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The best apps for learning sign language

Contributed by , staff writer for Healthy Hearing

Editor's note: This article was originally posted on November 11, 2011. Due to its overwhelming popularity, we've updated it to republish today.

Want to learn how to communicate with the deaf community or others with hearing loss? There’s an app for that.

American Sign Language (ASL) is a robust visual language which uses the shape, placement and movement of the hands along with facial expressions and body movements to communicate. Individuals of all hearing abilities use ASL to communicate, including: the deaf community, parents of young children, teachers, interpreters and those with varying degrees of hearing loss. The language is thought to have originated more than 200 years ago and, like its spoken counterpart, is distinctly different depending upon the region of the country you are from. 

Looking to communicate with individuals who 
are deaf or have hearing loss? iPhone, Android
and tablet users can take advantage of apps 
that teach the basics of ASL. Visit the app store
on your device to download one of the many
great apps we've suggested here.

Thanks to today’s technology, anyone with a smart phone or tablet can learn ASL basics or practice its techniques. To help you get started, we’ve assembled a list of some of the more popular apps for your consideration.

ASL Coach (free)

Rated 4+

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Language: English

If you’re just beginning, this app will teach you to sign the alphabet and numbers one through nine. 

ASL Fingerspelling ($3.99)

Rated 4+

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Languages: English

This app is a practice tool designed to help improve ability to read fingerspelling. Users like the variety of words and ability to choose the speed of fingerspelling.

Marlee Signs (free)

Rated 4+

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Languages: English

Academy Award winning deaf actress, Marlee Matlin, teaches the fundamentals of ASL, from the signed alphabet and basic vocabulary through common expressions in everyday life. Each lesson is broken down into individual videos so users can learn at their own pace. The app keeps track of completed lessons and features a “slow motion” setting to allow viewing in greater detail.

Sign Language for Beginners (free)

Rated 5

Compatible with Android

Languages: English

Simple illustrations show you how to sign common letters, numbers and a few common words in American Sign Language.

My Smart Hands Baby Sign Language Dictionary ($2.99)

Rated 4+

Compatible with Android, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Languages: English

Created by the makers of My Smart Hands, an international baby sign language program with more than 150 instructors in more than 10 countries, this app features 45 minutes of instructional video from ASL instructor and My Smart Hands founder Laura Berg. The video dictionary demonstrates ASL signs and explains how to make, remember and understand them. My Smart Hands Baby Sign Language Dictionary is also available on the android market. 

Baby Sign Language Dictionary ($2.99)

Rated 4+

For kids 5 and under

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Languages: English, Simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese

This app includes 40 real-life signing video demonstrations to help you learn to sign with your baby. Each sign has a detailed video tutorial and is organized into categories such as action words, animals, daily routines and feelings. The app also comes with a fun interactive video quiz to help you learn and remember the signs.

WeSign Basic (free)

Rated 4+

Compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

Languages: English

This app teaches ASL relating to school, helping parents ask common questions of their deaf children such as: “What did you do in school?" and "Where is your homework?"

While these apps can help you learn sign language, keep in mind that ASL is much more than just making gestures with your hands. Like any language, you’ll want to learn the grammar, history and culture of the language to become proficient. These aren't the only hearing-friendly apps for your phone, also check out "the best apps to measure noise levels," "the best apps for phone captioning" and "the best apps to check your hearing."

Remember, these apps are only designed to get your feet wet. If you suspect you or someone you love has hearing loss, find a hearing health professional in your area and consult with them today! 

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