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Sign language apps are learning tools that use images, videos, games, dictionaries, and interactive lessons to help people learn sign language on their smartphone or tablet.
Sign language is a form of communication that uses hand and arm movements, facial expressions, and body gestures.
In the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most studied language after Spanish and French.
This article discusses how sign language apps work and whether they are effective learning tools. It also looks at some of the best ASL apps available and some alternative ways to learn the language.
Sign language apps provide common signs, including those for letters, numbers, and everyday words and phrases. The app will usually show images of the signs, as well as video clips that people can follow to practice the movement.
Although most apps act as dictionaries that people can use to browse for words and phrases, some are interactive and offer games and quizzes to help people associate signs with their meanings more quickly.
It is important to note that these apps rarely account for regional variations of ASL and are not a replacement for a live ASL interpreter.
Sign language apps can help people learn various signs in a matter of days, as most of them contain signs for basic words and phrases. However, some may lack content for more advanced signers.
The National Association of the Deaf describes sign language as a visual language, with the receiver interpreting the signer’s body movement and facial expressions.
Although pictures and images may be sufficient for basic signs, such as letters and numbers, some signs contain gestural components that are crucial for their meaning. Due to this, apps with short video clips may be more effective than those that only provide pictures.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that teaching children mathematical concepts using sign language through an app was more effective than the traditional means of using flashcards and boards.
Research has also shown software applications to be more motivating and engaging for users — including deaf or hard-of-hearing young adults, and parents and caregivers of deaf children — than books or websites.
Another study showed that most people who want to study sign language prefer learning through online formats rather than traditional face-to-face setups.
Many apps are available to help people learn ASL. Below, we look at six of the best options.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these apps. All information is purely research-based.
ASL American Sign Language
ASL American Sign Language helps people learn alphabet and number signs alongside commonly used phrases. It also provides information on the history of ASL.
This app has tutorials on finger spelling and basic words. Picture matching and memory games are also available.
There are several videos of a person signing familiar nursery rhymes and songs, making the app useful for learning ASL with young children.
The app is available on iPhone and Android for free, with in-app purchases available.
Lingvano comes with several features to help people learn and memorize ASL. It has a variety of dialog clips showing people signing with corresponding subtitles in English.
An ASL dictionary and vocabulary trainers are available through the app.
The app also has a sign mirror option that allows users to copy a person doing a sign while projecting their image for feedback. All sign language teachers for Lingvano are deaf.
Lingvano is available on iPhone and Android for free, with subscriptions available.
ASL Dictionary is a comprehensive resource that includes more than 5,200 ASL videos. People can play the videos in slow motion, loop them, and add them to a favorites list.
The app allows a person to browse for words, including idioms and words with multiple meanings, and to learn different signs for a particular word or phrase.
This app works without internet connection and has no audio.
The app is available on iPhone and Android for $4.99, with no additional in-app purchases or adverts.
Pocket Sign gives a person free daily lessons, introducing common signs by categories. Daily lessons come with tips and questions.
The app puts recently introduced words together in a video and asks the person to read them. A person can refresh their memory using the app’s sign video dictionary and study feature.
This app also has lessons on baby sign language.
Pocket Sign is available on iPhone and Android for free, with in-app purchases available.
ASL Translator provides a “text-to-sign” translator. Users can enter up to 50 words at a time into the text box to generate a seamless sign language video. However, the output is in English word order, so it may not appear exactly how a person would usually sign it.
The app’s ability to recognize more than 30,000 words and 1,400 phrases and idioms may allow users to translate documents, emails, and even books into ASL. Numbers, dates, and names are translatable. Users can also copy and paste text into the app for translation.
People can also slow, fast forward, rewind, or loop videos, which use finger spelling for any words that are not available on the database.
A person will need Wi-Fi connection to use the app, which has no audio.
ASL Translator is available on iPhone and Android for $4.99.
American Sign Language Finger Spelling Game
American Sign Language Finger Spelling is suitable for children and adult beginners who wish to learn the alphabet, number signs, and basic words.
It comes with more than 140 practice cards and in excess of 80 finger spelling and sign language activities and games.
American Sign Language Finger Spelling Game is available on Android for free.
Apps may not be an effective way for everyone to learn a language. Some people may prefer to learn sign language through other options, such as websites, online courses, or group classes.
Some alternative options to ASL apps include:
- StartASL.com: This site gives people access to three complete courses for three ASL levels. It also offers paid courses for advanced ASL.
- Gallaudet University ASL Connect: People can access free ASL videos in several categories alongside interactive lessons on this site. They can also pay for online ASL classes.
- Handspeak: Handspeak is a free online dictionary resource containing a range of sign video clips. It also has lessons, tutorials, and tips for ASL learners and a child’s wordbook that features children signing.
Many local ASL groups are available throughout the U.S., often in association with local deaf community organizations. People can search for local classes to learn ASL in person or connect with other people who use ASL.
Sign language apps are a convenient option for learning sign language. A range of apps is available with different features, such as translation capabilities, dictionaries, and lessons.
A person should check the app’s features to see whether it meets their learning needs. For example, they should consider whether the app is suitable for teaching children, if relevant.
It is also advisable to check whether internet connection is necessary to use the app and whether a person will need to make in-app purchases to access useful content.
Researching customer reviews for different apps can help people choose the best app for their learning style and needs.