Should you only learn ASL from Deaf people?

should you only learn asl from deaf people.png


I’m going to be just a teeny bit controversial, but if you stick with me to the end, you’ll realize that it’s actually NOT controversial at all.


I sent out a survey to my subscribers just the other day asking “what do you want to know in regards to ASL?” I got a TON of answers, and you know what, the answers were pretty much the SAME for everyone.

Then I got this one response, that wasn’t really a response at all. I mean sure, it was a reply, but it wasn’t in answer to the question, “what’s your biggest challenge with learning ASL?”

This is something I have been emailed and messaged about throughout my years of teaching ASL online.



To sum it up →

“using xyz resources is all well and good, but you can’t learn sign language without signing with a Deaf person.”


Here’s where we get controversial… A little.


claim: You can’t learn sign language from a book or video


Let’s first talk about the claim that signing from a book, video, to yourself, or in front of a camera is helpful, but it doesn’t teach a person fluent sign language.

I both agree and disagree.



You CAN learn sign language by using these methods alone. If you look around at the hundreds of thousands of language learning courses in this world, you’ll see that this is the case. You can learn any language in this world with the *right* resources.

On a deserted island.


There are people in this world that have learned dead languages (meaning, languages that are no longer used and spoken in any culture or country) and can read, speak, and write in these languages.

And they learned it all from BOOKS!

Ancient Greek is one example I can think of off the top of my head. There are many scholars and regular folk that can communicate in a dead language.


I also agree that it’s not the ONLY way. And in some ways, it’s not the BEST way.


When I speak of pouring over your dictionary, watching ASL videos, signing with yourself, in front of a camera or mirror, I am speaking to moving forward.

What good is it to sign with someone if you’re not going to do the work and learn the signs? To practice them on your own?

Not much.


Going to a Deaf event and expecting all the Deaf people there to stop their socializing, their time with their friends and teach you everything they know about ASL is selfish, presumptuous, and ridiculous.


You can’t learn everything you need to know in an evening, in a month of evenings.


You use those times to REFINE your learning. To sharpen it, to practice, to make friends, and learn the finer nuanced signing skills that are NEVER EVER EVER taught in an ASL class because they’re learned IRL because that portion of the language is so fluid you can’t nail it down.

Let me repeat, you use it to REFINE. Not define.


You do the work on the front end. You put in the time, learn the signs, practice signing, and then you go out and sign with others.


Before you misunderstand, you don’t have to reach a high level to qualify. You can “qualify” before you even finish a level 1 course, or even half of a level 1 course


Claim: signing should only be learned from a Deaf person

Now let me address the next part. Signing with the Deaf Community.


If you can sign with people in the Deaf Community…  DO IT!

That’s a no brainer and something I do talk about.

My issue is twofold and are the very reasons I do not PUSH this idea (but I do state it, though I obviously need to state this more frequently for clarity’s sake).


Reason #1 I take issue


People use it as an excuse.

Oh, I can’t learn sign language because I have no one to practice with. I have no one to sign with.”


I call bull.

I learned for 8 years without someone to sign with.


The first time I met a Deaf person, I’d been signing (on my own) for 8 years, and I was 14 at the time. Yes, I started when I was 6-- I can document it. We met while we were ice skating at the local rink in Sugar Land, Texas.


She was a teenager and I was so excited to meet a fellow teenager friend, AND she was Deaf, AND I could sign with her.

We chatted and hung out that entire afternoon, and made plans to meet up every Saturday for the next month or so.

I was in heaven.

She was born Deaf, raised Deaf (meaning, she was taught ASL from birth) and we signed well together. It admittedly took me about 30 min - 1 hour to get comfortable understanding her signing with me (again, no one had ever signed TO me beyond my own reflection in the mirror), but I never struggled to sign with her.

In full disclosure, I was hella nervous (I was pretty shy) and was a bit stiff at first, but soon relaxed because she was so nice. She commented on how well I signed several times. Oh man, I was stoked!



The NEXT time I was with a Deaf person I was 17. (3 years later)


I had traveled with a good family friend to stay with her extended family up on a farm for the entire summer during my junior year of high school. Her older step-sister was Deaf.

She had a cochlear implant, and was also losing her vision. She grew up attending schools for the Deaf, while her family didn’t really know ASL and relied on her not so reliable cochlear implant to communicate with her.


We met and from that moment on, for the next 3 months, I interpreted for her everywhere we went, including several hours at church every Sunday.

I had never interpreted before!

Was I perfect at it?

Ha! That’s a laugh. But I was capable.

Of course, I grew and improved quite a bit over the next 3 months.


The next time I was with Deaf people was 1 year later when I was hired to work at the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind.


After that, I was on a volunteer trip for my church where I worked among the Deaf Community, I was in my 20’s.


Then I was working as an interpreter at the local high school, as well as teaching. From then on I was interpreting and teaching ASL.

The key things I want to make with this are:


1)I learned BEFORE I had the golden opportunity to meet a Deaf friend, however temporary (we moved).

2) I interpreted for a Deaf friend AFTER I had learned sign language.

Did I have more to learn? Absolutely! Was I fluent? I was competent, but not fluent fluent by 17.


3) During those times when I didn’t have someone to sign with I was actively learning and doing whatever I could to practice, learn, and grow.

Please remember, this was BEFORE the internet was what it is today. None of my resources available were found online.

So, yes, you can learn ASL without practicing with people AT THE BEGINNING to intermediate stage.


Will it be more fun with someone? Absolutely.

Will it progress faster? That’s possible.


Which brings me to reason #2

Reason #2

If I showed you the number of emails I have received over the years of people asking me how to find the Deaf Community where they lived you’d be astounded.

Every day.

Every day for the past 6 years, I have received an email from at least ONE person asking me this very question.


Do you know what I have to tell them?

And it darn well breaks my heart.


I give pointers for how they could possibly find them, but it’s really a big fat “good luck!”

  • If you should chance upon someone that’s signing grab ‘em and ask ‘em right away!

  • Go to the mall food court and ask there.

  • Go to the local coffee shops & bowling places & diners and ask if a group of Deaf people ever come in.

  • Go find a local college if they have an ASL teacher or club or a bulletin and ask there.


You can jump on good ole Googs (google) and not find anything.

Believe me, I’ve looked and looked. The last thing I ever found that said advertise your local Deaf group on this message board, the site looked like it was from 2001 and had definitely not been updated in the past decade. That was 5 years ago.


By all means HUNT THEM DOWN and once you find them, never let go.

But be prepared to do some major hunting and have some major patience.


In some places there is no Deaf community.


There are ASL groups online, and I have shared those with my followers. (ASL That! is

one of my favorites.)


But it’s not really the same as conversing with them one on one, or one to four.


And again, if people can’t find Deaf folks to chat with are they going to stop learning ASL?

A lot do. And that’s sad. And avoidable.


Are you going to tell someone that they should STOP learning ASL because they don’t have a Deaf person to learn from?

A lot of people do. And that’s sad.



To sum this novel up:

  1. Sign with ANYONE you can.

  2. Don’t let the lack of someone to sign with stop you from learning and signing.

  3. Sign with anyone you can, even if they’re a cursed hearing person, and when you do meet a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person you’ll be READY and raring to go!

  4. Do the work and stop the excuses.

  5. Be realistic and work within the boundaries and limitations you are experiencing right now.

  6. Never ever ever think that Rochelle says “don’t sign with Deaf people.” Because that’s an outright lie.

  7. Don’t rely on Deaf people to be your teacher, to give you their special time. If you meet someone at a Deaf event and you ask for their help, and you want more help from them, offer to pay them for their time outside of the Deaf event.

^^^^^^^^^

Okay… that last one, I did mention briefly at the beginning, but I want to address it a little more fully.


Imagine you’re having a girl’s night out (or boy’s night out) after a long and stressful week at work/school.


You’re so dang excited. You arrive, order some drinks, are laughing and having an amazing time when someone walks up to you.

They seem to be a nice person, and they speak to you with a broken accent.

“Hello, I Jennifer. I learn speak English.”

Naturally, being the kind person you are, you respond back and converse with them as much as you can.

Jennifer asks you questions and you reply.

Then you look at your watch, it’s been 2 hours and she’s still drilling you with questions about how to say this and say that. Your friends are bored. Some have left, some are tired of talking about English words.

She wants to meet you again next weekend for girls’ night to learn more English.

Your girls’ night didn't’ really go as planned, and you certainly don’t want to do this again next weekend.


This made up story illustrates a few things that I’ve mentioned, but want to show you in a different setting to shed light.



While some folks reading this would balk and say, “Oh no, but they always tell me they love to help me!”

“They always say to go to the Deaf events because that’s the only way you’ll learn.”

“Oh no! Oh no, this is not so!”


I’ll tell you what. It is so.


While most Deaf/HH folks would be happy to help you, remember they’re not there for YOU.

To think they are is again, presumptuous, selfish, and ridiculous to assume.

They’re there for the rare opportunity to hang out with their friends and other Deaf folks.


Because of this you will definitely run into folks that DO NOT want to sign with you. Understand from their perspective why this could be, and try again with another person or group.



  • Keep your questions to a minimum.

  • Don’t show up knowing the alphabet and 2 signs. Do some homework first.

  • Focus on interacting with them as PEOPLE rather than teachers. (because they are PEOPLE first, Deaf second)

  • If you want them to teach you, then hire them at a different time. Pay them for their knowledge and expertise rather than expecting them to give it to you for free. And on their time.


Ya feel me?


Okay.


Back to the final summary.



  1. Sign with people.

  2. Learn signs however you can whenever you can so you can sign with people.

  3. Sign with people.

  4. Excuses are excuses. Come up with solutions instead. Otherwise? It’s safe to say that whatever the goal is you’re making excuses for doesn’t mean enough to you. I’d say let go of the goal, let go of any regrets you may have, and move on to something that lights you up instead. No judgement from me if it’s sign language you let go of.



Am I the only person out there teaching ASL?

Of course not.

Am I the best?

I daren’t make that presumption.



But I will say, I’ve been in your shoes.

  • I know what it’s like to love the language, think it’s fascinating and want to learn even if there’s no real reason other than desire.

  • I have been in your shoes where I had no one to sign with. No one to tell me if I was doing it right or doing it wrong.

  • I know what it’s like to go from knowing nothing, to knowing a bit, to knowing more, to knowing a lot.

  • I know what it’s like to be terrified to sign with someone else.

  • I know what it’s like to be told I was doing it wrong while signing. (my grammar saga you may or may not be familiar with)

  • I know what it’s like to work towards a goal and a dream and achieve it.


My sole purpose is to get you set up with a solid foundation, be comfortable making mistakes, keep moving forward always, and know the guidelines of the language.

My sole purpose is to get you started on the right foot and moving forward.


Because I know how important signing with others is I set up practice partners in my ASL courses.

A moment of honesty, that was a hot mess. Folks would sign up and then never show up.

It was frustrating to me and to my students.

I then closed it down because this was a huge sticking point.

I set up a feature that people could find each other, with the hopes that people who actually wanted to do the work and took the time to reach out would actually do the work. Not always the case. And a lot of people didn’t want to take the time to reach out.

More frustration.

In my new course, The ASL Academy: LIVE I’m hoping to end this frustration for good.


I set up Group Practice sessions that I host each week.

I am there, every student is invited. Will 100% show up? Probably not, but a good many will.

The first bit of the practice session will be guided by me.


Then, I’ll split the big group up into smaller groups. Each week you’ll meet with a different group. Some could be the same, some could be different. The group may be smaller, it may be larger.


Each practice session will be guided-- meaning, you’ll know exactly what to do and how. No staring at each other shrugging shoulders.

Every week you WILL have someone to practice with.


Before that, you’ll have opportunity to watch a practice receptive video so that when you get on the practice call you’ll feel more comfortable and know what people are signing to you.


You’ll have the chance to get your questions answered before the group practice session. Meaning, you’ll know you’re signing it correctly. You’ll be able to learn additional signs if you desire. You’ll get better clarity. And again, have a chance to practice.


Think of how confident you’ll be when it comes to the group practice session!


And of course, the main training is presented with lots of repetition, lots of phrase and sentence building, in real time so you can get your questions answered then and there. You can sign along with me and I can correct your signing.


You know what’s even cooler? You can then take your new signing skills, your confidence, and get out there and sign with anyone, Deaf or hearing.

Bottom line.

You can learn sign language if you want to learn sign language with whatever method you can use at the time.

The 2 things required to learn ASL:

1) Desire

2) Action

That’s it.

If you want my help, I’m be thrilled to give it.

You can start by joining The ASL Academy: LIVE!


Conversational ASL: What to Do When You Don't Know a Sign

You’re thinking about going to a Deaf event… finally.

You’ve been practicing, working up the courage, and have decided you’re going this week… but oh hell, what if I’m signing something and my mind goes blank… or I don’t know how to sign something??

So you want to be confident and capable with conversational ASL, but you’re not sure what you should do if you’re signing along and don’t know a sign!

In this video I show you 3 quick fixes for when you’re stuck and nearing panic.



(P.S. in an upcoming video I’ll go over what to do when someone signs something to you and you have NO IDEA what they just signed)

 

You’ve got 3 options and none of them include not going to the Deaf event and signing with people.

 

1) Describe what you’re trying to say with other signs.

Explain what you mean with the signs you do know. For instance, you want to sign what your hobbies are. 

You don't know the sign for hobbies, so you maybe sign THINGS MYSELF LIKE DO and then continue on with the thought. 

(Surprise! That’s pretty close to how you actually sign it (ENJOY + list)

 

2) Use classifiers to show it

Show what you mean with classifiers. 

I would recommend a mix of signs + classifiers (or just pure classifiers) to show what you’re trying to say.

For instance, you want to talk about the process of building a fire, but ohmygosh, that's a lot of signs you don't know, but you don't want to just drop the conversation awkwardly and skulk away in shame. NO! 

You know what to do! 

Explain it, show it, with classifiers. You can use the signs you do know, describe with signs, and use those classifiers to show what you mean. 

 

3) Fingerspell it

You may be thinking, well shouldn’t this be my first choice? Not really.

Use this last.

If you're pretty well versed in ASL and have been using it for quite a while, then yeah, this can be your go-to method. 

However, if you're new, I'd discourage you using this method every single time. 

 

 

Okay, I lied, there’s 4 options.

The 4th is my preferred method:

 

4) Fingerspell + describe

This is a combination of method 1 and 3. You can do this one of two ways. 

Describe the sign or concept, then fingerspell the word, term, or phrase. 

Or

You can fingerspell the word, term, or phrase and then describe it using signs. 

For instance, the term, Ring of Fire.

You can sign what this means-- the volcanoes, etc, etc and then sign THAT NAME WHAT? fsRING OF FIRE 

Or you can do this: 

fsRING OF FIRE KNOW?  then describe with signs 

 

For yourself, you do this: 

  1. Fingerspell a word + KNOW + describe
  2. Describe + THAT NAME WHAT? + fingerspell

 

Word of warning

Remember you do not make up your own signs!!!!! You can set up a sign or abbreviation for the moment in that one conversation, if it’s something you’ll be talking about over and over again, but it’s not an official sign and should be used one time.

 

Your challenge

Pick two methods -- okay pick 1 of the first 3 and then the 4th method -- and practice these methods on a few concepts you're not sure how to sign. 

Share your results in The ASL Club and maybe you can learn the new sign as well! 

I've got a worksheet with some words, phrases, and concepts you may not know how to sign right now. Use them to complete your challenge! 

After that, you'll have several to use throughout your ASL practice time. 

Will you do that? 

 

 

QUESTION of the day:

Which of the first 3 methods will you try first? What is a sign or concept you don’t know how to sign? Scroll through the comments and, even if you know the sign for it, reply to others and share how you’d sign it using methods 1, 2, or 4.

 

 

 

Learn the ASL Alphabet: Common problem letters + Mistakes

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

One sunny Texas Thanksgiving Day, I donned my brand new basketball pants and sweater and challenged my mom to a game.

 

We had 2 super super handsome male guests over for Thanksgiving while they were away from their families for the holiday.

This 15-year-old was in lurv.

I dribbled down the drive, going for a layup, just as the guys came out to play with us.

I tripped over my own clumsy foot. Tore my brand new pants. Embarrassed the crap out of myself.

I sprung up accusing, “Mom! Why did you trip me?”

The poor woman wasn’t even near me.

Dashing into the house to clean up, instead, I ran up the stairs, threw myself on the bed and cried.

 

I HATE being embarrassed.

I want to throat punch embarrassment.

In fact, I want to throat punch people that embarrass me, and people around me when I’m embarrassed.

It’s just not right.

 


how to avoid embarrassment when signing

 

I hate embarrassment so much, in fact, I want to help you avoid it at all costs.

 

I’ve got lots of tips and tricks to share with you to avoid it, but for today, we’ll just focus on the ASL alphabet and the common problem letters.

Because, dude… it’s embarrassing to have people correcting you all the time.


 

Download the Drill Sheet to practice the tricky letters, test yourself, and develop good fingerspelling habits. 


 

I see several different problems and mistakes, so we’re going to take them one by one by one by one by one (what movie, y’all?) and show the mistakes and the fixes.

For more visual examples, be sure to zip through the video, if there are any that you aren't sure on.

 

Mistake #1 Holding letters sideways

 

Here are the letters that are held sideways when they shouldn’t be:

O, C, D, P, K, H

You’re right, H should be held sideways, just make sure it’s facing the correct direction-- your palm is facing your body.


The ONLY 2 letters to ever face sideways are G and H. That’s it.

Keep your palm facing forward for every other letter.

You can even sign G facing forward.

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Mistake #2 Mixing up letters:

These letter pairs are often mixed up. People will either completely forget the letter or will sign the other letter instead.

Not to worry. I’ve got your solution here.

D & F

D looks like a lowercase d when you look at its side.

F has 3 feathers on top of it.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

S & T

S has the thumb across the fingers and T has the thumb tucked between the middle and index finger.

You can remember S with sucker punch, with your hand in a fist as though you were about to sucker punch some poor fella.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

 

Q & P

Most people get stuck on these all together. They know they know them, but WHAT are they??

Some people even know they’re similar to G & K, but get mixed up.

 

Don’t sweat it. It’s no big deal if you get stuck a bit.

Q is G with your palm facing the ground. It’s a mini duck bill that goes Quack-Quack at your feet.

 

Sound silly? I know… but silly helps things stick.

K is P with your palm facing the ground. It’s sitting down to Pee.

Yup. I went there.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Mistake #3 Wrong direction:

This is an easy one to fix. These are generally more of an issue for left-handed signers.

Your J’s & Z’s will be backwards. It’s not because we don’t love you. It’s because we do.

The J’s are hooked in toward you and not out away from you.

Z’s are drawn out.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!
If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!
 

Mistake #4 forming the letters incorrectly:

Some letters are just plain signed incorrectly. These are your highest priority to fix first.

G: You can point this one forward or sideways. Make sure your other fingers are under control.

M & N: don’t put your fingers down against your palm. Instead, rest them lightly on your thumb

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

 

E: get your fingers down on top of your thumb or else it’s a screaming E and can be confused with a C.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

K: your fingers are not in a V shape with the thumb between, instead, the middle finger is extended forward and the thumb rests on the knuckle.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

T: keep your index finger resting lightly on your thumb and don’t push it down against your palm.

 

I: (not mentioned in the video) keep your thumb across your knuckles or it can be confused with a Y. This is one I can be guilty of. To help, sometimes I press my thumb onto my index finger with a slight bend to make sure it’s not sticking out.

 

If you're learning the ASL Alphabet it's easy to make mistakes. In fact, there are several that are pretty common and typical for all signers, even if they've been signing for a while. Make sure you aren't making these mistakes with these problem letters. There's a great drill sheet for you to download as well that will help you develop good fingerspelling habits. Check it out, for sure!

 

Fixing your fingerspelling mistakes

Give yourself an honest evaluation. You may need to whip out your trusty camera and video yourself fingerspelling some words and watch it back.

You’ll catch more mistakes this way over watching yourself in the mirror. You won’t be able to shift something when you see it wrong and you won’t be able to say, oh that’s good enough.

Seeing yourself on video will be very clear and easy to see where you slip up.

Remember, there is ZERO judgement for any troublesome letters. Do take the time to fix it now and you’ll be grateful you did.
— Rochelle

 

I created a drill sheet with lots of words that have the problem letters as well as the rest of the letters in the alphabet. You can use this sheet to test yourself as well as drill the letters that give you trouble.

Now you too, can avoid hiding in your room for hours, with torn pants, and damaged pride.

 



Question: Which ASL letter gives you the most trouble?

 

 

The First 100 Signs You Need to Know

The first 100 signs everyone should know when learning ASL. Build a solid foundation as you learn sign language and it'll pay off later.

I love checklists.

I love being able to cross off items on my lists.

I'll write something down, that I've already completed, just so I can cross it off. It just feels good.

It feels right.

Soda splashes on the list

I receive hundreds of emails every day, quite a few of them asking for some type of list of signs that must be known so they can be mightily successful with their ASL.

I put it off for months until I could set aside research time at my local library. There's just something special about time in the library all on your own.

I've compiled this list based on language learning research done that day in the library. I sat at the only available table next to some tacky guy slurping his drink, sitting next to the sign that says "no drinks allowed."

The Top 10 Most Common Mistakes ASL Newbies Make

ASL Newbies are so easy to spot. Why? They are generally sporting at least a quarter of these mistakes when you see them sign.

Now now, don't get all discouraged and upset with me. Well, you can if you want, I can't dictate your feelings.

Take a deep breath, pull on your big-kid britches, and be honest with yourself.

Are you making these mistakes?