When you read a great novel or watch a TV show that hooks you, the characters start to feel like people you know. Sign It ASL, an online language-learning program for American Sign Language, has the same effect. The material is fantastic, the structure is solid, and the site itself has everything you would expect for a great learning experience—but it is the people teaching you who really shine. As a result, it is easy to return to this sign language learning app day after day and keep up your progress. It is an excellent value, with a fair one-time price for access, making Sign It ASL a Greatofreview Editors’ Choice for language-learning apps. Sign It ASL is made in such a way to teach ASL to deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people alike. Note that this review is written by a hearing person and is not intended to speak for the experience of the deaf or hard of hearing communities.
How Much Does Sign It ASL Cost?
Sign It ASL is free to families that qualify. If you have a deaf or hard of hearing child who is younger than 36 months, you can apply to get the program free. The idea is to make sure all deaf and hard of hearing children have the opportunity to acquire a first language. There are more resources out there, than you might think for learning a language free, it turns out!
If you are learning for other reasons, you can buy access to the lessons online. You pay once and get access for life. As of this writing, there are 15 lessons, with another five in the works. To get all the lessons, you need to pay $119.99. You can buy all access for groups for $299.99. If that is too much of a commitment upfront, there are options to buy five lessons at a time for $49.99.
There are not many other online ASL courses that are comparable to Sign It ASL, so it is tough to compare pricing. Lingvano may be the closest, and it costs $17.99 per month, $47.97 for three months, $77.94 for six months, or $119.88 per year.
Another great online resource is Lifeprint.com, also known ASL University or ASLU, taught by Dr. William G. Vicars, Ed.D.—he goes by Dr. Bill—Associate Professor of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies at California State University, Sacramento. Dr. Bill’s site is free, though you can drop him a few bucks via Patreon or other apps if you want to make a donation. The site looks very old school. It does not have interactive quizzes or a dashboard where you can track your progress. Once you figure out where the video lessons are, however, you can easily be hooked on them because the content is great.
Getting Started With Sign It ASL
As Sign It ASL is suitable for deaf, hard of hearing and hearing people alike, it combines sign language instruction with audio voice-overs and optional closed captioning. It is suitable for adults, young adults, and some older children (perhaps age 10 and up). Younger children are better served by lessons specifically tailored for them in My Signing Time or Baby Signing Time, which are made by the same creators as Sign It ASL.
Sign It ASL is currently only available as a web app with no dedicated mobile apps, although it works pretty well in a mobile web browser.
The lessons use a unique structure, which makes them compelling. In our testing, lessons took at least 45 minutes to complete, and sometimes more than an hour. Anyone new to signing will likely want to repeat some of the lessons, too.
Every lesson has a theme and a story as its backbone. The story plays out in scenes, almost like a short television show, and between scenes, you get instruction and quizzes. At the end of the lessons are bonus scenes, including interviews with the cast, creators, special guests, and even one of the consultants who advises for the show. These interviews are some of the best segments Sign It ASL has to offer. We went down a few internet rabbit holes looking up other performances by some of the cast members and learning much more about deaf and CODA (child of deaf adults) culture in the process. It was highly rewarding. (Look up Maleni Chaitoo’s web series do not Shoot the Messenger and standup by Keith Wann in particular.)
The language in the story, instruction, and quizzes are all related. For example, in a lesson relating to the language of neighbors and housing, the storyline has to do with a man who moves into a new house who has an annoying neighbor. You learn words for neighbor, house, condominium, apartment, fence, backyard, block party, and so on. In the story, you watch the characters use these same word signs, plus some others that you learned in earlier lessons and some that are new.
You can speed up or slow down the playback. The site has a dictionary, too, for reference. If you forget how to sign a particular word, you can always look it up and watch a video of it.
The ASL Learning Experience
Compared to other ASL learning sites, Sign It ASL is fantastic. The site is modern, with a learning dashboard and other markers to help you track your progress. With very few exceptions, the videos load quickly and play clearly, which is important so that you can see the signs in all their detail, including finger positions, hand shapes, and facial expressions. When you take a quiz, the system keeps track of your right and wrong answers.
One of the most valuable aspects of Sign It ASL is the diversity of the cast. In the instruction sections, you see the main host, Rachel Coleman, teach you a new sign. Then you watch other people sign it, too. They are old, young, and have different skin shades. Some have agile fingers and some have stiff hands. At least one person is left-handed. You see that not everyone signs the same words in exactly the same way.
The lessons also do a great job of mixing up other skills you need in ASL so that you are exposed to them throughout. For example, fingerspelling (using the ASL alphabet to spell out words) comes up regularly. It is not merely relegated to the first few lessons. Sentence development starts early in the lessons, so you are not merely signing individual words, and it builds as you progress. Points of grammar are mixed into various lessons. You learn about nonmanual markers, ASL gloss, the word order of questions, and other important concepts.
A few concepts are not explicitly taught, but they are present enough for anyone to pick up on them. For example, you do not learn explicitly about name signs, but you see people fingerspell their names and then give their name signs, which is enough to figure it out. In the bonus content interviews, the interviewees sometimes tell the story behind their name signs, which adds to your understanding.
When watching the scenes, you likely will not know every word being signed, which is fine. In learning any language, there are moments when you need to stretch yourself beyond what you know and see how much you can pick up from context. That is all part of the learning experience.
The site could use small tweaks to make it better, especially in the quiz sections. For example, the only place we found videos that would not appear or notice the site loading slowly was in the quizzes. In addition, there is some excessive clicking required here. You have to choose an answer, confirm the answer, and then click a Next button to move to the next question. All that could be streamlined. Additionally, on the mobile version of the site, if you replay a video because you didn’t quite catch the sign the first time around, you see an overlay of buttons to pause, go back, and go forward, which inhibits you from actually seeing the very short video a second time. It takes as long for the controls to disappear as it does for the video to play. All those problems seem easily solvable. In any case, they are minor points that do not diminish the rest of the learning experience.
The Best Online ASL Instruction
Of all the apps and services we have tried for learning ASL, Sign It ASL is by far the best. It gets a combination of things right, offering good instruction, a compelling storytelling format, a clear learning dashboard, interactive quizzes, and a diverse cast of people to watch sign. In addition, you only pay a one-time fee for access rather than a recurring subscription fee. If you are looking to learn American Sign Language, Sign It ASL is the site we recommend starting with and sticking with. It is our Editors’ Choice. To mix up your learning content, we recommend the free lessons at Lifeprint.com, too.
If you are looking to learn other languages, our top picks are Duolingo (free) and Rosetta Stone ($170 per year), our two other Editors’ Choices. That said, the right app for you depends on what language you want to learn, your current level in that language, and other factors.
Accessible to deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people
Wonderful cast of instructors and actors
No mobile apps
Small improvements to interactive quiz design would help