Free Sign Language Classes (ASL 1 – Unit 1)

ASL 1 – Unit 1

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

Materials you will need for the class

  1. ASL 1 WORKBOOK (PDF) (Required & Free) – You will use the workbook for the class assignments and activities.
  2. ASL Dictionary (Required) – For this class, you will need an ASL dictionary. The lessons will include lists of vocabulary with links to videos for the words that are required to take the courses. If you wish to learn more than is required, you can look up the remainder of the vocabulary words in your printed ASL dictionary, or on one of the many ASL dictionary websites.
  3. The Don’t Just “Sign”… Communicate! Student Guides – Readings are assigned from these books throughout the Start ASL curriculum for further learning and more in-depth studies. We highly recommend these books for every ASL student. These guides not only cover all of the essential information about ASL and Deaf Culture you will need for your ASL journey, but the ASL grammar book is the only book for students completely dedicated to ASL grammar. You will be able to learn how to successfully and accurately sign in ASL right from the beginning–something most ASL students don’t get to do!
  4. ASL 1, 2, & 3 – Paid Online Version (Optional) – We also offer paid versions of these online classes. With the paid versions, you get access to all the Start ASL lessons and activities in a more organized and easy-to-follow format, with no advertisements, the ability to watch the videos in slower motion, an exclusive group and forum, the option to submit assignments for viewing and commenting by other students, and a completion certificate. We highly recommend this option for serious students who want to form a community of active learners and learn ASL together.
  5. ASL 1 Class – Offline Version (Optional) – The Start ASL online classes are available as an instant download. This one file contains all of the video lessons in one professional-style video as well as the lessons, workbook, and online readings. Only one download and you will have full access to the ASL 1 class on your computer without an internet connection. We highly recommend this if you need access to the class offline, need to download the videos all at once, want to watch the videos in slower motion, or don’t like the advertisements in the lessons!
  6. Start ASL Tutoring Program (Optional) – With the Start ASL Tutoring Program, you have access to professional ASL tutors who can help you with concepts you may be struggling with or who can just help you practice what you’ve learned. This is a great option if you are serious about learning and being able to effectively communicate in ASL.





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!


  1. Profile photo of Scott

    Thanks Katherine
    I have just read so much of how Exact English is almost frowned upon. I am overly cautious and want to make sure I don’t do something that may alter the path of training my thought process to ASL way of communicating. I agree with you especially right now the beginning stages is more and more about becoming familiar with the word, proper signing and relating it to what is being taught.

  2. Profile photo of Scott

    What do you think?? When I read whether at work or home I sign the words that I have learned. Do you think that’s a bad Idea because it may enforce the sign (Exact English) and making harder later on. (Grammar) Or do you think that is a good idea and it should not hurt my learning the ASL way. What has been your experience dealing with this?

    1. Profile photo of Katherine Dewar
      Katherine Dewar

      I think that’s a pretty good idea. It will help you get used to signing the words and improve your memory of it when you remember what was going on in the book!

  3. Osvaldo

    Yes its very good for kids that would like to understand and comunicate with others you are great nice work meet your goal! Im 9 years my nqme is osvaldo. crying so much kids can learn like me

  4. Courtney

    Thank you for this resource! I’m bilingual in Spanish/English but my son doesn’t have much interest in Spanish. I’ve always been interested in ASL so we have decided to learn together. He is 10 years old. He is really excited!

  5. :D

    I started learning the alphabet last year and I went to a new school and there were many deaf kids. I always had an interest in ASL, but never actually tried learning, this is the best website yet to learn ASL! 6/5 stars!

  6. Emoni House

    My older sister is deaf, so I already know Sign Language, but there is some stuff I do not know. I am so happy that this unit alone has helped me some!

    1. Michelle Jay

      Hi Gabe, The sign is officially signed by tapping your fingers together twice, but this is often shortened to once in a sentence just to save time.

  7. Mary Topolski

    The initial video I.e. “Nice meet you same.” Are performed MUCH too rapidly for me to imitate or discern one sign from another. And I’m not a true beginner. Look forward to pick up more but please slow down!

  8. Joyce Corbin

    Learning sign language on my own for a dew months but now want 2 do it online and learn from others.

  9. Diane

    In the sign “you’re welcome” the signer is going a little fast and I wasn’t sure how the sign starts out.

  10. Janice Miller

    the movement for “who” is different the what it says in the dictionary. Am I looking at it wrong?

    1. Michelle Jay

      Hi Janice – I’m not sure what you mean. WHO is signed with the L handshape with your thumb on your chin and your index finger moving toward you. WHO is also signed with the “WH” question facial expression and your mouth in an “Oooh” shape.

  11. Shiraa

    This is so awesome! I love the fact that you offer the basics for free, but still have the more advanced options available for those who would like to further their learnings. I’ve been thinking about learning ASL for a while, but was one of those people who never actually did anything about it until now. I hope this website will help me in that endeavour! (it’s already been pretty useful, which is awesome) And I love the fact that you’ve got different people signing, because it enables me to see the subtle difference, and thus get a better understanding of what the general sign is supposed to look like.
    We totally should’ve learned asl in class, or at least as an elective… Thanks to this awesome site I might actually get to learn it at last though!

  12. Angela Brown

    I love these classes. I will be a independent certified instructor for teaching sign language and i thank you guys for the extra lessons and videos! Better than the classrooms!

  13. Suzette

    The video would be better with the word or phrase spoken out loud for those that can hear. I learn better hearing and seeing and think it would help the sign stick more in my mind. Just a suggestion, I am very grateful to what you have put together here and I am very excited to go through your online course and purchase whatever needed to help me learn ASL. I would like to be an interpreter for the deaf and hearing impaired.

    1. Michelle Jay

      Thank you for your kind comments! We actually don’t have sound in our videos because it is better to learn ASL as separated from English as possible. Otherwise, when students move into more advanced lessons it becomes more difficult to master ASL grammar when the signs have been paralleled to English in their minds. I’m so glad you’re finding our resources useful!