand your communication skills, understanding how to talk in sign language is a powerful way to make a positive impact and connect with others on a deeper level.

What is Sign Language?

Sign language hands

Sign Language (SL) is a visual language used by deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals to communicate. It is not simply gestures or miming; it has its own unique grammar and syntax.

Instead of spoken words, SL relies on hand movements, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. Just like spoken languages, SL varies across regions and countries, with each having its own sign language. 

SL has a rich history that dates back centuries and has evolved as a formal language recognized worldwide. In the 18th century, the Abbé de l’Épée established the first public school for deaf students in Paris, leading to the formalization of Old French Sign Language. SL continued to evolve as schools for deaf students spread globally, resulting in diverse sign languages like American Sign Language (ASL).

How to Learn to Sign Language? 9 Tips to Learn SL Fast

If you are wondering how long it takes to learn sign language or how to learn sign language fast, then you are at the right place. Outlined below are our expert-evaluated 9 steps that you can follow to learn not only sign language quickly but proficiently as well.

  1. Enroll in Sign Language Classes
  2. Utilize Online Videos and Tutorials
  3. Join a Sign Language Community or Group
  4. Read Books and Other Learning Materials
  5. Hire a Sign Language Tutor
  6. Observe and Learn from Interpreters
  7. Learn from Deaf Friends and Family
  8. Pay Attention to Facial Expressions and Body Language
  9. Practice Fingerspelling

1. Enroll in Sign Language Classes

Look for local organizations, community centers, or educational institutions that offer sign language classes. These classes provide a structured learning environment with experienced instructors who can guide you through sign language basics. For example, you can learn the sign language alphabet to start with.

They will teach you essential vocabulary, grammar, and proper signing techniques. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to practice your skills in a supportive setting and receive valuable feedback to improve your signing proficiency.

2. Utilize Online Videos and Tutorials

The internet is a vast resource for learning sign language. There are numerous online videos and tutorials available specifically designed for beginners. These resources often provide step-by-step instructions and visual demonstrations of various signs to help you learn basic conversational sign language.

You can find videos that cover different topics, such as basic greetings, everyday conversation, and commonly used phrases. Take advantage of these resources to reinforce what you learn in your classes, practice your skills at your own pace, and expand your vocabulary.

You can also look at the best sign language courses to help you learn and practice sign language in a systematic manner.

3. Join a Sign Language Community or Group

Immersion and practice are vital for mastering sign language. Seek out sign language communities or groups in your local area or online. These communities provide a supportive environment where you can interact with other sign language learners and native signers. 

By engaging in conversations, practicing signing with others, and attending sign language events or meetups, you’ll improve your skills and gain confidence in using sign language.

4. Read Books and Other Learning Materials

Explore books, guides, and online resources specifically designed for learning sign language. These resources often provide clear illustrations, explanations of signs, and useful vocabulary and grammar tips. Reading about sign language can deepen your understanding and help reinforce what you’ve learned in classes or through videos.

5. Hire a Sign Language Tutor

teacher teaching sign language to students

Consider hiring a sign language tutor who can provide personalized instruction. A tutor can tailor lessons to your specific needs, provide feedback, and offer individualized support. 

They can help you practice your signing skills, clarify any confusion, and answer your questions, ensuring that you progress effectively in your learning journey; in short, they help to learn how to talk in sign language.

6. Observe and Learn from Interpreters

If you have the opportunity, observe professional sign language interpreters in action. Watch how they interpret spoken language into sign language, paying attention to their hand movements, facial expressions, and overall communication style. 

Observing interpreters can provide valuable insights into the practical use of sign language and help you refine your signing skills.

7. Learn from Deaf Friends and Family

If you have Deaf friends or family members who use sign language, take the opportunity to learn sign language from them. 

They can teach you practical signs, provide guidance on correct handshapes and movements, and offer insights into Deaf culture. Engaging with Deaf individuals not only strengthens your signing skills but also deepens your understanding of the language and fosters connections within the Deaf community.

8. Pay Attention to Facial Expressions and Body Language

In sign language, facial expressions and body language play a crucial role in conveying meaning and emotions. Pay close attention to the facial expressions, eye gaze, and body movements of signers. They often enhance the message being signed. 

Practicing these non-manual markers alongside the signs helps you communicate more effectively and accurately. This is how you will not only understand how to learn sign language but also learn its nuances.

9. Practice Fingerspelling

Fingerspelling is an essential aspect of sign language, where specific handshapes represent each alphabet letter. Regularly practice fingerspelling to improve your recognition and production of individual letters

Start with simple words and gradually work your way up to more complex ones. Fingerspelling enhances your overall signing proficiency and allows you to spell out names, places, or unfamiliar terms.

7 Benefits of Learning Sign Language 

  1. Improved communication: Sign language enables individuals to communicate with the Deaf community effectively and those with hearing loss, fostering better understanding and connection.
  2. Self-expression: Sign language allows for expressive communication through hand movements, facial expressions, and body language, providing a rich and nuanced way to convey thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
  3. Inclusion and connection: Learning sign language opens doors to meaningful interactions and inclusion within the Deaf community, promoting social connections and breaking down barriers.
  4. Enhanced communication skills: Sign language learning enhances overall communication skills by sharpening visual perception, non-verbal expression, and active listening.
  5. Understanding language diversity: Immersing oneself in sign language exposes individuals to the linguistic and cultural diversity within the Deaf community, fostering greater appreciation and understanding of different languages and communication modes.
  6. Career opportunities: Proficiency in sign language can open doors to careers as sign language interpreters, educators, or advocates, contributing to the accessibility and inclusivity of various fields. You can also check out our guide on how to become a sign language interpreter in this regard.
  7. Personal growth: Learning sign language promotes empathy, cultural sensitivity, and a broader perspective, enriching personal growth and expanding horizons.

How to Learn Sign Language - FAQs

What Are The Types Of Sign Language?

There are various types of sign language, such as American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and Auslan, each with its own distinct grammar and vocabulary.

How Hard Is It To Learn Sign Language?

The difficulty of learning sign language varies depending on individual factors, but with consistent practice and dedication, it is possible to acquire proficiency.

Can You Learn To Sign By Yourself?

While self-study is challenging, learning sign language independently is possible with online resources and tutorials, but interacting with Deaf individuals and joining communities can significantly enhance learning.

Does Sign Language Differ In Other Countries?

Yes, sign language differs across countries, just like spoken languages. Each country or region has its own sign language with unique signs, grammar, and cultural influences.

Conclusion

In conclusion, learning sign language opens up a world of communication, connection, and inclusion. By understanding sign language’s unique grammar and syntax, individuals can effectively express themselves and connect with the Deaf community. 

Whether through enrolling in classes, utilizing online resources, joining sign language communities, or learning from Deaf friends and family, the journey of learning sign language is rewarding. It enhances communication skills, fosters empathy, and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

So, embrace the journey and discover “how to learn sign language” to enrich your life and make a positive impact in the lives of others.