How Long Does It Take to Learn ASL Fluently?
how long does it take to learn ASL fluently? Less than a year? Three years? It’s not as simple as pinning a date on a calendar or timeline and expecting to be fluent by then, even with daily practice.
This question requires a lengthier answer.
In this article, we provide you with the know-how on how long it will take you to reach fluency in ASL and what learning paths you should take to become fluent with this language.
How Much Time Does It Take to Become Fluent in ASL?
Many people hold misconceptions about sign language and think that learning ASL is all about knowing the shapes you make with your hands.
However, sign languages include grammatical information in places you probably wouldn’t expect. For example, the eyebrows’ placements and when they are used in a sentence can signify topics and particular types of questions in ASL.
The shoulders are used, the position of your head matters, and the direction you choose for some verbs can hold significant meaning. Mouth movements can add meaning, tone, intensity, and more!
That said, determining how long does it take to learn ASL fluently is different for everyone and thus depends on several factors.
4 Factors That Affect How Quickly You Reach Fluency
Let’s discuss the four main factors that will affect how fast you become fluent in American Sign Language.
Before we get into these factors, it’s important to recognize that you don’t need to meet all four conditions to become fluent in sign language. It might take longer for you, but fluency in ASL is a goal that is attainable to everyone if they invest their time and energy in the learning process.
How quickly learners become fluent in ASL will depend on:
1. …how quickly they learn the grammar and sentence structure of ASL as well as the signs themselves.
You can learn the grammar rules, sentence structure, and lexicon of American Sign Language relatively quickly if you take a course on the language. Formal education and/or textbooks and dictionaries can provide you with a lot of useful information at your fingertips. There are also no-cost avenues to learning ASL online that you might also want to explore.
2. …what the ASL learner’s goals are in learning the language.
The speed of reaching fluency in ASL will depend on what the learner’s goals are. For instance, people who want to become fluent enough to work as interpreters and teachers will take more time to learn ASL fluently, since reaching these high levels of fluency naturally takes more study time and practice.
Those who just want to be fluent enough to converse with their family, friends, and coworkers might require less time to achieve their fluency goals. Different goals require different timetables.
3. …how much the ASL learner immerses themselves in the signing community.
The more time per day a person spends learning ASL, the faster they will become fluent in it. Also, full immersion has the added benefit of cultural immersion.
Dr. Joseph Hill, a linguist at Rochester Institute of Technology, highlights the importance of practicing your ASL knowledge daily. He states that reaching fluency in ASL can be achieved when learners “continue to engage in different social situations that help them to notice the social nuances in communication.”
4. …the modality of the first language of the ASL learner.
If your first language is a spoken language, you’re used to expressing ideas using your voice and ears. This means you communicate through listening and speaking. However, American Sign Language uses the face and hands. You will learn to communicate through seeing and moving your body, including your eyebrows, head, and fingers.
Adjusting to a whole new modality can feel more challenging compared to learning a new language in the same modality.
The question of how long does it take to learn ASL fluently will depend on these four factors.
You Can Become Conversational in ASL Quickly
In case you’re still wondering how long it takes to become conversational in ASL, if not fluent, you can reach that level quickly by immersing yourself fully in the deaf community.
It’s not as easy as just moving to a new country, though. Not everybody will have the opportunity to become friends with deaf people and be welcomed into their community.
But if you do get an opportunity, such as making friends with a deaf co-worker or a neighbor, open yourself to more immersion opportunities. Try to communicate with them as much as you can using your ASL skills, rather than depending on others to interpret for you or use texting.
There are a couple of ways you can become conversational in ASL quickly, including watching Deaf creators teach ASL on YouTube, enrolling in ASL classes, joining community centers, using ASL apps, and immersing yourself in the deaf community.
The more you use your ASL skills and the more time per day you spend signing, the faster you’ll learn.
Many experts we’ve talked to agree that the speed of reaching fluency in ASL is closely tied with the amount of social immersion in deaf communities.
What is the Fastest Path to Learn ASL Fluently?
One of the fastest paths to learn ASL fluently is to take ASL classes taught by Deaf instructors while being immersed in the ASL community at the same time.
Svetlana Kouznetsova, an Accessibility strategy consultant, advises learners to “ take a class from a professionally trained instructor who is deaf or hard of hearing and a native or fluent signer. You can also learn ASL online for free, but make sure it’s from a reputable deaf or hard-of-hearing instructor.”
Kouznetsova added, “The best way to become a fluent ASL user is to mingle with native or fluent ASL users regularly – in the same way that you master a spoken language.”
Arlene Ngalle, a deaf influencer, highlights the importance of combining formal education and immersion.
Ngalle recommends learners to “go to a Deaf university, like Gallaudet University. Because only this university in the entire world will give you an authenticity of Deaf culture in the Deaf world. You would quickly learn and understand the Deaf culture through immersion.”
This excellent TED talk aligns with combining formal instruction and cultural immersion to learn any new language. The speakers encourage language learners to experience full immersion and to focus on using the new language as much as possible.
It’s important to push through the difficult beginning stages of learning a new language and then get comfortable using the language on a full-time basis to reach fluency rapidly.
This shows that the best and fastest pathways towards fluency in a new language are all the same regardless of which language you are learning. The answer the question of how long does it take to learn ASL fluently depends on the degree of both your formal learning and your level of immersion in using ASL.
So, how long does it take to learn ASL fluently? There is no fixed answer, but if you are looking to become fluent in sign language quickly, learn as much as you can and use it as much as you can.
ASL classes are one of the resources that help with language acquisition, but Dr. Hill adds that “there is a limit to them as they [only] provide the linguistic foundation. It’s up to the learners to maintain their skills outside the classroom.”
The fastest path to fluency includes both learning and immersion. Start your path towards fluency in sign language by learning ASL signs with a subscription to the What’s the Sign? dictionary.
As an online ASL-English dictionary, What’s the Sign? is one of the most convenient ways to improve your ASL skills, regardless of your location. The best thing about this web app is the fact it’s accessible through any device, as long as you have an internet connection.
What’s more, What’s the Sign? is a great resource that aids the learning process, whether you’re taking a formal education course or learning on your own through online learning and immersion.
Try the 3-day free trial today and start learning ASL!