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Sign language apps are learning tools that use images, videos, games, dictionaries, and interactive lessons to help people learn sign language on their smartphone or tablet.
Sign language is a form of communication that uses hand and arm movements, facial expressions, and body gestures.
In the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most studied language after Spanish and French.
This article discusses how sign language apps work and whether they are effective learning tools. It also looks at some of the best ASL apps available and some alternative ways to learn the language.
Sign language apps provide common signs, including those for letters, numbers, and everyday words and phrases. The app will usually show images of the signs, as well as video clips that people can follow to practice the movement.
Although most apps act as dictionaries that people can use to browse for words and phrases, some are interactive and offer games and quizzes to help people associate signs with their meanings more quickly.
It is important to note that these apps rarely account for regional variations of ASL and are not a replacement for a live ASL interpreter.
Sign language apps can help people learn various signs in a matter of days, as most of them contain signs for basic words and phrases. However, some may lack content for more advanced signers.
The National Association of the Deaf describes sign language as a visual language, with the receiver interpreting the signer’s body movement and facial expressions.
Although pictures and images may be sufficient for basic signs, such as letters and numbers, some signs contain gestural components that are crucial for their meaning. Due to this, apps with short video clips may be more effective than those that only provide pictures.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that teaching children mathematical concepts using sign language through an app was more effective than the traditional means of using flashcards and boards.
Research has also shown software applications to be more motivating and engaging for users — including deaf or hard-of-hearing young adults, and parents and caregivers of deaf children — than books or websites.
Another study showed that most people who want to study sign language prefer learning through online formats rather than traditional face-to-face setups.