American Sign Language is one of the most fascinating languages in the world, and even as a hearing person who doesn’t know anyone who is deaf or uses ASL to communicate full-time I am working to learn the language. ASL is most frequently used by deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the U.S. who want to communicate via finger-spelling and sign language, but increasingly people are realizing the beauty of the language and its power. There’s an entire movement teaching babies and infants to sign in order to help them communicate before they are able to speak. Furthermore, just because you don’t actively have a best friend who uses ASL does not mean you’ll never encounter someone who does and be better able to communicate with them due to learning the language. I’m in school to be a librarian, and I’m interested in learning sign language because of the deaf community in my area focalized around Galludet University. Learning sign language will allow me to serve my population just as much as learning some Spanish will.
Obviously, like with any foreign language, a formal classroom setting probably works best for learning, but there are lots of opportunities around you. I know Galludet offers stand-alone ASL classes you can take without formally enrolling in a program. Public libraries also offer classes. And of course, there are lots of resources online.
Some basics for signing: you should sign straight out from you and in your general chest area, not in front of your face (unless the sign calls for that) or low by your side. It’s supposed to be about visuals. Secondly, use your dominant hand for most signs unless otherwise noted. It’s considered your “active” hand while the non-dominant is “passive.”
In the meantime, here are ten basic signs (or sign pairs) you can and should learn. They’re easy, they’re crucial in the way we communicate, and they’ll hopefully inspire you to learn more. I won’t go over the alphabet here, but it’s a great concept to learn as well, and you can watch lessons for that here