In most American schools, learning a second language is required starting in middle or early high school. Then, once you pick your language, it’s typical to take classes in it until at least your senior year. But, while most states recognize American Sign Language (ASL) as a “foreign” language, sign language classes aren’t as readily available as ones like Spanish or French. 

And while less than 4% of the American population is deaf1, it’s the number one birth defect in America2 with most deaf children being born to hearing parents. Plus, ASL is one of the most widely used forms of sign language. 

So, whether you want to learn sign language to communicate with someone you know who is deaf or as your second language of choice, online sign language classes might be your best starting point.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Sign Language?

Like any language, sign language takes time. You might be able to pick up a few signs here or there, similar to picking up simple phrases in another spoken language, but actually becoming fluent requires dedication.

There are 26 different ASL hand signs to learn, as well as 19 hand shapes, and various facial expressions. It’s been estimated that these basics take up to 90 hours to learn3. Comparatively, a new spoken language can take upwards of three to six months to master the basics. 

letter A in sign language (closed fist)
Skillshare instructor Manny Martin showing how to sign the letter ‘A’ in ASL.

How Hard Is it to Learn Sign Language?

Part of what makes learning other languages so difficult is the differences in grammar, sentence structure, and culture (way of speaking). ASL is no different. 

Deaf culture is different from English-speaking culture, and ASL has a different grammar structure than English. So, knowing how to spell out your name in ASL is like knowing that “si” in Spanish means “yes”—you might be familiar with a small aspect of it but becoming fluent takes effort. 

Online Sign Language Classes

A great way to start learning ASL is to take American Sign Language classes. It allows you to go at your own pace and ease into learning another language, which can be overwhelming. As with any language, you start with the basics—in this case, certain signs—something that can easily be done by watching videos and replicating movements.

Wondering where you can take sign language classes? Get started here.

This course is a great introduction to ASL. Not only will you learn all of the hand signs, but you’ll go into other basics like colors, animals, and foods, plus get background on the language itself. In less than three hours, you’ll be well on your way to learning the foundations of the language. 

Written by:

Laura Brothers