American Sign Language (ASL)

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Note that Linguistics 351: ASL 1 is currently full for Fall 2023, with a long waitlist.

The class is being offered in the Summer of 2023 as well, and there are still seats available in the in person Summer class!

Also, UW-Milwaukee may be able to organize a special online section of ASL 1 for UW-Madison students in the Fall. Contact if you would be interested in this online option.

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

We are currently offering Linguistics 351: American Sign Language 1, in Summer and Fall of 2023. We tentatively plan to offer ASL 2 in Spring 2024. Students may also transition back and forth between the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee ASL series. UW-Milwaukee offers at least four levels of ASL, including online options.

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

Ling 351: American Sign Language 1

Instructor: Taylor Koss

In this introductory class, you will establish foundational conversational abilities (both production and comprehension) in ASL as you learn essential vocabulary items, elementary aspects of the grammar of ASL sentences and narratives, and accepted strategies for getting attention and initiating a conversational turn. You will also learn the fundamentals of 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.

Next offered: Summer 2023 and Fall 2023

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.

Next offered: Fall 2023


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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.

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

In 2023-2024 we tentatively plan to offer two semesters of ASL (Linguistics 351 and 352). Students who have taken the first two semesters here may be able to take levels beyond that at UW-Milwaukee and transfer credits over (see the question about transfer credits below). UW-Milwaukee offers at least four levels of ASL, including online options. Contact them directly to discuss enrollment options, and speak with your academic advisor about how transfer credits will work in your situation.

Do you offer a certificate in ASL?

Our ASL courses are just launching, so there is no certificate in ASL available at this time.

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 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.

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

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 Becky at to arrange placement testing.

Where else is ASL offered in the community?

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