Product Review- ASLU

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From time to time I hope to review language learning products- be they websites, applications, old-fashioned software, books, or other (who knows what the future holds)- to try to give my fellow polyglot consumers some guidance as to what tools to use and, just as important, to NOT use.  Of course, these are just one gal’s opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

Product Name: ASLU (Found at lifeprint.com)

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Type of Product: Website/App

What’s it do: Essentially an ASL training program in a website.  It has lessons, fingerspelling practice, a dictionary, and more.

Languages it offers:  ASL (American Sign Language)  This is taught through standard English, with a sense of immersion placed into the video lessons.

Available Formats: Website: lifeprint.com

On the website, there are apps for fingerspelling practice and an ibook, as well as apps for Android.  I have not checked these out myself so I cannot vouch for them, but the site does seem to be constantly expanding to add positive new features.

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Strengths: This website is awesome and I could go on about its strengths for days.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • IT IS FREE.
  • It has a structured syllabus, with a practical layout.
  • It has ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC videos, taught by Bill Vicars.  They are silent, which takes some getting used to, but it’s fantastic to force yourself to really focus in on the signing for that 30 minutes.  Plus, I feel it gives you a sense of how the Deaf actually perceive their language.
  • Each lesson comes with a video, a vocabulary list, a set of example sentences to try (usually with hyperlinks to demonstrations of said sentences), stories to practice, and 2 quizzes.  Talk about a plethora of awesome resources.
  • The lessons have discussions of Deaf culture embedded within them.  This is important, as many hearing people are unaware that there are cultural differences between them and the Deaf.
  • There are in-depth discussions and explanations of ASL GRAMMAR!!!  I can’t stress how important this is- so many resources act as though ASL is “just signed English.”  I cannot emphasize how untrue that statement is– ASL is its own language with its own grammatical structure.  In order to use it properly, one must study this element.
  • The site includes a dictionary and fingerspelling practice, which are both key to learning ASL.  The dictionary links primarily to videos of the signs, which are much more useful than diagrams and written descriptions in my opinion.
  • The site includes encouragement, a suggestion for self-study, opportunities to contact Bill, and more.  It’s truly amazing how many awesome resources this guy has put together.

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Weaknesses:

  • The site is not aesthetically pleasing.  I realize this shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but honestly it was a turn off to me for a long time.  The first time it was recommended to me, I kind of turned up my nose at the apparent “messy layout.”  To be fair, this guy is doing all of this for free and constantly adding new content- trying to do that and make it look all pretty is not an easy task.  Especially when he has a family and a real job, so Mr. Vicars if you are reading this, please understand I’m intentionally nitpicking.
  •  There are some pages missing links.  For example, Lesson 2 has links to the awesometaculor Practice quizzes (20 minute videos of the signs and some sentences with multiple choice answers and it grades you at the end!).  However, I haven’t had this link on any other lesson.  There’s links to the small quizzes (usually done through written descriptions and diagrams).  But not ones to the big quizzes.  It’s no big deal- I just go back through the link on Lesson 2, but it would be better if there was a link for each lesson.  Again, I get that this guy is doing all this for free on his own time, so completely understandable.  He is apparently open to some volunteer coding, so if you have those skills to share and it’s a project you’d be interested in, this is a great chance to build some language karma. 🙂

My Overall Rating and Thoughts?

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4.5 Globes out of 5

This site is utterly amazing and I am indebted to Bill Vicars for making ASL learning so easily accessible and fun.  I spent years looking for materials in bookstores and on the web, often only finding “Signed Exact English” materials or fingerspelling practice sites.  I did take two courses in college which helped, but certainly did not cement my learning.  This site has given me new hope and direction in my quest to master ASL.

If I had the computer knowledge, I would gladly offer to help make the site a bit more aesthetically pleasing so that it would get the notice it rightfully deserves.  I’d also love to see the site add a social component to help connect ASL learners (and helpful Deaf persons) so that they can find language practice partners even across the web.  We live in a world with Skype people- this IS an option.  I live in an area where there isn’t much of a Deaf community so finding a language partner online is probably my best option for continued practice.  I could pay for an online tutor, but well, I’m cheap.  Plus I think we all benefit from helping each other.  I’d also love to see some links to quality ASL vloggers on YouTube and related sites.  I struggled to find some- finally locating Trix Bruce and an ASL stories set that have been helpful.  I’d love to know more- I know there are a LOT of great Deaf performers out there who are sharing songs, theatrical performances, and more on the web- I’m just apparently not using the right search terms.

Again though- I’m literally making suggestions to take an already awesome site into the level of Polyglot Perfectionist Nirvana.  Bill Vicars has already created an unbelievably awesome resource and if ASL is of interest to you, you NEED to check it out.

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This is your trusty Polyglot Products Private Eyes, signing off.  Hope this scoop is useful to you!

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 06/23/14.

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