American Sign Language (ASL)

ASL instructor Taylor Koss signing "Welcome students!"

We have seen incredible interest in our ASL classes, which is quite exciting! We have recently added additional sections of ASL 1 for Fall 2024 – register soon to secure a spot.

We will also offer ASL 1 in Spring and Summer – seats are usually plentiful in Summer, so consider that option if you are not able to get in during the academic year.

Language Sciences is excited to launch our new American Sign Language courses!

We offer two semesters of ASL. We also offer courses on the linguistics of signed languages around the world. For higher levels of ASL, see the FAQ below about taking online classes through UW-Milwaukee.

Our ASL courses are interactive language classes that focus on both communicative language skills and learning to appreciate Deaf culture. These courses count towards the College of Letters & Science language requirement.

Look in the Linguistics section of the public course listings to see current offerings:

Public course listings

Upcoming Course offerings

  • Summer 2024

    • Ling 351: ASL 1
    • Ling 352: ASL 2
  • Fall 2024
    • Ling 351: ASL 1
    • Ling 375: Sign Language Linguistics
  • Spring 2025

    • Ling 351: ASL 1
    • Ling 352: ASL 2

Looking for an enjoyable way to learn about ASL and Deaf culture in the US? True Biz is a powerful novel that blends fictional stories of students at a residential school for the deaf with real information about ASL.

What is American Sign Language (ASL)?

American Sign Language is a natural human language, one of many human languages that use the visual and gestural system as a basis for communication, rather than the auditory and vocal systems used in spoken languages. ASL is based on the idea that sight is the most practical tool a deaf person has to communicate and collect messages. Handshapes, gestures, facial expressions, hand and body movements, position, and other visual cues are utilized to form words in ASL. ASL is not related to English, and has its own unique grammar and vocabulary.

Why study ASL?

Students should study ASL because it is used as a primary language of communication by hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. According to 2021 data from the Modern Language Association, ASL is the 3rd most popular non-English language at US colleges and universities. It is not only a fun and distinctive language to learn, but it also allows students to expand the range of their communicative options in the workplace and in their personal lives.

Courses

Ling 351: American Sign Language 1

Instructor: Taylor Koss

In this introductory courses, you will establish foundational conversational abilities (both production and comprehension) in ASL as you learn essential vocabulary items, important aspects of the grammar of ASL sentences and narratives, and accepted strategies for getting attention and initiating a conversational turn. You will also learn about Deaf cultural practices. An important theme will be understanding the cultural context of Deafness and signing in order to support communicative competence and cultural awareness. We will devote time to learning about important figures and events in the history of the Deaf community in the United States, and discuss issues of language access and inclusion.

Offered: Fall, Spring, and Summer

Ling 352: American Sign Language 2

Instructor: Taylor Koss

Continue to expand your conversational abilities in ASL in the second semester class. The class focuses on recognition and demonstration of more sophisticated grammatical features of ASL, increasing both fluency and accuracy. Your will also expand your cultural awareness of the diverse Deaf communities across the world.

Offered: Spring and Summer

Ling 375: Sign Language Linguistics

Professor Laura Horton

Introduction and overview of the linguistics of sign languages, signing communities, and perceptions of deaf people and sign languages. Topics will include: the grammar of sign languages, their use in signing communities, patterns in the transmission and acquisition of sign languages, and the emergence of new sign languages. No knowledge of American Sign Language is required. Prerequisite: Ling 101.

Offered: Fall 2024

New Student Org - ASL Club Badgers Sign!

  • Follow Bedgers Sign on Instagram to learn more and join in!
  • Open to all levels of signers, whether enrolled in ASL classes or not
  • Goals include sharing Deaf culture, raising awareness of Deaf and hard of hearing communities, and practicing ASL of course!

FAQ

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What course materials do you use for the classes?

We use TRUE+WAY ASL as our digital course platform. TRUE+WAY ASL is a 100% Deaf owned and managed company, and their curriculum focuses on useful everyday communication. The platform is centered around rich and authentic video materials created by native ASL signers.

We also use supplemental cultural materials, such as Deaf Culture: Exploring Deaf Communities in the United States (2020), by Irene W. Leigh, et al.

What is the difference between the ASL classes in the Linguistics unit and the ASL classes taught in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders?

Linguistics/Language Sciences offers a series of whole-language, communicative courses in ASL (Linguistics 351 and 352). These courses are designed for people who want to achieve a high level of communicative proficiency in ASL: producing and comprehending ASL across a wide variety of contexts and social settings, a thorough overview of ASL grammar and structure, an understanding of appropriate pragmatic usage, and knowledge and appreciation of Deaf culture and history. These are full 4-credit language courses, and count towards the College of Letters and Science language requirement.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders also offers a class in ASL and MCE (CSD 424). The CSD course includes Manually Coded English/MCE (which is not ASL, but a system for directly translating English word for word into gestures). CSD 424 is focused on quickly developing some essentials of ASL and MCE communication tailored to the needs of service providers. This class would be appropriate for students who do not want or need a high level of proficiency in ASL broadly speaking, but who are planning to work in areas such as health care, education, counseling, or law, and may find rudimentary ASL communication useful in this professional context. CSD 424 is a 2-credit course that does not count towards the L&S language requirement.

Can students who have taken CSD 424 also take Linguistics 351?

Yes, Linguistics 351 covers significantly more and different material than CSD 424, and students who have already taken the CSD class are welcome to enroll.

Can I skip ahead to ASL 2 if I have taken CSD 424?

No, Linguistics 351 is a prerequisite for Linguistics 352. Ling 351 is a 4-credit class that covers more and different material than CSD 424, and the classes are not equivalent. Students will need to take Ling 351 before taking the second semester class.

What if I want to continue with higher levels of ASL?

Language Sciences offers two semesters of ASL (Linguistics 351 and 352). Students who have taken the first two semesters here can continue with higher levels online at UW-Milwaukee and transfer credits over (see the question about transfer credits below). We have partnered with UW-Milwaukee to make sure our curriculum lines up so that students will be able to move seamlessly between our programs. UW-Milwaukee offers at least four levels of ASL, including online options. Contact UW-Milwaukee ASL program director Sunny Brysch directly to discuss enrollment options, and speak with your academic advisor about how transfer credits will work in your situation. See here for important information about concurrent enrollment credit limits.

Is there a student org or language table for ASL?

Badgers Sign is a new Registered Student Organization for students interested in ASL from across campus! The group generally meets biweekly, with a goal of raising awareness and increasing understanding of Deaf culture and community issues, practicing ASL together, and having fun with ASL games. Follow them on Instagram or contact Heaven Williams for more info.

Can I get a certificate in ASL?

There is no ASL certificate. Our ASL courses just launched in 2023, and we only offer two levels, which is not enough for a certificate.

I am a community member/high school student/non-degree seeking student. Can I take ASL classes at UW-Madison?

Non-degree students (including high school student juniors and seniors) are able to enroll in UW for-credit classes as “special students.” There is more info on enrolling as a special student at the Adult Career and Special Student Services page – contact that office directly for information and assistance.

Keep in mind that enrollment for special students is available only if there is space left in the class after degree students enroll. Due to the interactive nature of ASL classes, enrollment is limited, and we cannot guarantee that spots will be available for non-degree students.

Because ASL is a highly participatory class, auditing or attending unofficially is not possible, including senior auditors.

Can I transfer my ASL credit from another institution to UW-Madison?

Yes, send a transcript to the Admissions office for evaluation.

In order to count towards the L&S Language Requirement, the course must transfer with the following equivalents:

RP & SE X01 – First Semester ASL
RP & SE X02 – Second Semester ASL
RP & SE X03 – Third Semester ASL
RP & SE X04 – Fourth Semester ASL

Check Transferology or work with Credit Evaluation Services to see how ASL classes taken at another institution will transfer to UW-Madison.

 

Which level should I enroll in if I know some ASL already?

In most cases it will be best for students to start with Linguistics 351: ASL 1, to make sure that the student does not have any gaps in their learning, and to ensure familiarity with our TRUE+WAY curriculum. If a student has significant prior experience with ASL, in particular with the TRUE+WAY curriculum, they should take a placement test to determine which level is best for them.

Contact instructor Taylor Koss at tjkoss2@wisc.edu to arrange placement testing.

Where else is ASL offered in the community?

Madison College offers non-credit ASL classes year-round, with multiple levels. These Madison College courses would be a great option for non-UW students and community members who want to learn ASL in a non-credit environment.

Do you offer online classes in ASL?

No, all UW-Madison ASL classes are in person. Online classes in ASL are offered at UW-Milwaukee. Contact UW-Milwaukee ASL program director Sunny Brysch directly to discuss UWM enrollment options.