Once you have decided which sign language system you will study, you will, of course, want to locate instructional materials to help you in this task. As with any other foreign language, the very best way to learn it is by interacting with native speakers of that language. In the case of sign language, it would be best if you could locate an actual class, preferably taught by a deaf person. Many of these classes are sponsored by community colleges or organizations that serve deaf people (such as the Hearing and Speech Agency in Baltimore). If these institutions do not make courses available to the public, they may be able to refer you to a deaf individual who would be willing to tutor on a private basis or teach a group of homeschoolers. With a bit of research, you should be able to locate a setting in which your family can learn sign language in an actual class.

It may be, however, that sign language classes are unavailable or inconvenient for your family. Since sign is such a visual, fluid language, it is next to impossible to learn from books alone. Fortunately, there are many good instructional materials available on videotape or CD-ROM for learning both signed English and ASL. For a family that simply wants to learn signed English, there are many more resources than I can name; however, I believe one of the best for middle school and above would be the Signing Exact English software program (Harris Communications). My favorite (and one that would be a must for high school students wanting to learn ASL for credit) is the Signing Naturally video curriculum (Dawn Sign Press).

The Signing Naturally curriculum is rather extensive and somewhat pricey, so families who are not quite interested in the depth this program provides will probably want to consider other resources. These would include the video program Learning American Sign Language (Gallaudet University Bookstore) or the Instant Immersion in American Sign Language computer program (Harris Communications). Some homeschoolers like the Ready! Set! Sign! CD-ROM program (Ready! Set! Sign!). True American Sign Language materials are exceptionally difficult to find for the very young, but I particularly enjoy the Signing Time (3 volumes) and the Sign-Me-a-Story videos (Amazon.com). With a little research, you should have no difficulty finding the instructional materials that will be just right for your family.

Whether sign language becomes a hobby or a habit, there is no doubt that your family will enjoy and benefit from studying this fascinating way to communicate. Who knows? Perhaps the next time you see deaf people in conversation, instead of simply watching them, you may actually be able to join them!

Resources

  • Dawn Sign Press, 6130 Nancy Ridge Drive, San Diego, CA 92121-3223; 858-625-0600; www.dawnsign.com. Vendor of Signing Naturally video curriculum.
  • Gallaudet University Bookstore, Bison Shop, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002; 202-651-5271; http://bookstore.gallaudet.edu. Vendor of Learning American Sign Language video curriculum.
  • Harris Communications, 15155 Technology Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55344-2277; 800-825-6758; www.harriscomm.com. Vendor of Signing Exact English and Instant Immersion in American Sign Language software programs.
  • Ready! Set! Sign! software program, P. O. Box 6676, Arlington, VA 22206-6676; www.readysetsign.com.

*This article first published March 8, 2008.


Jean Soyke has a master's degree in elementary education, and she taught in Maryland schools. She left professional education in 1989 to homeschool her four children. Jean wrote several homeschool curriculum manuals, spoke at conferences, and served on the boards of two state homeschooling organizations before "retiring" from homeschooling. She now works full-time as an Education Counselor for the Calvert School.