How Much Time Does It Take to Learn American Sign Language? (2022)

How Much Time Does It Take to Learn American Sign Language? (1)

jason-oxenham-ceo

March 8, 2021
Updated: July 22, 2022

You shoot your friend a thumbs-up to let her know she did a great job. You hold up two fingers at a noisy bar to signal to the bartender how many drinks to bring. You clap at the end of performances to show your appreciation, you raise your hand when you’re ready to ask a question, and you may even cross your fingers for a bit of extra luck.

You already use your hands for communication in so many ways. That means that learning sign language, while it has its challenges, is not as difficult or as different from other languages as it might seem.

(Video) How Long Does it Take to Learn Sign Language?

Like spoken languages, it will take a bit of time to learn sign language. The question is, how much? For this article, we’ll be focusing on American Sign Language (ASL).

How Much Time Does It Take to Learn American Sign Language? (2)

First, let’s debunk a few myths.

Myth 1: There’s only one sign language.

Just as there are 7,100 spoken languages in the world, there are hundreds of different sign languages--about three hundred, actually. New signs and sign languages are evolving all the time: Nicaraguan Sign Language, for example, first developed in 1980.

Even if two countries share a spoken language, the sign languages there will vastly differ. American Sign Language, British Sign Language and Australian Sign Language are so different that they aren’t intelligible to each other, even though those countries’ official languages are all English.

There can even be multiple sign languages within the same country. Within the US alone, Black American Sign Language (BASL) and ASL differ, and for centuries the tiny Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard had its own distinct and thriving sign language as well.

Myth 2: ASL isn’t a real language.

ASL is not just a simpler or reduced form of English. That exists, and it’s called Signed Exact English (SEE-II). However, SEE-II is not really a natural sign language. More often, it’s used as a tool to teach English to Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing students.

ASL and English aren’t related. While many ASL-signers might know English as a byproduct of growing up in a predominantly English-speaking country, ASL has its own grammar, vocabulary, idioms and word order.

ASL itself has thousands of signs. It’s constantly evolving as technology and culture (including Deaf culture) change. Slang is added, words are thrown in or taken away. It’s vibrant and ever-changing, just like spoken languages.

Myth 3: ASL only uses your hands.

At first glance, it makes sense to think that sign language is centered on hand movements. While that’s not wrong, that view is a bit incomplete.

(Video) How long does it take to learn Sign Language | Lead Academy

Sign language is about more than the shapes that your hands make. It’s also about total body language.

The difference between a question and a statement, for example, is raised eyebrows. To show that you did something reluctantly, you have to display that reluctance on your face. To show excitement, smile.

You often have to move your lips too. While you sign the word “finish,” you also need to mouth the word “fish,” for example. It’s not optional; it’s part of the sign.

The best way to think of sign language is just that--sign language. Not hand language. You’re using your entire body to create a specific sign that stands for something else.

Myth 4: It’s impossible to have an accent.

When you’re signing, you don’t have to worry about vowel pronunciation or correct tongue placement; you’re just moving your body. So it’s impossible to have an accent. Right?

Actually, ASL comes with many accents. Based on speed, hand placement and even finger elongation, it’s clear where you’re from and whether ASL was your first language. New Yorkers, known for talking fast, translate that into faster signing, while someone with a Southern drawl may take their sweet time signing, too.

And native signers can often tell when you’re not native to the language. But just like with a spoken language, don’t let that deter you--when people see your accent, they usually appreciate that you’ve taken the time to learn!

So now you know a bit more about sign language, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

How long does it take to learn ASL?

How Much Time Does It Take to Learn American Sign Language? (3)

It depends on a few key factors.

(Video) How long does it take to learn Sign Language?

Factor 1: What are your goals?

If you want to sign like a native signer, with no “hearing” accent, then that will take several years to learn. Many interpreters who have dedicated a decade or more to the craft still report being spotted as “not-native” signers.

But as with any language, comprehension and communication should be your main goal. It doesn’t matter if you have an accent as long as you are understood.

That said, many goals exist between “no signing at all” and “perfect native fluency.” You could aim to communicate at a basic level with Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) people in your community. That may only take a few months with diligent practice, and you don’t need to take a formal sign language class to do this. It’s easier than ever to learn a language online.

On the other hand, you could aim to become an interpreter. On top of learning the language to an advanced level (which may take at least a year), many certification programs require at least two years of an interpretation program.

TIP: Set out a long-term goal with a specific end date. Then set smaller goals leading up to that goal. Make sure they are SMART--specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

Factor 2: How involved with the Deaf/HoH community are you?

Becoming truly fluent in ASL isn’t just about practicing every day, although that’s valuable. It’s also about cultural immersion.

When you’re learning a spoken language such as French or Japanese, you might be able to achieve a certain degree of immersion by reading books or listening to music in the language.

With ASL, it’s not always as easy. Interpretations of popular TV shows and movies are rare; closed captions are much more common. You won’t find any books written in ASL, and the amount of popular material created by Deaf people and for Deaf people is existent, but unfortunately quite a bit smaller than native materials produced for many other languages.

On top of that, Deaf culture is its own culture, and not one that you can truly understand just from watching movies or documentaries alone. You need to truly be around Deaf and HoH people to get a sense of the culture, to learn how people actually sign and to practice communicating.

(Video) The Fastest Way to Learn American Sign Language!

The more you are around members of the community, the more you will pick up the language naturally.

TIP: Look up sign language meetings in your area. They are often attended by a mixture of Deaf people, HoH people and learners. You’ll make invaluable connections.

Factor 3: What kind of learner are you?

Your learning style is the way that you pick up and retain information the most effectively.

  • If you’re an auditory learner, you remember information best when it’s spoken to you.
  • If you’re a visual learner, you like to draw and analyze diagrams.
  • If you’re a reading/writing learner, then taking notes is most helpful.
  • If you’re a kinetic learner, you learn by building and doing.

Because ASL is such a physical and manual language, some learning methods will be a bit more practical than others. However, you can make it work no matter what your learning style is.

If you’re an auditory learner, you won’t be able to listen to ASL songs, but you can look for ASL interpretations of your favorite songs and sign along to the music. You can also listen to someone explain ASL grammar.

If you’re a visual learner, consider drawing diagrams in order to remember various hand signs and movements. You can also practice in front of a mirror so that you can see what each sign looks like and better imprint it to memory. The videos in the Rocket Language ASL course are a great visual resource to get started.

If you’re a reading/writing learner, try jotting down notes and mnemonics to help you remember each sign. You can also write out directions and movements for each word; reading back over your list will help you recall the physical sign.

If you’re a kinetic learner, you may have an easier time picking up the language, as ASL is all about doing. You’ll find it most helpful to join an ASL meetup group and connect with another learner in order to practice conversations together.

DO: Find out your learning style and begin tailoring your approaches to your style.

(Video) Why you should learn American Sign Language (ASL)

Here are a few tips for all learners:

  • Sign with a native speaker as much as possible, right from the beginning.
  • Record yourself signing, just like you would record yourself pronouncing a spoken language, to make sure you have proper form.
  • Constantly watch materials made in ASL. This could be as simple as storybooks or as complex as academic journals.
  • Set small goals and reward yourself frequently along the way.
  • Allow yourself to make mistakes.
  • Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. Every new sign is a triumph!

ASL is a vibrant and constantly evolving language, and learning it is a rewarding process. If you’re ready to start learning sign language (ASL,) try Rocket Sign Language!

FAQs

How long does it take to fully learn ASL? ›

Are you thinking about learning sign language? If so, you might be surprised to learn that learning the basics of ASL can take just 60 to 90-hours. By comparison, learning a new spoken language like French can take anywhere from three to six months.

How long does it take to get good at ASL? ›

How Long Does It Take to Learn American Sign Language? Learning fundamental American Sign Language (ASL) can be accomplished in as little as 60-90 hours. In contrast, this could take approximately 6 (3 – credit) ASL courses spread out over two to three years to go from beginner to intermediate proficiency.

How long does it take to learn ASL alphabet? ›

But when we state that learning ASL can take just 60 to 90 hours, we merely mean that this is roughly how long it takes to remember the ASL alphabet. You'll also need to master 19 various hand gestures and a variety of facial expressions if you want to start communicating in sign language.

Can you learn ASL in a year? ›

Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. To learn enough signs for basic communication and to sign them comfortably, can take a year or more. Some people pick up signs more slowly than others, and if that is the case with you, don't be discouraged.

How long is ASL fluency? ›

Overall, it can take several years of regular study and practice to become fluent in sign language. It may take from three months to three years to learn sign language. Moreover, it's all about your learning goal setting, and it all depends on your end goal.

How can I learn ASL quickly? ›

  1. Take a sign language class. ...
  2. Learn online by watching videos. ...
  3. Join a sign language group, deaf club or visit a deaf café ...
  4. Take an online course. ...
  5. Hire a private, qualified sign language tutor. ...
  6. Watch and mimic interpreters. ...
  7. Ask your Deaf friends and family teach you. ...
  8. Use an App.
1 Jun 2020

Is ASL a good career? ›

Becoming an ASL interpreter may provide you with a well-paying career opportunity. The national average salary for ASL interpreters is $61,364 per year . However, it's important to remember that exact salaries may vary.

What is the easiest language to learn? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers - ranked
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

Is an ASL course hard? ›

ASL is a complete and complex language, with all the nuances and subtleties of a spoken language. Like all languages, it is not mastered easily beyond a basic level. Mastery requires extensive exposure and practice.

Why is learning ASL so difficult? ›

One of the challenges people face when learning American sign language (ASL) is that it requires them to stop "thinking straight English" and rely on abstraction and other skills to communicate both dynamically and accurately.

How many words are in ASL? ›

About 10,000 different ASL signs exist that corresponds to English, which has about 200,000 words. How much do ASL interpreters make?

Is it worth it to learn ASL? ›

Knowing ASL gives you a way to build relationships with countless deaf people and a way to enjoy the richness of the Deaf community nationwide. Beyond communicating with deaf friends, ASL is also a surprisingly versatile language.

Can ASL be self taught? ›

There are numerous ways to learn American Sign Language (ASL) outside the old classroom method. From free online lessons to video tutorials, a world of possibilities is open for those aspiring to teach themselves this hands-on language.

Is ASL easier than English? ›

As with anything new, learning a language takes time, patience, and hard work. Some have the misconseption that learning ASL is easier than learning a spoken language. This is incorrect. Experts estimate that it takes 3-4 years to become fluent in a new language on average.

What is the best place to learn ASL? ›

The 7 Best Online Sign Language Classes of 2022
  • Best Overall: Gallaudet University.
  • Best Budget: American Sign Language University.
  • Best for Beginners: ASL Meredith.
  • Best for Families: Sign It! ASL.
  • Best for School Credit: Start ASL.
  • Best for One-on-One Lessons: SignOn Connect.
  • Best for Vocabulary: ASLDeafined.
13 Sept 2022

Can you get fluent in 3 months? ›

To understand 95% of a language and become conversational fluent may require 3 months of applied learning; to reach the 98% threshold could require 10 years.

How many people are fluent in ASL? ›

Despite its wide use, no accurate count of ASL users has been taken. Reliable estimates for American ASL users range from 250,000 to 500,000 persons, including a number of children of deaf adults and other hearing individuals.

What should I learn first ASL? ›

Learning to sign the alphabet (known as the manual alphabet) is usually the first place to begin.

What are the 5 strategies of learning ASL? ›

Match
  • What are the 5 strategies for learning ASL. -Build a language community. ...
  • Build a language community. Don't miss class.
  • Minimize reliance on English. Leave your voice outside the door.
  • Focus on meaning rather than individual signs. ...
  • Focus on signers face, not on the hands. ...
  • Show you understand the signer.

Is ASL a valuable skill? ›

Learning sign language is crucial for those who are deaf or hearing impaired, as well as their friends and family members. But, what many people may not realize is that sign language can be a valuable life skill for just about anyone to develop.

Is ASL difficult to master? ›

Sign language is one of the easiest languages to learn. So many of the signs are commonplace gestures. Children pick up on the signs quickly and are eager to use them. The fact that it is easy helps encourage the learning.

Is ASL a useful skill? ›

Being proficient in ASL allows you to communicate with a wide range of hearing, hard of hearing, and deaf individuals—including students in mainstream and deaf school or university programs and deaf or hard of hearing residents and business people in your community.

What is the funnest language to learn? ›

10 most fun languages to learn
  • English. Possessing a wealth of adopted words, English is an incredibly expressive, varied and flexible language. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • 3. Japanese. ...
  • Sign language. ...
  • Brazilian Portuguese. ...
  • Turkish. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • German.
24 Feb 2017

Can you learn 2 languages at once? ›

Answer: Thankfully, your brain can definitely handle learning two (or more!) languages at once! (Two down, 6,998 to go.) But there are also some ways you can make this linguistic task easier on yourself.

What is hardest language to learn? ›

1. Mandarin. As mentioned before, Mandarin is unanimously considered the most difficult language to master in the world! Spoken by over a billion people in the world, the language can be extremely difficult for people whose native languages use the Latin writing system.

What are the disadvantages of ASL? ›

Sign language requires the use of hands to make gestures. This can be a problem for people who do not have full use of their hands. Even seemingly manageable disabilities such as Parkinson's or arthritis can be a major problem for people who must communicate using sign language.

Which is harder ASL or Spanish? ›

If your first language is English, you might still find Spanish easier to learn than ASL, since there are some cognates in common. If you're an auditory learner, you'll probably find it easier to learn Spanish than ASL, which is spoken in the visual modality.

How many levels of ASL are there? ›

Students may complete all ASL course work (ASL levels 1-5), Advanced Conversational ASL (ASLS 214) and Pre-Interpreting Skills (INTR 216) prior to obtaining their ASLPI score. How do I sign up?

Is ASL the hardest language to learn? ›

Sign language is one of the easiest languages to learn. So many of the signs are commonplace gestures. Children pick up on the signs quickly and are eager to use them. The fact that it is easy helps encourage the learning.

Is ASL harder than spoken language? ›

It's at least as difficult. Sign languages have the same complexity and abstraction that spoken languages do. Some of the signs are iconic (i.e., they look like what they describe), but most aren't. The grammars of sign languages have syntax, morphology, phonology--- all the tricky bits of spoken languages.

Is ASL faster than English? ›

She used the speaking children of Deaf parents who were fluent in English and ASL. She compared the speed at which stories were signed and spoken. On average, the children communicated at the rate of 4.7 words and 2.3 signs per second. Signing and speaking the same story took almost exactly the same time.

Which language is very hardest? ›

1. Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world.

Which is the very easiest language? ›

15 of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers - ranked
  • Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
  • Dutch. ...
  • Norwegian. ...
  • Spanish. ...
  • Portuguese. ...
  • Italian. ...
  • French. ...
  • Swedish.
24 Oct 2021

Is ASL worth learning? ›

Knowing ASL gives you a way to build relationships with countless deaf people and a way to enjoy the richness of the Deaf community nationwide. Beyond communicating with deaf friends, ASL is also a surprisingly versatile language.

How does ASL affect the brain? ›

The parts of the brain active in sign language processing are very similar to those involved in spoken language processing. When we compare the brain scans of deaf people watching sign language and hearing people listening to speech, there is significant overlap, especially in the core areas.

What part of the brain is used for ASL? ›

The researchers found that especially the so-called Broca's area in the frontal brain of the left hemisphere is one of the regions that was involved in the processing of sign language in almost every study evaluated.

In what countries is ASL used? ›

ASL is used predominantly in the United States and in many parts of Canada. ASL is accepted by many high schools, colleges, and universities in fulfillment of modern and “foreign” language academic degree requirements across the United States.

Videos

1. How can you learn sign language for free? 🤔
(Elizabeth Harris)
2. Why Students Should Learn American Sign Language | Breese Tierney | TEDxYouth@MBJH
(TEDx Talks)
3. ASL classes for adults Limited time sale. Learn sign language the easy way
(ASL Teaching Resources)
4. Reasons Why You Should Learn Sign Language RN 🤟 (Tiktok): LizzyTharris
(Elizabeth Harris)
5. ASL telling time // telling time in sign language // learn to sigh with me
(Moriah Lilaca)
6. ASL students after learning one word in sign language 😂😭
(Elizabeth Harris)

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