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Best ASL online courses 2021

Best ASL online courses 2021
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Here's our round-up of the best ASL online courses, which includes completely free classes alongside inexpensive options for those who want a solid grounding in the subject. Below, we've ranked the websites according to how well we think they teach American Sign Language. Where we think a website or app excels at a particular topic, we've highlighted this too, so you can easily pick a platform that suits your learning style. 

We've tested out six of the best ASL online courses for this guide, evaluating them for their ease of use, approach to teaching and sense of online community. We'll update this guide with newly reviewed websites and courses as they become available.

Our promise to you

Online learning has changed drastically over the past year. People are turning to digital solutions to pick up new skills and improve their job prospects – and this renewed interested in online learning means that platforms have improved their offerings. The choice can be overwhelming though, which is where our guide can help.

As a warning, the below guide only focuses on the best American Sign Language Courses. If you're looking for a broader range of sign languages, such as the British variation, you could try looking through the courses available on the best online learning platforms. Most of our picks in this round-up are also aimed at beginners, although some of the courses are so extensive that even advanced speakers would probably learn new vocabulary during the lessons.

If you are someone who is already competent at ASL, then you may also benefit from using some of the best online tutoring services. Here you can get one-on-one tutoring to improve your vocabulary and grammar, but the sessions will likely be much more expensive than the best ASL online courses listed below.

How we chose the best ASL online courses

1. Course quality and content
The primary deciding factor in our list below is the quality of the content. We found that good quality videos, with clear shots of the actors' hands signing words and sentences, made a big difference to the speed of our learning. 

2. Ease of use
Some ASL sites can be confusing to navigate, with convoluted learning paths and disorganized lists of classes. We found this would often impede our learning, so the lessons with enjoyable, user-friendly interfaces rank higher on our list.

3. Teaching method
We gave higher marks to platforms that managed to incorporate elements of ASL grammar and deaf culture into their lessons; having a stronger grasp of these things helped us to feel more comfortable understanding people and expressing ourselves.

4. Interactive elements, community and feedback
A lot of online platforms overlook this element of learning, as it's not part of the standard format of massive open online courses (MOOCs). However, creating a welcoming community can really improve motivation, so we gave extra marks to websites that had managed to do this.

5. Cost
A lot of these platforms have similar pricing, with a free-tier option and a paid subscription available for committed students. As such, pricing isn't the most important factor in our ranking, but it's still something we took into consideration.

Udemy: Best ASL online course overall

Udemy Review 2021

(Image credit: Udemy)

Udemy

A clear structure, reasonable price and excellent set of videos put this course ahead of the rest.

Reasons to Buy

Includes a brief introduction to the history of ASL
Breaks down each sign clearly
Q+A section useful if you get stuck

Reasons to Avoid

No opportunity for interactive practice 

Udemy’s ASL course is a video-based course led by an instructor that covers all the basics for any beginner, including the alphabet, numbers, colors, family and emotions. It also includes a history of how ASL came to develop, which gives a fascinating background on the language that is often omitted in other courses.

The course also includes a Q&A section for each video, as well as a downloadable workbook to go over what you’ve watched, meaning it’s pretty comprehensive and you can ask questions if you get stuck. Rather than simply showing you the signs to copy as some other courses do, this course explains very clearly how they are formed, breaking them down into the motions taken and how to position your hands. It also expands into how to use each sign learned in full sentences and conversations, rather than just picking up individual words or phrases. 

The course videos take 2.5 hours to watch in total (that’s not including your own study time). It costs $49.99 at full cost, although it’s normally on sale for $13.99.

Gallaudet ASL Connect: Best for academic teaching

Screenshot of woman signing at camera with 'ASL Connect' written over image

(Image credit: Gallaudet)

Gallaudet ASL Connect

Gallaudet's immersive approach forces you to pick up sign language at quite a rate.

Reasons to Buy

Free online course covering ASL basics
Options to upgrade to more in-depth lessons
Strong focus on ASL grammar and conversation markers

Reasons to Avoid

Course navigation can make it hard to flick between lessons
Basic course is very short
Upgrades are very expensive

Gallaudet is well known in the world of sign language education. The university itself is based in Washington D.C and has been providing degree-level education for deaf and hard of hearing students since 1864. In addition to this, it also provides a free, basic online course for anyone who wants to get to grips with sign language essentials, as well as paid-for online college classes in ASL. 

The latter feature scheduled lessons that are obligatory to attend, alongside video-based assignments that contribute to a pass/ fail grade. The benefit of these classes it that they foster a great sense of community and give you the opportunity to communicate with a live tutor. The drawback is that, unlike a lot of online learning, you can't set your own schedule with these sorts of classes. Courses are also pricey, starting at around $316 and going up to $950 for a full semester.

If you're serious about learning to sign, then this could be ideal, as the college-credit classes provide robust training and all the learning resources you could possibly need; if you're just curious about ASL, then you'll likely find that the basic free course is enough to get you started. You'll only learn a handful of words and expressions, but the immersive approach and thoughtful touches in the videos and quizzes demonstrate why this is a world-leading platform for teaching ASL.

Sign It: Best for fun lessons

Screenshot of video player showing two men having ASL conversation

(Image credit: Sign It!)

Sign It

This site goes out of its way to make videos engaging, but there's a lack of interactive options available.

Reasons to Buy

A comprehensive introduction to ASL for beginners
Features a variety of instructors and conversation topics
Reasonably priced for amount of content

Reasons to Avoid

Students don’t have direct interaction with an instructor
Lessons are not accessible offline

There are a lot of quite serious videos out there when it comes to ASL courses, but Sign It bucks the trend by making lessons fun. The website has employed various actors in its videos, who play out silly situations that you can follow. It's reasonably priced, too, with five lesson bundles priced at $49.99.

Lessons are primarily taught through a mix of videos and quizzes. Having a variety of actors in the videos means that you get acquainted with the way individuals sign words slightly differently, which is a nice extra that's not common on other sites. 

There are a couple of features that are lacking on the site, though. It is missing any kind of interactivity or feedback, which would make it a lot easier to know whether or not you are signing something correctly. Lessons are also only accessible online via your browser, so you can't download and watch them on the go.

Skillshare: Best ASL course online for vocab

Skillshare: best online learning platform for creatives

(Image credit: Skillshare)

Skillshare

The online learning platform hosts plenty of useful vocab videos, but the learning path is a little confusing for beginners.

Reasons to Buy

Provides an extensive range of ASL signs, phrases and sentences
Offers a dynamic way of learning, rather than just progressing through set topics 

Reasons to Avoid

The course structure’s layout may hinder learning for some 

Able Lingo on Skillshare offers a range of classes in both ASL and American English. Its ASL lessons offer you both the chance to learn the language from an individual sign upwards approach, where you learn each sign individually and then later build into sentences. You can also do the opposite, where you learn key useful phrases and break them into their components later. It also includes components on aspects of ASL culture or grammar to help deepen your understanding of the language. 

However, it isn’t a course that you progress through as such, more a series of lessons you can dip in and out of. Lessons aren’t split up by clear subjects but sets of signs and phrases - for example ‘First 120 Basic Signs’ or ‘20 Common and Useful Nouns’. This means you can jump in pretty much anywhere or only learn the aspects of the language that feel useful to you, however that may not be a good thing for someone wanting a logical, structured course to follow from start to finish

Skillshare works on a subscription basis, which means that you can't buy a one-off course, but you do get access to all of them once you've paid. It's free for one month, then $32 per month or $168 annually. 

ASLdeafined: Best low cost option

Vector image showing different people standing in a line and signing words

(Image credit: ASLdeafined)

ASLdeafined

This is one of the cheapest subscriptions available for ASL lessons, but that does mean you don't get all the bells and whistles.

Reasons to Buy

Signing dictionary of 17,000 + words
Fingerspelling and hand shaping practice

Reasons to Avoid

Lack of tips and advice for beginners
Some of the videos are too quick to follow

ASLdeafined offers video-based lessons at a very low price. It only costs $36 annually to subscribe to the platform, where you'll be able to access plenty of lessons, quizzes and retention exercises. There is an app you can access too - although, as beginners, we found it difficult to hold a smartphone and sign with one hand at the same time, so it might best be used as a kind of 'refresher' tool.

There are a few features we felt were missing on the site. Without any interactive feedback, we couldn't feel confident that we were signing correctly. There's also no option to slow down playback on videos, which can feel a little frustrating if you struggled to catch something the first time round. It's rarely an issue, as most videos on the website are very clear, but when the problem occurs it can stall your progress. In addition to this, we didn't come across a lot of content that explained any elements of deaf culture, or examined the nuances of signing that would help show us how to be 'active listeners' in conversations.

You can get a free trial on the platform, which is a great way of testing it out before you commit to a subscription. If you do decide that it's a great fit for your learning style, then you won't have to part with a big pile of money to keep using it.

Start ASL: A great free resource

Screenshot of Start ASL homepage

(Image credit: Start ASL)

Start ASL

There's bountiful resources available here, but it's a bit of a headache to navigate.

Reasons to Buy

Useful tips on fingerspelling
Opportunity for 1 to 1 signing practice over Skype
An ASL community for meet-ups and practice partners
Excellent grammatical explanations

Reasons to Avoid

Course materials hard to navigate

You can access plenty of courses on the Start ASL platform for free, which is great for beginners. The site offers a mix of video-based lessons alongside text-based teachings, with good explanations of finger spelling techniques.

Unfortunately, the site is also quite messy when it comes to its layout. Students are often directed to read and download text books in the middle of a lessons and flick between resources during classes. It can feel a little confusing and certainly overwhelming for young learners or people who are very new to sign language. A lot of the videos also feature conversations recorded from a side-on angle, which isn't as clear as having face-on images, as you can't clearly see the actor's hands.

There are some good points to the platform. You can get 1:1 video call tutoring and there are online deaf community events to supplement your learning. It's not cheap though, with prices starting at $24.95 per month and going up to $49.95 a month for the all-access package.

What's great is that you can access a lot of the online learning content for free by simply signing up to the platform. You'll be able to dip into all kinds of vocabulary and grammatical lessons. While these might not be as well-organized as the above options, it's a good resource for anyone who's got some basic understanding of ASL and has the patience to comb through the lesson plans.


Best ASL courses online: FAQs

How we tested the best ASL online courses

We tested these courses simply by engaging with them; by spending several days on the platform we were able to evaluate things like how well the teaching method worked, how positively we felt about the experience, and how effectively the learning stuck.

How long does it take to learn ASL?

Opinions on this vary, but given that Gallaudet's basic introductory course takes around three months to complete, it's not unreasonable to assume that it would take you around three months to acquire a basic understanding of ASL. Going by this logic, it could take you two to three years to achieve full fluency, as Gallaudet offers six 'levels' of ASL courses, which can be taken in the spring, summer and fall semesters.

However, as with all language learning, the speed of acquisition depends upon the individual student and their environment. For someone completely immersed in the world of ASL, using it on a daily basis, it could take as little as a year to achieve full fluency (according to personal experiences reported on this blog from ASL basics.)

How much do ASL online courses cost?

There's a little variety here, but in general you can start learning the basics for around $10 - $30. Platforms like Skillshare, which work on a subscription basis, will charge you $32 per month, and you can get a year's pass to classes on ASLdeafined for $36. Udemy, on the other hand, allows you to take one-off classes for as little as $10.

Gallaudet is a little different, offering college-level courses with prices that correspond to this. For a 3-credit course, you'll have to pay around $950. 

Ruth Gaukrodger

Ruth has worked across both print and online media for five years, contributing to national newspaper titles and popular tech sites. She has held a number of journalist roles alongside more senior editorial positions, and is now the Digital Learning and Hobbies editor at Top Ten Reviews.