The 8 Best Online Sign Language Classes of 2020
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Learning American Sign Language (ASL) can be a fun way to communicate with friends and family, and it is also becoming an increasingly important asset to have in the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for translators and interpreters will increase by at least 19% by 2026.
Language learning has been shown to improve brain function, increase creative ability, and improve memory. As a visual language, ASL improves spatial awareness, reaction time, and concentration ability.
In addition to increased job prospects, learning sign language can increase communication opportunities. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately 15% of American adults (nearly 38 million people) will experience some form of hearing loss in their lifetime. Being able to communicate with people is a valuable skill in both personal and professional settings.
The 8 Best Online American Sign Language Courses of 2020
Best Overall: Gallaudet University
Founded in 1864, Gallaudet University is a federally chartered and fully accredited liberal arts college that specializes in the language and culture of deaf people. While both hearing and deaf students are admitted into the school, it remains the only higher education institution that structures its curriculum to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Not only does Gallaudet offer free ASL basics courses, but the university also has a variety of paid ASL courses for adult learners, including ASL levels 1 through 4, Fingerspelling, and Visual Gestural Communication, all taught by ASL professionals and structured to improve comprehension and communication.
Beyond language learning, the university offers several bilingual deaf studies courses, a catalog that includes Introduction to Deaf Studies, Black Deaf People Studies, Deaf Women’s Studies, and more.
Gallaudet University was slated to launch an online ASL tutoring service in the summer of 2020, and an online ASL certification course was also in development. Beginner lessons through Gallaudet are free of charge and are intended to prepare students for the more advanced, paid ASL courses. Fingerspelling courses are around $317, and ASL courses on special topics are about $950.
Best Budget: American Sign Language University
Lauded by instructors, students, and families, American Sign Language University (ASLU) is a completely free ASL resource for teachers and learners. The service, created by Dr. Bill Vicars, a deaf person and an associate professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at California State University in Sacramento, has been teaching ASL for 20 years.
In 1997, Dr. Vicars launched ASLU as a resource for rural families without access to sign language classes. Since then, ASLU has been used to supplement sign language learning and to fulfill academic language requirements. Additionally, teachers are able to download entire lessons and activities, free of charge, to boost classroom learning.
Though Dr. Vicar’s ASLU provides instructor-guided ASL courses for around $483 each, all of the self-guided resources are available completely free, making ASLU the best budget option for online ASL courses.
The lessons, listed in chronological order at the top of the site’s main page, include an instructional video, a vocabulary list, practice assignments, recommended reading, and lessons in Deaf culture. Dr. Vicar’s First 100 Signs video is an excellent place to start for communication between parents and children.
Best for Beginners: ASL Meredith
For a complete ASL beginner, ASL Meredith is an online, self-paced course designed to teach the foundations of grammar, vocabulary, and conversation.
The creator of the beginner course, Meredith, is a certified ASL instructor with a Master’s degree in Teaching ASL as a Foreign Language. Meredith, a hearing person, learned sign language from a childhood friend at an early age. She now teaches lessons in-person, through her online portal, and on YouTube and Instagram.
ASL Meredith’s Foundations of ASL course was created to assist potential learners who didn’t have financial or physical access to sign language courses. It consists of six modules, complete with video instruction, practice assignments, and quizzes designed to guide students through conversation and comprehension with increasing complexity.
The estimated completion time for the course is six weeks, but as it is self-guided, learners can take as little or as much time as they need. The beginner class costs around $179 and includes lifetime access, but ASL Meredith offers a payment plan of about $49 per month to be made over the course of four months.
Best for Families: Sign It ASL
Designed with homeschoolers in mind, Sign It ASL is a self-paced, online sign language course and resource. Through a partnership with the Signing Time Foundation and the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management, Sign It ASL is completely free for families in the United States with a child under 36 months old who has any degree of hearing loss.
According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, between two and three babies out of every 1,000 are born with some degree of hearing loss; most infants are identified as deaf or hard of hearing by six months old. This time is critical for communication and development. In contrast to spoken language, babies are able to use sign language as early as six months.
Sign It ASL's course consists of 10 units, each of which includes vocabulary, stories, conversation practice, lessons on deaf culture, quizzes, and more. All lessons are taught by deaf actors, advocates, and performers.
Units one, two, and three are available to purchase with lifetime access for around $50 each, though they can be bought in a bundle for about $120.
Best for School Credit: Start ASL
The founders of Start ASL created their ASL program as a curriculum-supported, sign language learning platform modeled after classrooms. It comes as no surprise that Start ASL, with hundreds of school partnerships, is an excellent online resource for learning ASL for academic credit.
The curriculum of Start ASL is designed to model a classroom setting as closely as possible, with conversation practice at its core. Each unit consists of vocabulary, video lessons and assignments, and reading material. Start ASL connects students with each other through an exclusive Facebook group, allowing the students to practice.
Access to Start ASL includes all three levels, each of which is equivalent to roughly one year of a high school language class or one semester of a college language course. Students move through these levels, which are further divided into units, progressively and at their own pace.
Start ASL offers two different subscriptions to best suit learners’ needs: Silver and Gold. Silver is the basic subscription, which includes course access, a certificate of completion, and written feedback on assignments. Gold features everything offered in Silver, along with video feedback and increased student support. Gold is required for students using Start ASL for academic credit.
Prices for the Silver and Gold levels are about $25 and $50 per month, respectively, though Start ASL offers annual payment options for optimal savings. These subscriptions can be upgraded, downgraded, or canceled at any time.
Best for One-on-One Lessons: SignOn Connect
While many online ASL programs offer video lessons and assignment feedback, very few pair learners directly with native sign language users in one-on-one video conferencing settings. SignOn was developed to bridge this gap, connecting online learners with the deaf community and facilitating an immersive learning experience.
Each student is paired with one of SignOn’s deaf ambassadors, based on the student’s learning objectives. The primary goals of each 30-minute session are to build relationships with the deaf community and improve language retention. SignOn says that students who use its platform with college courses demonstrate an average 37% increase in test scores.
Every ambassador at SignOn identifies as deaf. It is vital, according to the American Society for Deaf Children, for deaf or hard-of-hearing children to connect with adult deaf role models in order to combat false misconceptions about the deaf community.
An individual session costs around $25, although there are significant savings when the sessions are purchased in bundles.
Members of the American Society for Deaf Children have access to five free sessions of SignOn, and membership is open to all. An annual membership costs $35.
Best for Vocabulary: ASLDeafined
With a continuously expanding video dictionary of more than 15,000 words, ASLDeafined is an expansive, self-guided way to learn ASL vocabulary.
Before beginning lessons, ASLDeafined users must self-identify as a deaf learner, a parent of a deaf or hard-of-hearing child, or a member of the general public. Within these groups, lessons and vocabulary are divided into categories to improve retention. Each user has a progress chart that details the changes in learning and retention, a particularly useful tool for parents using ASLDeafined for children.
The program also offers more than 300 themed lessons and activities designed to improve memorization, as well as ways to save notable or difficult words or signs for future study.
ASLDeafined is available online and through the company’s app and offers a renewable, three-day free trial. An annual subscription is approximately $36, while the price is only $12 for educators. Subscriptions can be canceled at any point, and access will continue through the end of the subscription period.
Best for Fingerspelling: Signed With Heart
Fingerspelling is one of the foundational elements of ASL.
By using handshapes that correspond with alphabetical letters and numbers to spell out certain words, ASL learners can improve their vocabulary and concept expression. It is commonly used for names, brands, titles, and places, but it is also often necessary for expressing concepts and words that do not have specific signs.
Ashley Clark Fry, the creator of Signed With Heart, was born deaf to hearing parents and teaches ASL through social media. A majority of her content across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram is available for free, and she also teaches a mini-course on fingerspelling.
The class, which is recommended by ASL Meredith, focuses on learning the ASL alphabet and using it in conversation. It covers correct hand usage, using and reading fingerspelling, and commonly confused fingerspelling letters.
At around $15, the course is a bargain, especially for anyone struggling with fingerspelling. This fee pays for the course, and it supports Fry’s continued creation and dissemination of completely free resources for ASL learners.
How We Chose the Best Online Sign Language Classes
There are thousands of online resources for learning American Sign Language, so choosing the best options was a difficult task. We sourced a long list of online sign language programs from well-known providers, recommendations, and social media posts, coupled with resource recommendations from state and national advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations.
By cross-referencing our lengthy list with accreditation organizations, price comparisons, student reviews, and specialization categories, we were able to narrow our scope to the best online ASL programs.
It’s important to remember that learning any language takes time and commitment. Even with the best platforms and teachers, the most important part of discovering a new language is participation.