Learn American Sign Language (ASL) at Home

May 11, 2020 | Myrna

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By Melanie L. and Myrna 

Screenshot 2020-05-06 at 1.01.54 PM
ASL spelled out in American Sign Language fingerspelling. By Psiĥedelisto from Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.


As we seek new information about the COVID-19 pandemic, many Torontonians and Canadians are tuning in to our governments' regular news briefings.  And many of those watching are commenting on the prominence of the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. Here in Ontario, articles have been written about Christopher DesLoges’ animated interpretations of Doug Ford’s speeches. British Columbia’s Nigel Howard even has a new unofficial fan page on Facebook. 

This spotlight on ASL couldn't be better timed. It has drawn much needed attention toward the importance of accessibility for the Deaf community. And at the same time, it comes when much of the workforce is at home and actively seeking new learning opportunities. Here at Toronto Public Library, a number of staff have been learning ASL from home using an online resource called Gale Courses. Anyone with a valid library card can access this course, and we have some additional digital resources to support your learning. If you are interested in learning ASL yourself, here are a few tips.


Take an American Sign Language Course

Learn the basics of ASL with Gale Courses' Discover Sign Language course. You can access this free instructor-led course with your library card. Discover Sign Language covers basic ASL signs and grammar. The course is divided into 12 themed sections that are paced for beginners. Students who complete the introductory course can continue learning with Discover Sign Language II.

These courses have start dates every month. Upcoming sessions begin on June 17, July 15 and August 12, 2020. Typically, sessions start in the second or third week of each month. Why not sign up right now?

Need more information on Gale Courses? Check out our Getting Started with Gale Courses guide.


Watch Signed Stories on OverDrive

ASL storyteller performs Dinosaurs Love Underpants
ASL storyteller Peter Cook performs Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman.

Our Signed Stories collection on OverDrive is a great resource for practicing ASL comprehension. Signed Stories features videos of more than 100 classic children’s books presented in ASL. All ages can enjoy these digital videos.


Practice, Practice, Practice

By the end of your 12 classes, you will have learned A LOT of signs. Remembering the signs you learned at the beginning of the course may be a challenge. The only way to keep them fresh is to practice. At our instructor’s suggestion, we have been practicing our signs in front of the mirror and for family members. We have also been taking advantage of some of the free online resources available to help ASL students. You do not need a Toronto library card to access these websites: 

  • Signing Savvy is a free online ASL video dictionary. Whenever you can’t remember a particular sign, you can easily look it up here.
  • ASL.ms is a fun tool for practicing ASL fingerspelling. Watch the word being fingerspelled, and submit your answer. This site will really help you work on your speed.
  • Sign Language Forum hosts a discussion forum and practice zone for ASL learners of all levels.
  • American Sign Language University offers educational videos, lessons and quizzes for ASL students and teachers. 


Just like any language, learning ASL takes time and practice. But if you do decide to give it a shot, we hope you’ll have as much fun as we have!

[Edited June 15, 2020 to add additional information about upcoming Discover Sign Language sessions.]