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American Sign Language

Learn valuable communication skills and meet your language requirement

American Sign Language (ASL) is one of the fastest growing languages in the United States and is the indigenous language of the Deaf community. ASL is a natural, visual, non-spoken language with its own distinct grammatical structure. The shape, movement, and location of the hands, facial expressions and body are used to communicate with one another. ASL as a visual language, uses a different modality of communication compared to spoken languages.

Even better, ASL courses at the University of Minnesota can be used to fulfill your second language requirement.

ASL versus spoken languages

ASL has a rich, complex grammatical construction and is very different from English on every linguistic level from phonological to morphological and syntactical; Deaf culture is also different from English-speaking culture.

The modality of the language is different with ASL being a visual-spatial language. A fundamental component of speaking ASL is learning how to express and receive language in a visual and physical modality without the use of aural and oral channels.

In order to speak ASL coherently and accurately, it takes time to learn how to communicate spatially rather than relying on signs in linear-like sequences of spoken language. ASL’s pronunciation and grammatical features is dependent on simultaneous expression of hands, eyes, face with brows and mouth movements, and body while using space, depicting verbs, etc.

ASL and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency levels for ASL 1-4

Discover a new community and culture

ASL as a sign language is not only a useful skill but it also helps you to gain a new perspective how human languages are governed. Studying ASL promotes cross-cultural understanding between both cultures and helps you to have a greater sense of understanding of the Deaf community and its distinguished tradition (e.g. Science, Literature, Film, Theater, Poetry, and Art). Learning ASL also opens possibilities of working with Deaf people in the community while expanding your personal horizons.

Diversity and inclusion for students and the Deaf Community

The American Sign Language Program welcomes students from the state of Minnesota, around the country, and the world. Our ASL Program aims to create a learning culture that is inclusive for all. We embrace a belief that the learning community is enriched and enhanced by the dimensions of diversity and identity including, but not limited to: race, color, ethnicity and national origins, gender and gender identity, age, sexuality, marital status, parental status, socioeconomic status, age, culture, disability (physical and mental ability), political beliefs, and religious beliefs. All the dimensions of diversity our students and faculty bring to our ASL classes are viewed as a positive gain, strength, resource, and benefit. Everyone deserves to feel respected, included, safe, and challenged. Our work in evaluating and advancing the curriculum through racial lens in terms of promoting inclusion, equity, diversity, etc. is continuous and evolving. Read our full diversity statement.

Careers involving ASL

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for American Sign Language interpreters is expected to grow rapidly, driven by the increasing use of video relay services and video remote interpreting, which allow people to conduct online video calls and use an American sign language interpreter.

As more and more people learn ASL, the range of careers working with the ASL and Deaf community have expanded exponentially. Learning ASL as a second language opens unlimited opportunities and is helpful in choosing a career path in fields not limited to:

  • ASL interpreting
  • Business
  • Deaf culture
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Government
  • Health and medicine
  • Language specialist/assessment
  • Law
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Recreation/sports
  • Research
  • Science
  • Social Services: counseling, psychology, sociology
  • Speech hearing sciences
  • Technology
  • Theater

Getting started

ASL classes are offered online and in-person year-round, including May and summer terms, making it easier and faster for you to fulfill your language requirement. For example, you could take ASL 1 in the fall, ASL 2 in the spring, and ASL 3 and 4 over the summer.

Note: We offer a few sections of ASL 1 and 2 online (asynchronous) in addition to face-to-face formats. ASL 3 and 4 are in-person only.

View our spring 2023 class schedule

Students who have taken ASL courses in the past will need to complete a placement assessment. ASL courses at University of Minnesota may not be equivalent to classes you have taken at other schools. Free to University students (incoming and transfer students), the ASL Placement Assessment is conducted to document equivalency and to ensure that you are enrolled in the appropriate course level.

All placement exams are either held online via Zoom or on University Minnesota's St. Paul Campus at the following address:
University of Minnesota
240 Learning and Environmental Sciences (LES) building
1954 Buford Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55108

Students who have taken at least two semesters or one year of American Sign Language in high school or a first semester ASL course at the at the college/university level, or have had a lapse between classes, please take a moment to complete this questionnaire. At the end of the questionnaire you will receive a link to self-schedule a date and time for your ASL placement assessment. If you do not see any available dates/times to schedule your assessment, please contact the ASL Program Coordinator at at and

*If you do not receive a link to the scheduling page, you will be advised to register for the beginning ASL course.

Course descriptions

American Sign language (ASL) course descriptions

ASL and ACTFL proficiency levels for ASL 1-4 to American Sign Language (ASL) course descriptions and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Proficiency Levels for ASL 1-4.

Transfer credits

Talk to your advisor about the number of language credits your program requires. ASL credits are transferable from other accredited colleges and universities. For more information regarding the transfer of credits and credits by special examination, visit our FAQ page or contact the ASL Program.

Enrolled in a course?

Visit our current students resource page for more information.

Tech recommendations

Our online and face-to-face courses require:

  • A hard wired, high speed internet connection to access videos, quizzes, and exams and view and submit files in Canvas
  • Laptop, tablet with a HD camera or webcam to play or record video assignments. Your device should be able to play and record videos (e.g., MP4, QuickTime) and open PDF files.
  • Access to PowerPoint, Keynote Presentation, Pages, and MS Word

Note: Some assignments will require you to use a DVD player. If your device(s) do not have a DVD drive, you may watch these at a campus library.

Related programs

Special education degree and licensure programs. Get your bachelor’s or master’s in special education, and you’ll also earn your Academic Behavioral Strategist Licensure (ABS). Once you have your ABS, you'll be qualified to pursue a license in deaf and hard of hearing education.

Connect with other students

Our students love the ASL program because of its ties to the Deaf Community and Culture, and many just enjoy signing! To learn more about how our students get involved, visit the ASL Club page or like us on Facebook.

ASL resources in the Deaf Community

Community members and educators: Get more information on ASL resources available in the community.

Visit the Minnesota Department of Education's website for further information on resources available in the ASL/Deaf community.

Instructional staff

Jonathan C. Penny headshot

Jonathan C. PennyProgram coordinator, instructor


Phone/VP: 651-964-1433

Shirley Applebee headshot

Shirley ApplebeeTeaching specialist

Phone/VP: 612-284-961

Leah Dolezal headshot

Leah DolezalSenior teaching specialist

Phone/VP: 651-317-4157

Brad Hardin headshot

Brad HardinSenior teaching specialist

Phone/VP: 952-388-2159

Nishani McCluskey headshot
Brad Neubarth headshot

Brad NeubarthTeaching specialist

Brittney Stanek headshot
Sara Burrington headshot

Sara BurringtonOffice Staff

Phone/VP: 612-624-1274