Sign It is an online course that teaches American sign language (or ASL) via a series of self-paced videos and quizzes. It covers ASL fingerspelling, vocabulary and grammar as well as non-manual markers of ASL (such as facial expressions and body language), meaning users of the course receive a comprehensive overview of how to understand and communicate in the language. Aspects of deaf culture are covered, as well as interviews with users of ASL, meaning the language is also put into a wider context.
Overall, the Sign It course is reasonably priced and covers a lot of ground, but is generally aimed at beginners so it may not be suitable for those who already have some pre-existing knowledge of ASL. As it’s self-paced and the quizzes are automatically marked, it doesn’t offer any direct communication with an instructor, so may not be an ideal choice for those wanting feedback on their language use and progress.
Looking for more learning resources? Check out our guide to the best online learning platforms, many of which have their own dedicated ASL courses.
Sign It review: Course content and quality
The entire Sign It course is split up into 20 lessons in total, with each one covering a key conversation topic, as well as featuring a dictionary section that includes the 1000+ ASL terms used in the lessons. You can take a lesson individually, purchase a bundle of lessons, or pay for access to the whole course. Whether you’re starting completely from scratch or just looking to brush up on a particular topic, there are plenty of options and you aren’t obliged to sign-up for the entire course if you don’t need to.
We worked through the first five lessons of the course, which is aimed at complete beginners, and included sections on introductions, family, feelings, jobs and school. Each lesson is split into five or six sub-sections, each of which features an instructional video followed by a test on the video content for that section. There’s also a ‘practice at home’ section, which allows you to put all of what you’ve learned into a mock conversation and a ‘wrap it up’ section, which puts ASL into the larger context in which it’s used, featuring interviews with the array of actors and instructors who appear throughout the course.
The ‘wrap it up’ section is a useful addition as it takes away from the occasionally dry, structured approach of online learning and allows you to ‘meet’ ASL users who work across a variety of disciplines (including actors, writers, dancers, artists and comedians), giving you a better context of the language you’re learning and the people that use it.
Videos are crisp and clear, and signers are placed against a blank background, making it easy to focus on what they're signing. The conversational videos – which we discuss more below – make lessons more engaging than those provided by the likes of ASLdeafined, where videos focus on individual words rather than full sentences and lively conversations.
It’s worth noting that although the platform refers to each topic a ‘lesson’, each lesson is fairly long, so you might need more than one sitting to finish them.
Sign It review: Teaching format
Each lesson section begins with a scene showing a conversation between various ASL actors (for example, asking questions in a restaurant or conversing with someone new at a party) and then breaks down that conversation into the individual words or phrases you can practice along with. Usefully, each word or phrase is shown signed by multiple actors, so you can get a feel for how different people might sign it – similar to how users of spoken language might pronounce the same word in a slightly different way.
The spoken English translations of ASL are provided in what’s called ‘ASL gloss’, which is a written approximation of what each sentence means, word for word. For example, when asking ‘What is your name?’, the signed equivalent roughly translates to the signs for ‘your’, ‘name’ and ‘what?’. This ASL gloss is provided both as a voiceover and in written subtitles, so you can quickly get an idea of how ASL is structured grammatically and how that differs to spoken English.
The course is taught by a variety of different actors and teachers from the deaf community, who have a variety of interesting career backgrounds across education and the arts. Most are deaf or hard of hearing themselves while others have a strong connection to the deaf community, such as those who grew up with deaf parents. Quizzes are dotted throughout the lesson plans, to reinforce learning.
Having a variety of actors and instructors does keep the course varied and interesting, however it’s worth noting that the course doesn’t involve an opportunity to practice ASL with an instructor or receive personalised support. This means that while the lessons and quizzes prove useful for understanding sign language used by others, it’s more difficult for learning to communicate in it yourself as you don’t receive any feedback on whether the signs you are producing are being copied correctly. An optional add-on for those interested in receiving one-to-one tuition might have been a useful addition for those wanting to take the course to the next level.
Sign It review: Cost
The entire 20 lesson course costs $159.99, but depending on their needs or how much ASL they already know, learners can also buy five lesson bundles, which cost $49.99 each. Individual lessons cost $14.99 and there’s group access for classrooms or families for $349.99.
Overall, you get a lot of content for the price, especially if buying the whole course and once purchased, your access to the course doesn’t expire, meaning you’re buying a resource you can return to at any time to brush up on your skills. It is, however, slightly pricier than cheap platforms like ASLdeafined, which only costs $36 for a full year.
Sign It review: Ease of use
It's fairly easy to work your way around the site, but the course can only be accessed via an online login on your internet browser. You have to be connected to the internet to access the courses and they can’t be downloaded, meaning they can’t be taken offline. This might not be ideal for anyone wanting to learn on the go, but otherwise the course is easy to access and easy to navigate.
Sign It review: Is it worth it?
Sign It provides a detailed and comprehensive introduction to beginners looking to learn ASL and covers all the basics you would need in an ASL language setting, from introducing yourself and asking questions of others, to giving your thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics. It would be best suited to those who have no or very little previous experience of ASL, such as those who want to learn to converse with a friend or family member who is an ASL user, but might not be suited to those looking for a more advanced course. Overall, it’s a reasonably priced and comprehensive course for anyone wanting to build a basic foundation in ASL.