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What is the best way to learn sign language?

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Updated December 05, 2008

Question: What is the best way to learn sign language?
Answer: What is the best way to learn sign language? Is the best way through video, books, or classes? My personal experience has been that the best way to learn sign language is through socialization. However, About.com readers may have other ideas on the best way to learn sign language. So I put the questions to About.com readers in the blog post Best Way to Learn Sign Language?

Several readers responded, and what follows is an edited sampling of their responses. Any advice given by readers is not official medical advice from About.com.

"I found from my own experience and those I meet that a start with someone you can communicate with to a establish a base, and then fellowship with the deaf, seems to work the best. Books often are not clear. And if you don’t understand something a video will not answer your question. "
- Tammy

"The best answer for 'What the best way to learn sign language' is by socialization because sometimes, you can just watch how the way Deaf people communicate in their own sign languages and their body languages at their own events or in their own locations and where they came from, too."
- Lu

"There are browsers online that teach words in sign. That’s a good start. Some deaf will help you along by finger spelling a word you don’t know in sign. One way to ask is to learn to sign 'Can you spell the word?' or 'Word, spell please?' to a deaf person. Always carry a notebook and pen."
- RJ

"Most community colleges offer sign language courses from the basic 101 classes to interpreting preparation programs...But no matter what you learn in class, you have to go out and not be afraid to sign. My husband is losing his hearing. And he denied his hearing loss for along time. Now he is finding out by starting off with baby signs, that he can communicate. The deaf community has accepted him with open arms and if he ever needs help with signing or needs to have someone fingerspell something over again, people are more than helpful in accommodating him. And when you go out and meet Deaf people you pick up more signs and learn more."
- PG

"I do not recommend people learning from a book, at least not until you are very familiar with the language and how to read the book. There are free classes given in most cities to learn sign language."
- Lena

My Own Experience Learning Sign Language

I started out with an alphabet card. Then I took a community college course in sign language for two years. However, my ability to sign did not really develop until the college years, when I had plenty of social exposure to sign language. I continue to learn, with the help of my children who are native sign language users, meaning that sign language is their first language whereas English was my first language.

Suggested Ways to Learn and Practice

Here are some ways to learn and practice sign language:
  • Sign Language Classes - If you prefer the traditional classroom, here are suggestions for finding sign language classes.
  • Signing Suppers - Signing Suppers, also known as ASL Dinners, are a popular way to interact with deaf people. We have ASL Dinners in my area, and I am always meeting people new to sign language who have been referred to the ASL Dinners by sign language teachers.
  • Sign Language Tutors - You may want to hire sign language tutors for one-on-one instruction.
  • Sign Language Dictionaries - If you know some sign language but need to check a word or phrase, these online sign language dictionaries may help.
Related Video
Common Sign Language for Babies
Teaching Your Child to Use Scissors
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