Shake it! ASL Support & Resources in Western MA

Language Acquisition for Tactile Learners

For those interested in exploring a new language, American Sign Language (ASL) presents a unique challenge. Rather than being specific to written and verbal communication, American Sign Language is based in physical communication, and requires the use of specific (and sometimes subtle) movements. American Sign Language can be fascinating to explore with young children, whose bodies are active and whose brains’ language centers are fast developing, as it combines both motion and linguistic understanding. Similarly, American Sign Language can provide older children with valuable language experience, especially those who tend to be tactile learners, as it relies on not only the brain’s ability to process language but the body’s ability to remember physical motions and states. 

While the best way to learn ASL is through immersion, there are many easily accessible tools available that can either supplement formal studies of the language or serve as tools for informally acquiring some of the language’s basic skills. Summer language studies can easily include some quick lessons from Signing Savvy, an online resource whose extensive offerings include videos of signs, tools to track acquired vocabulary, and printable flash cards for non-screen-based practice. While some of Signing Savvy’s resources are only available through paid subscriptions, a free version of an online membership includes access to an extensive dictionary of signs that can be searched by category, letter, or specific word. Young learners will need support in navigating this online resource, but the physical nature of the language makes Signing Savvy’s video-based resources accessible to learners of all ages. Additional resources, recommended by Gallaudet University, include both web and print materials useful for learners of all ages.

Teen and adult learners of American Sign Language can gain experience in using the language by attending events organized through the Amherst & Northampton ASL Social Group (some events are organized with adults specifically in mind – these take place at 18+ or 21+ locations). Teen-friendly events organized through the group take place in public settings, include informal conversation in American Sign Language (voices off!), and help to build community amongst the local ASL community.

Further learning about American Sign Language and deaf culture can be done by exploring the pages of great books like:

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