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This is what you need to know before taking an ASL course, according to experts CNN undervalued





Starting the journey to learn a new language is not that simple. With countless online resources for language learners, you need to do your due diligence to ensure that you use high-quality tools to accurately learn a language. We learned this first hand when members of the Deaf community pointed out to us that an ASL course we highlighted a few weeks ago – led by a hearing teacher with 20 years of experience – showed a number of incorrect signs. (Since then, we’ve stopped pointing to that class, of course).

To help identify what people should look for in a quality ASL course, we contacted ASL experts: Renca Dunn, activist and deaf creator with a large following of Instagram; Melissa Malzkuhn, director of the Motion Light Lab at Gallaudet University, founder of The ASL App and Obama Fellowship 2018; and Felicia Williams, who has a master’s degree in sign language teaching and receives the Dr. Nathie L. Marbury of the ASL Department of Gallaudet University. All members of the Deaf community, led an extensive discussion with CNN Underscored, which covered everything from why students should do homework to what they should look for in an ASL course and good options. of learning in ASL.

From this discussion, we have created this guide (one that we plan to update continuously) to get those interested in learning ASL.

The National Association of the Deaf points to the American Association of Sign Language Teachers (ASLTA) to set the standards for American Sign Language instructors. The ASLTA notes that a qualified instructor will be accredited by them and will have at least five years of experience in using the language. Many qualified instructors have also earned specific degrees in ASL or Deaf studies, are members of ASLTA chapters, or regularly attend professional events in ASL or Deaf education.

The experts we spoke with – Dunn, Malzkuhn and Williams – stressed that there are additional benefits to having a deaf individual (or a community member) teach the course, as they are personally familiar with the “deep and rich history of the ASL ”In the Deaf community.

In short, if the person leading the ASL course you are studying does not mention an ASLTA certification, a degree in ASL, or Deaf Studies, it does not state whether or for how long you have been immersed in the deaf community. or, worse, missing these three altogether, the best option is to look elsewhere.

This context is especially important to consider when using e-learning sites such as Skillshare or Udemy. Although Udemy has several ASL courses taught by those who are part of the deaf community or have degrees in ASL and / or studies on the deaf, there is no wholesale requirement for the courses to be run by those with certificates. of any kind. “Approval is not required for an instructor to begin creating a course,” Cara Brennan Allamano, Udemy’s vice president of people, places and learning, told CNN Underscored. “Traditional education has many rules about who can teach and what should be taught. We believe that anyone with experience and passion can share their knowledge with the world. ”

Therefore, due diligence is for the student to choose the course and it is best that you read the biography of each instructor to confirm that they meet the above criteria. “Our platform is like the Amazon of learning; Although each course goes through a technical evaluation before being published on the market, we believe that students are better equipped to evaluate the effectiveness of Udemy courses, ”says Allamano. “Assessments and reviews are completely transparent to students: students decide if a course is valuable to them.”

When considering ASL courses, a teacher or instructor who is part of the Deaf community helps ensure that appropriate signs are learned and the cultural context is obtained.

Malzkuhn stresses the importance of learning from a member of the deaf community, who knows the language and is immersed in the culture. “It’s like traveling: sometimes you meet people who say,‘ I’ve been to this country, ’but it’s really an airport stopover,” Malzkuhn says. “There is no diving. It’s similar when you take an ASL course from a random, unqualified teacher: you only get one scale. ”

The culture manifests itself in the nuances and ways of the ASL, which you will not miss if you learn the ASL from a wrong instructor. Like spoken language, in which different accent or pronunciation inflections can create a difference in tone, ASL cues include body language and facial gestures. Simply put, a person who is part of the deaf community can reach out to an ASL student and opt for an instructor who has not been immersed, runs the risk of not having this critical knowledge to properly communicate with the ASL. .

Dunn also explains that it is not just a matter of signing with your hands, but that you need to “incorporate history, culture, people, body and facial grammar. And that’s why [some] people are not trained to teach, because they don’t have all that wealth. ”

Therefore, when you opt for a less qualified teacher, you run the risk of lengthening the ASL cycle which can hinder the community. “When we feel that people are learning bad sign language, they become our interpreters. They become our access to communication. And then deaf people continue to suffer from language deprivation and communication deprivation because those people misinterpret and sign, ”says Dunn.

There are many deaf people and other qualified teachers who offer courses and the opportunity to learn ASL through digital courses as well as in person. We took the direction of Dunn, Malzkuhn and Williams to expose some of your best options:

The ASL application

The ASL app is a digital tool available on Android or iOS that teaches the conversational ASL that emerged after its creators found social media users who posted videos of how to sign their feeds. Some were right and some were not, but social media tends to offer a clue regardless of quality.

As a result, a group of culturally deaf native signers, including Malzkuhn, came together and created the app. The ASL app is designed to be a starting point and help unite bridge communities. It’s a pretty robust app, with a large number of followers on social media (currently with over 47,000 followers on Instagram), with a large library of content available. It’s also a great place to start and get a basics of conversation basics. You can find it at the App Store for iOS or iPadOS yen Play Store for Android.

ASL Connect at the University of Gallaudet

Offering face-to-face and online courses, ASL Connect’s learning options range from “Fingerspelling for Beginners” to ASL courses at various levels and others that delve into the culture of the deaf. These include an introduction to cultural studies, studies on deaf women, ASL literature, and studies on deaf blacks. This language school aims to be a resource for learning American Sign Language and for teaching deaf culture, both basic aspects to look for in a course. The cost varies by course, with spelling courses reaching $ 316 each and from ASL I to IV at $ 950 before textbooks and other materials.

Gallaudet also offers introductory “ASL for Free” courses, which are divided into online vocabulary and interactive conversations.

Mentors ASL

This language learning option goes a step further than most by connecting with individual mentors, many of whom are deaf people. Essentially, you can register, select an ASL topic that interests you, and pair it with a teacher. Sessions are done online and you will need to purchase credits to attend classes. ASL Mentors sells 30 minutes of credit for $ 15 or a full hour for $ 30. Those interested in becoming a mentor will fill out a small application asking if they are qualified for the deaf or are native signers. The ASL mentors will then examine the applicant.

Options for beginners

In addition to the ASL application and free courses from Gallaudet University, there are a lot of courses for beginners. Signed with heart is a YouTube channel that offers several lessons taught by Ashley Clark, available for free. Clark hangs out on his channel, but also offers a Fingerspelling 101 course for $ 15. Both can provide a key element in learning ASL.

In the same way, DawnSignPress offers instructional videos and books to learn the ASL that weaves elements of deaf culture. It’s a great option to go through after learning the basics. And those looking to learn as a family or with young children should look into it VL2 Storybook applications, which uses ASL-based and English-based storybooks to foster literacy development.


There are several accounts on social media that teach ASL elements for free.

@TheASLShop Instagram posts a new sign video every day; recent treated words include “brick,” “bridge,” “allergy,” and “look.” Stephanize Zornoza, a member of the Deaf community, teaches each video. It has over 73,000 followers on the platform and a subsequent catalog of over 200 videos.

@deafinitelydope, also known as Matt Maxey, not only signs and raps on platform videos, but has also started teaching basic ASL. Maya and C3 (@thearielseries), Stacy Abrams (@whyisign), Justin Jackerson (@TheASLLab) i @QueerASL they all offer sign language instruction in the form of videos on Instagram and they were all recommended by the experts we spoke to.

@DeafFamilyMatters seeks to educate viewers about the culture of sign language deaf people through their family, which is a mix of deaf and hearing members. It’s a great way to learn about culture and some sign languages ​​at the same time in chopped size shapes.

In the same vein as the VL2 storybook, @WhyISign it’s a good account that families should follow as they learn sign language, as they highlight the personal stories of community members.



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