So, you want to learn sign language on a budget. You could be motivated by a desire to understand deaf friends better, communicate with relatives who are hard of hearing, or express yourself after experiencing hearing loss. No matter what piques your interest in American Sign Language (ASL), attending in-person classes is the fastest, most reliable way to master the language.
But plenty of people simply do not have the time or financial resources to attend sign language classes. Although studying ASL online cannot replicate the nuanced experience of in-person communication, curious students who are willing to invest time do not need to pay money for beginner lessons. All of the learning options on our list are either completely free or offer a generous amount of content in front of their paywalls.
The online ASL for Free program from Gallaudet University is not included because it is temporarily unavailable due to a curriculum restructuring—ASL for Free may be added in a future update. For more information about ASL and deaf culture and history, visit the resource-rich website for the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet.
If you ask around for free sign language resources, ASL University from Bill Vicars is often recommended. It stood out from multiple websites as the most comprehensive and organized option. With 60 available lessons, ASL University covers frequently used subjects, such as food, clothing, and emotions. Each lesson is accompanied by a 40-minute video that showcases a two-person conversation using the vocabulary. When you click on the hyperlinked vocab words, a short video demonstrating the sign language will pop up.
According to his website, Vicars is deaf and taught ASL for years at California State University, Sacramento. Even though ASL University is not an actual school, it’s a phenomenal website with informative, engaging lessons that are ideal for beginners looking for a reliable place to start.
Not all of the content on StartASL is free, but you can access a significant amount of helpful information without paying a dime. The free lessons focus on practicing conversations and understanding the structure of ASL but do not go particularly deep. You have to sign up with an email address to receive the three workbooks that accompany the lessons.
The workbooks are great for learners who have access to a printer and want to practice ASL by writing information down. As the name implies, this option is not catered to more advanced learners. If ASL University is too detailed for your taste, StartASL may feel less overwhelming and further ignite your interest in sign language.
The ASL App
Many sign language resources are designed to be used on a desktop computer or laptop. If you want the flexibility of learning sign language on your smartphone, The ASL App (for iPhone and Android) is worth a try. Although it is not as interactive as other options, The ASL App is easy to use and accessible for younger learners.
Numbers, ABCs, and a few other basic lessons are free. Bundles that cover specific topics can be unlocked for $1 each, or you can purchase everything for $10. Famous model and activist Nyle DiMarco is one of the sign language demonstrators. The free content is decent, and the expansion packs include topics not often covered in other resources, like the great outdoors and LGBT pride month.
Depending on how much ASL you already know, the difficulty level of Sign School can be adjusted between Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. The lessons involve watching a person sign and answering quizzes about what they communicated. This resource offers more than just traditional lessons, with tools for learning your name and a game to practice fingerspelling.
A couple of the webpages did not correctly load while testing it out, but SignSchool is a good platform overall that can supplement your language learning. The website asks for your email to create an account, but it is free to use. You can choose to have a sign of the day sent to your email inbox for extra practice. iPhone and Android apps are available so you can take lessons on the go.
Following social media accounts that post sign language content can be a fantastic way to experience ASL in a casual environment, but the final two recommendations on our list come with a disclaimer. Even though amateur videos are often created with good intentions, you should verify what you learn with outside sources for accuracy.
Searching TikTok using keywords or hashtags is a solid way to discover new accounts related to your interests. #LearnASL, #LearnToSign, and #SignLanguage all have millions of views and are adequate starting points. To differentiate their content, creators will often compile educational videos into a playlist featured near the top of their profile page.
Jon Urquhart’s (@drunkcrier) playlist titled “Worst Mistakes in ASL” is a hilarious way to discover signs with PG-13 meanings. Zoey Hendrix (@zoeysensei) is an ASL teacher who creates videos covering how to sign for everything from diabetes to astrology. Phelan Conheady (@signinngwolf) does not predominantly post teaching content on TikTok, but their videos provide valuable insight from a young member of the deaf community.
Sign language is a visual method of communication, and numerous ASL teachers host their videos on YouTube. You can directly subscribe to Bill Vicar’s YouTube channel if you want to watch longer lessons from ASL University on your smart TV. Multiple documentaries that dive into the history of ASL and the deaf community, like Signing Black in America and Through Deaf Eyes, are available to stream on YouTube.
With an engaging presence and a deep knowledge of sign language, ASLMeredith is one of my favorite YouTube channels for practicing signs. The Learn How to Sign channel has informative, entry-level videos such as “150 Essential ASL Signs.” Traveling across the pond? The Commanding Hands channel will introduce you to a few elements of British Sign Language.
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