What is an American Sign Language Degree?

An American Sign Language (ASL) degree is an academic program that focuses on the study of ASL as a distinct language, communication system, and cultural phenomenon. This interdisciplinary field encompasses language acquisition, linguistics, deaf culture, and interpretation, providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively communicate with deaf individuals and participate in the deaf community. Through coursework, hands-on experiences, and immersion activities, students gain proficiency in ASL grammar, vocabulary, and discourse features, as well as insight into the linguistic and cultural diversity of the deaf community.

In an ASL degree program, students explore various aspects of ASL linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse analysis, to develop a deep understanding of the structure and function of the language. They learn about the historical development of ASL, its linguistic status as a natural language, and its role as a primary means of communication for deaf individuals in the United States and other parts of the world. Additionally, students study sociolinguistic aspects of ASL, including regional variation, language attitudes, and social identity, to appreciate the richness and complexity of ASL as a cultural and linguistic heritage.

Program Options

The following program options cater to students with diverse educational backgrounds, career objectives, and scheduling needs, providing opportunities to pursue their interests and aspirations in the study of American Sign Language and deaf culture.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: A Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in American Sign Language is the most common undergraduate program option. This program offers a comprehensive study of ASL linguistics, deaf culture, and interpretation skills. Students may choose elective courses focusing on specific aspects of ASL, such as ASL literature, linguistics, or deaf studies.
  • Master’s Degree: A Master of Arts (MA) in American Sign Language or ASL Studies is a graduate-level program that provides advanced study and specialization in ASL linguistics, interpretation, or deaf education. This program is designed for students who want to deepen their knowledge and expertise in specific areas of ASL or pursue advanced career opportunities in fields such as ASL teaching or interpreter training.
  • Minor or Concentration: Some universities offer minors or concentrations in American Sign Language as part of broader interdisciplinary programs in linguistics, communication studies, or deaf studies. These programs provide students with a foundational understanding of ASL while allowing them to focus on other areas of interest within their major field of study.
  • Certificate Programs: Certificate programs in American Sign Language offer specialized training in ASL proficiency, interpretation, or deaf studies for individuals seeking to enhance their skills or pursue careers in related fields. These programs may be offered at the undergraduate or graduate level and can be completed in one to two years. Certificate options may include ASL interpretation, deaf education, or ASL teaching.
  • Online and Hybrid Programs: Many universities offer online or hybrid programs in American Sign Language, allowing students to pursue their degrees remotely while balancing work, family, or other commitments. Online programs provide flexibility and convenience, with asynchronous or synchronous learning formats and virtual collaboration tools. These programs often include interactive coursework, video-based instruction, and opportunities for hands-on practice in ASL skills and interpretation.

Skills You’ll Learn

In an American Sign Language (ASL) degree program, students acquire a diverse set of skills essential for effective communication within the deaf community and beyond. Some of the key skills learned include:

  • ASL Proficiency: Students develop proficiency in American Sign Language, including expressive and receptive skills, fingerspelling, and signing fluency. They learn to convey ideas, emotions, and concepts effectively using ASL grammar, vocabulary, and non-manual signals.
  • Interpretation: Students gain skills in ASL interpretation, including consecutive and simultaneous interpreting techniques, sight translation, and message equivalence. They learn to facilitate communication between deaf and hearing individuals in various settings, such as educational, legal, medical, or community contexts.
  • Cultural Competence: Students develop cultural competence in deaf culture, including an understanding of cultural norms, values, and perspectives within the deaf community. They learn to navigate cross-cultural interactions, respect diversity, and advocate for deaf rights and accessibility.
  • Linguistic Analysis: Students learn to analyze ASL linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax, and discourse features. They gain insights into the structure and function of ASL as a natural language, as well as its regional and sociolinguistic variations.
  • Communication Strategies: Students acquire communication strategies for effective interaction with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, including visual communication techniques, non-verbal cues, and use of assistive technologies. They learn to adapt their communication style to meet the needs of diverse audiences and situations.
  • Ethical Standards: Students understand ethical principles and professional standards in ASL interpretation and deaf advocacy. They learn about confidentiality, impartiality, cultural sensitivity, and the importance of ongoing professional development and self-reflection.
  • Collaboration and Teamwork: Students develop collaboration and teamwork skills through group projects, role-playing exercises, and collaborative assignments. They learn to work effectively with interpreters, deaf educators, healthcare professionals, and other stakeholders to ensure inclusive and accessible communication environments.
  • Problem-Solving: Students enhance their problem-solving skills by analyzing communication barriers and finding creative solutions to address them. They learn to troubleshoot technical issues, navigate challenging interpreting situations, and advocate for communication access and accommodation.
  • Research and Analysis: Students conduct research and analysis on topics related to ASL linguistics, deaf culture, interpretation theory, or deaf education. They learn to critically evaluate scholarly literature, design research studies, collect data, and present findings effectively in written and oral formats.
  • Lifelong Learning: Students cultivate a commitment to lifelong learning and professional growth in the field of ASL and deaf studies. They recognize the importance of staying current with advances in ASL linguistics, interpretation techniques, technology, and best practices to enhance their skills and contribute to the field.

What Can You Do with an American Sign Language Degree?

With an American Sign Language (ASL) degree, individuals have various career options where they can leverage their ASL proficiency, interpretation skills, and cultural competence within the deaf community and beyond. Here are some potential career paths:

  • ASL Interpreter: Graduates can work as ASL interpreters, facilitating communication between deaf and hearing individuals in diverse settings such as educational institutions, healthcare facilities, legal proceedings, business meetings, and community events. They interpret spoken language into ASL and vice versa, ensuring effective communication and access to information for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
  • ASL Teacher/Educator: Graduates can pursue careers as ASL teachers or educators, teaching ASL classes at schools, colleges, universities, or community organizations. They develop and deliver curriculum materials, assess student proficiency, and provide instruction in ASL grammar, vocabulary, and cultural competence, fostering language acquisition and appreciation for deaf culture among learners.
  • Deaf Education Specialist: Graduates can work as deaf education specialists, supporting the academic and social development of deaf and hard-of-hearing students in educational settings. They may serve as classroom aides, resource teachers, or special education teachers, providing support services, accommodations, and assistive technologies to meet the diverse needs of deaf learners.
  • Community Outreach Coordinator: Graduates can work as community outreach coordinators or advocates, promoting awareness, accessibility, and inclusion for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals within their communities. They may organize events, workshops, or support groups, provide information and resources on deaf culture and rights, and collaborate with local organizations to address barriers and advocate for social change.
  • Sign Language Consultant: Graduates can work as sign language consultants or advisors, providing expertise on ASL linguistics, interpretation, and cultural competence to organizations, businesses, or government agencies. They may offer training sessions, language assessments, or accessibility audits, ensuring compliance with legal requirements and best practices for serving deaf and hard-of-hearing populations.
  • Accessibility Specialist: Graduates can work as accessibility specialists, designing and implementing accessible communication solutions for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in various environments. They may assess accessibility needs, recommend accommodations, and coordinate the provision of assistive technologies such as videophones, captioning services, or sign language interpreters.
  • Deaf Services Coordinator: Graduates can work as deaf services coordinators or program managers, overseeing programs and services that support the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and their families. They may work for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or advocacy groups, coordinating service delivery, managing budgets, and advocating for policy changes to improve access and equity.
  • Linguistic Researcher: Graduates can pursue careers in linguistic research, conducting studies on ASL linguistics, language acquisition, or deaf communication. They may work in academic institutions, research organizations, or language assessment agencies, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in ASL studies and informing best practices in language education and interpretation.
  • Media Production Specialist: Graduates can work as media production specialists, creating multimedia content in ASL for deaf and hearing audiences. They may produce ASL videos, podcasts, or online courses, providing accessible information and entertainment in sign language on various topics such as news, entertainment, education, or cultural awareness.


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