Janna and I teach American Sign Language online and in books through our Hardcore ASL program.  We are often asked by students and schools how one can find the right ASL teacher.
Here are some things you should ask to know:


How to find the right ASL teacher — or how to buy the right ASL book — can be a tough task to fairly answer because some assumptions and questions need to be proactively made on your part when you consider an ASL education.

First, ASL and PSE (Pidgin Signed English) and SEE (Signing Exact English) are, unfortunately, becoming more and more interchangeable in today’s ASL education expectation even though all three are extremely different languages.

ASL uses HandShapes, FacialExpression, Torso Location, and grammar based on French sentence structure.

PSE and SEE use English language structure, a lot of Fingerspelling and little emphasis is placed on using the face to set tone and conditional responses.

Proper ASL educational materials and ASL teachers are tough to find. That’s why we call our program “Hardcore ASL” instead of just “ASL” because we want people to know we teach in the true ASL style and that we don’t abide PSE or SEE as a substitute for ASL.

Background and Cultural Identification are important indicators as you weigh your educational options. Deaf authors and teachers from Deaf parents and educated in a Deaf institution are good signs that pure ASL is being shared, as is having a Hearing child of a Deaf parent (CODA) as an instructor or an author — but the overall caveat, in my experience, is one of age.

If your author or teacher is 40 or older, you should get a prime ASL Experience. If they are 30 or younger, then they are likely of the “broken generation” of the Deaf Community that the medical community chose to “fix” via mainstream schooling and cochlear implantation.

Many of the younger Deaf today think they’re signing ASL, but they’re not — they’re using PSE or SEE or Home Signs — and they don’t know the difference between any of them because they were never immersed in the Deaf Community and they did not attend a Deaf school.

Having a Masters degree in a Deaf or Rehabilitation field is another sign of a dedication to the Deaf Community.

With this information, you should be able to begin to know the right questions to ask when purchasing an ASL book, hiring a private tutor, or taking an ASL class online or in person.

13 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    Thanks for this highly educational and informative post; do you think “age” can have an effect in hearing teaching also?
    For example:
    If a 50 year old person today teaches a 15 year old kid – both are hearing – do you think that matter?

  2. Hi Katha!
    Thanks for the comment! I always appreciate your insight and thoughts.
    I don’t think there’s a big difference between a 15-year-old learning from a 50-year-old in a classroom because they share the same civilization/cultural identity of a common language.
    There is a giant divide between ASL and PSE — and while age and generations are part of that divide — the biggest challenge is really one of two different cultures speaking different languages with one camp, PSE, believing they are signing ASL while the ASL camp knows the PSE camp is uninformed and wanting.
    The problem is when PSE people are challenged that they are not really using ASL — they get offended because “signing is signing” — and that makes for an incredibly difficult problem to overcome because it usually boils down to: “You were not taught right.”

  3. Gordon —
    I’m not sure if it’s laziness or just not really knowing any better. You can have wild differences in ASL technique and teaching right within an ASL course of study at a university between teachers using the same textbook! You really have to know the language, grammar and Deaf Community in order to really comprehend the difference.

  4. Hi! I just had a very simple question. What would you recommend for a beginner in ASL; taking a regular community college course or doing the Hardcore ASL course online? I ask this because I am currently trying to decide if I would get more out of a community college class, which is also much cheaper, or if investing in this Hardcore ASL is an all-around better decision. I also have no desire to take an ASL class at a community college, only to find out it was PSE or SEE. My goal is pure ASL, any advice is very appreciated.

    1. I certainly recommend our HardcoreASL.com courses, Travis. We start everyone off at the beginner level — because even experienced “signers” often do not have the proper base for ASL in order to fruitfully progress in our system. So we tear you down to build you back up again — and if you’re just starting out, it’s always better to learn the right way from the jump than having to erase all your bad habits later and begin anew.