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Readers Respond: Learning Sign Language

Responses: 16


Updated February 19, 2011

How did you learn sign language? Was it through a dictionary online, a sign language book, a sign language class, a friend who taught you, a church class, or a college class? People learn sign language in many different ways.

Read more about sign language.

Started with Medical Emergency

I fell in love with ASL when I met a deaf girl who need[ed] help getting medical help. I tried to teach myself at first but soon learned that i was learning incorrect[ly].I want to advocate for the deaf. So today i am a student of ASL at Harper. I am very interested in interacting with the deaf community. I live in chicago if there is someone or a group i can join to interact more let me know. I am open to studying with other students as well. My world of understanding has increased because of ASL.
—Guest twyanda major

Name Sign Since Childhood

My eldest brother is Deaf. When all four of us kids were small children our speech and hearing therapist gave everyone in my family a name sign that has stuck with us through the years. For various reasons...mostly lots of moving in areas without a Deaf community...we don't communicate through sign language as we used to, but name signs have been a constant. My name sign is a little different than my siblings. They're name signs are just their first initial handshape tapped on the chest twice and mine is the handshape for "R" and then"B' in front of me...probably because i was referred to as Robbie growing up.
—Guest Robert

An Honor

I received my sign name from my ASL teacher. I had finished my first semester of ASL with him and he was tutoring a few of us occasionally over the summer. I was disappointed that he wasn't going to be teaching the next class in the ASL series, but on the last day of tutoring he did something wonderful and unexpected: he gave me my sign name. I consider it an honor and was so excited that I got on Facebook to announce what had happened. Since I think so highly of my teacher, I am glad he was the one who conferred my sign name on me. I love the tradition of it being a member of the deaf community who chooses the sign name; it makes the event something special. I feel like I've been initiated. And, after all, what's more significant than naming?
—Guest MC

Getting a Sign Name

i have a 5 yr old nephew who is HOH and has been signing since a young age. he has sign names for few people other than the usual mom, grandpa, and gramma, and the kids in his class he is close to, but his uncle philip and i have specific names. i have always done weird and different things to my hair so he makes a K and runs it on the right hand of his head along the ear to the nape of his neck (as my hair is always short), and my uncle philip gets a P and points an index finger to the lower half of arm, between the elbow and wrist (he has tons of tattoos in that area) this is how he asks for us. we have # girls that are waiting for there sign names that he hasnt figured out yet and a new baby Sylvia who he just signs as "baby" for the time bieng. we are excited about learning what he will decide to call the girls, getting a sign name is alot more special than i imagined and nearly cried when i got mine, as i just married into the family. the best of luck on your and keep us posted. : )
—Guest konnie

One More on Sign Names

I feel sad to see all the "you can't give yourself a name" responses. Although I get the "culture" behind it, we don't live in the dark ages anymore and in times of acceptance and equality, shouldn't we embrace the enthusiasm of someone who wishes to integrate another culture into their life. I think it is a little pretentious to say that one MUST be "gifted" a sign name from a deaf or HOH person especially for someone who works with children who need to say the name 100x a day. I have a daughter who is HOH and a daughter who is not. Since my daughter who is HOH will be starting pre-school soon with other deaf/HOH children we have been trying to think of a sign name her friends can address her by. I don't want someone who barely knows her assigning her sign name since she can decide for herself. My oldest daughter and I have been brainstormed what would suit her personality and we found a fit . I'm sorry but if this is offensive or disrespectful I'm just not sure I understand it.
—Guest harmie

Inspired by Sesame Street

I became interested in learning ASL by watching Sesame Street. I used to love to watch Linda, and Bob, Signing and wanted to learn. I told my mom that I wanted to learn it, but she didn't know where I could take classes. The yearning to learn this beautiful language never left me. So, years later, my mom saw that our community college was offering classes on a non-credit basis, and told me about it. I took it up for 3 years.
—Guest Peggy Knecht

ASL Can't Be Learned in a Day!

At age 12, I volunteered to sponsor a participant in the Special Olympics. When I got there, I was drawn to the people communicating in ASL. When I got to the front of the line and they asked me who I wanted to sponsor. I responded by saying I'd like one of those, as if Deafies were a thing and not a group of people. "Do you know how to Sign?" they asked. "No, but I'll learn!" I replied. "I'm sorry ASL can't be learned in a day; is there something else you are interested in?" I said I like swimming and was then matched with a swimmer. This later inspired me to go to the library to find out more. I taught myself the Manual Alphabet, taught my sister, and we then had a secret language to use without our parents knowing what we we saying. I later took ASL classes in college, married a Deaf man and became a teacher of the Deaf. I now teach Hearing kids ASL so that they will not make my mistake. Deaf folks are a dynamic group with a true language and culture that can't be learned in a day!
—Guest Frances LaMar

Signing Time!

My daughter has autism but as a baby, before she was diagnosed, we bought her some Signing Time videos. She fell in love with them. We later found out that she had fluid in her ears and subsequent hearing loss that went undiagnosed until she was 2 1/2. She's 4 now and speaks (vocally) an average of 4 words per day. Fortunately she has a sign language vocabulary of well over a hundred signs. The videos make it so easy that everyone in our family learned the signs right along with her. I honestly don't know where we would be without sign language, it is the only thing bridging the gap between our world and hers. Even if your child is not deaf I highly recommend signing with your kids as infants, and kids love the Signing Time videos. Even as an adult, if you're trying to learn to sign with a child or someone who can't hear, at first I thought they were annoying but the songs really stick in your head and before you know it you'll be signing away!

Learning All Alone

Ever since I invited a deaf friend to be my roommate, I have tried to learn sign language. I am hearing but had hearing impairment since school age. Needed assistance with aids starting in my 40s. I have done much research (books, online, classes, etc) and have found a website that I recommend to all that I run into that express an interest in learning ASL. The site it www.lifeprint.com and it is patterned after college courses. It has more than 40 courses and you can take them as your time permits. It absolutely the best out there that I have found. Of course, I am lucky in that I have someone to practice with. The hardest part is when you try to learn with no one around you that is deaf as it's easy to forget when not used. Most people I've spoken to had no idea that ASL was the third most used language in the US. It is an ongoing learning experience for me that will never be completed.
—Guest Randy

Community College

I am currently taking American Sign Language at a nearby community college. If you have the resources available, i highly recommend it. You not only learn the signs and how it is appropriate to actually sign it within the Deaf community but you also learn why. The history and misconceptions about the Deaf community are pretty hefty but learning how and why they all came to be makes you understand not only the language and how to use it CORRECTLY but also the spirit within the language. It is simply beautiful. And a little tid bit...Spanish is the first ranking spoken language in The US, next to English. Can you guess what number two is? ASL!!
—Guest Mary

Listening with Your Eyes

Since I was a kid, I have grown to appreciate the beauty of sign language; the graceful hand movements, the facial expressions and how the eyes alone can reveal a person’s deepest joys and sorrows. Years passed and I entered college… One Sunday morning, I saw some of my friends interpreting for the deaf in church. Since then, I started spending time with them to learn more about their language. I would return to my dorm and write down new words in my “make-shift” dictionary. I would practice them every morning until I was able to form sentences. Practically, a big bulk of the sign language skills that I have acquired was taught to me by the deaf themselves. I thought I would be the one aiding them because I’m technically the more “abled” person. Ironically, I needed them more than they needed me. It was really a humbling experience. They became my teachers not just in sign language but in Christian life as well – to love unconditionally and to “listen” intently with your eyes open.
—Guest JeLwyn

Inspired By a Deaf Boy

I met a boy during lunch. I didn't know he was deaf. He taught me some sign language. I've taken more classes, and quit once, because someone told me I'd never be an interpreter. I'm back learning, and it's tough. I don't have someone to sign with. A lady I met at Bill Rice Ranch said that she uses a flashlight at night cause the shadow shines on the wall, and that is one of her methods. I'd like to go to college, but that costs money. So, it's God and me. I'm thankful God gave me hands to sign. I may not be perfect, but God doesn't expect perfection:} I eventually want to be in a deaf ministry, not as an interpreter, cause than I'd have to sign what that person says, whether he's right, or wrong. Now in Sunday School, I teach the children bible songs in sign language. They're not deaf, but they can sign Jesus Loves Me:} does anyone know of classes that are free?

Signing is so much fun!

I work in a class for children with Autism. We do one on one therapy. All of the children that come in w/ no language we teach simple signs to, like... drink, eat, candy and bathroom. We have found that signs usually lead to speech rather quickly. We got a student a couple of years ago that had no language and she had major behaviors because of not being able to communicate her needs. We of course started signs on the very first day. Immediately we saw a dramatic change in her behavior. Since she still had a difficult time speaking after the first 6 months of using sign we decided to teach her more and more sign. I feel so fortunate having been assigned to her because the school sent me to sign language classes so I could use it all day with her. We are able to do math and reading this year and she can communicate all of her needs. I love sign language mostly because of what it has done for this sweet little girl, it has given her a voice. Not to mention it's fun to use.
—Guest Phyllis


Hello Recently two months ago I was facing a important meeting with a deaf businessman I was about to discuss a deal with, and I thought to myself that I should learn some ASL and make a good impression on him by having just at least a basic conversation with him. He had a professional interpreter with him as well but he barely had to step in to help me. After 1 month (1 hour training daily) I was able to communicate with a deaf person. Before I couldnt believe I would actually be able to learn a new language in 1 month but it was easier than I thought! Anyway, the look on his face when he saw I knew ASL was enough to seal the deal ;-) I still haven't mastered it completely but I train every day now just because I enjoy it! If you are curious on how I learned ASL so fast then just check out http://www.americansignedlanguage.com they have a great offer right now too if i remember correctly
—Guest Jake

let's "talk" in class!

I started learning ASL in my senior year of high school when my best friend suggested we take a class at a local junior college so we could "talk" in class without getting caught! It sounded like a good idea to me, so we signed up. She dropped out right away, but I became fascinated with ASL and fell in love with the language. After high school, I went to CSUN and took all the sign-related classes offered. Years later, I am an Educational Interpreter and I'm still fascinated with this beautiful language and the people who use it!
—Guest annie

My Own Sign Language Experience

I was first exposed to sign language as a result of my mother's job as an oral interpreter. She got to know signing deaf kids, and brought home a sign alphabet card for me. That led to sign books, then a community college course on sign language. However, I didn't really learn sign language until college.
—Guest Jamie Berke

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