Free Sign Language Class (ASL 1 – Unit 1)

ASL 1 – Unit 1

In this unit of the free sign language class, you will be learning how to fingerspell.

First Signs

Visit the Online Course Vocabulary Category for this unit to view videos of these phrases and vocabulary words.


  • Good afternoon
  • Good morning
  • Goodbye
  • Goodnight
  • Hello
  • How are you?
  • My name is Deborah (name sign).
  • Nice to meet you.
  • Thank you.
  • What is your name?
  • You’re welcome.


  • ASL Alphabet (A-Z)
  • BOY
  • DEAF
  • GIRL
  • HELP
  • HOW
  • I/ME
  • KNOW
  • MAN
  • ME
  • MY
  • NEED
  • NO
  • NONE
  • NOT
  • SIGN
  • THAT
  • WANT
  • WHAT
  • WHEN
  • WHO
  • WHY
  • YES
  • YOU
  • YOUR


Read this outline, and then watch the conversation in action on the video clip. Try to recognize what is being said. Watch the video again until you can follow the conversation without the outline.

“Hi, my name is Cris. What is your name?”

“My name is Christine. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Conversation Explained

“Hi, my name is Cris.”

In the first sentence, you will notice that names are fingerspelled, as you probably already knew. The word “is” is not signed because state-of-being verbs are not necessary in ASL. You will learn more about these verbs in Unit 9.

“What is your name?”

This, as you will learn in Unit 6 of this free sign language class, is a wh-word question. These are questions that require more than a yes or no answer and normally use the words who, what, when, where, why, or how. Wh-word questions are signed with a specific facial expression that includes lowering your eyebrows. There are many possible word orders in ASL, but wh-word questions are always signed with the wh-word at the end of the sentence.

“Nice to meet you too.”

This is a common phrase used in ASL when meeting someone for the first time. MEET is a directional verb, so signing the word YOU is not always necessary as it is included in the verb. You will learn more about directional verbs in Unit 8. The sign SAME can translate to “too” in English. This sign can also be a directional verb. Signing SAME between people means it is those people who are similar.


Fingerspelling means spelling out words by using signs that correspond to the letters of the word. The signs that are used in ASL are from the American Manual Alphabet. This alphabet uses 22 handshapes in different positions or with certain movements to represent the 26 letters of the American alphabet.

Fingerspelling is only used about 10% of the time and is primarily used for:

  • People’s names
  • Brand names
  • Book and movie titles
  • City and state names

Try not to use fingerspelling as your first choice when you don’t know the sign. Instead, attempt to get your point across by combining other signs or using some other method.
However, there are many words that do not have corresponding signs in ASL. Go ahead and fingerspell if there is no other convenient way to explain what you are talking about.
Here are some tips for accurate fingerspelling:

  • Keep your hand relaxed, to the right of your face (to the left if you are left handed), and below your chin.
  • Make sure your palm is facing the person you are talking to.
  • Keep your elbow down and close to your body.
  • Do not say or mouth the letters.
  • Aim for articulation, not speed. Right now, you just want to make sure you form the letters correctly so people will understand you.
  • Try not to bounce your hand as you spell, or you will make someone very dizzy! Also allow a slight pause between words.
  • For words with double letters, open your hand slightly between the letters. For open letters such as B and L, move your hand slightly to the right with a very slight bounce for the second letter.
  • When reading fingerspelling, make sure you look at the whole word, and not just the individual letters (just like in printed English). Look at the handshapes and movement. This will get you used to seeing words signed faster and faster. Some deaf people don’t even fingerspell all the letters of a word.

Being able to sign and understand fingerspelling is very important when you are new to sign language and haven’t learned a lot of signs. You will find that the more fluent you become in ASL, the less you will be relying on fingerspelling.

Fingerspelling Assignment

Turn to page 3 in your workbook and learn the manual alphabet. Try your best to memorize it.

In the video below, I will demonstrate the letters of the manual alphabet:

Sign with me during the video, and then try to sign the whole alphabet without the video. If you get stuck, look at only that letter on your printed manual alphabet, and keep going from memory. Try to learn the whole alphabet before moving on to the next unit of this free sign language class.

Reading Assignment

In DJSC! A Student’s Guide to ASL and the Deaf Community, read the Introduction, How to Use this Book, and all of Step 1: Start Learning American Sign Language. These readings will get you started with the book as well as discuss more about ASL as well as the best ways to learn ASL. This information is very important as you start learning ASL so you can make sure you’re getting the best ASL education possible.

In DJSC! A Student’s Guide to Mastering ASL Grammar, read the Introduction, How to Use This Book, Chapter 1 (Introduction to American Sign Language), and Chapter 2, Section 2.1 (Fingerspelling). These readings will get you started with the book as well as go more in-depth about fingerspelling.

End of Unit 1

Good job! No, really, give yourself a pat on the back. You just completed your first lessons in the free sign language class. That’s a huge step because some people talk about it, but never even start. You’re well on your way to being able to have a full-blown conversation in American Sign Language!