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One of my friends online is deaf, and we met on a game and made friends through in game communication. We've set up to meet, but I realized I may have made a critical misstep in that I don't know American Sign Language (ASL). For background, he's from Minnesota and really wants to see if all of the stories about my home state of California are true.

I don't want for him to not have fun because I don't know enough about sign language, so I'd like for a different way to communicate with him. A quick google search didn't really pull up anything (for me) other than "Well learn ASL!". To give a time frame, he's coming in two weeks.

How can I communicate to someone who is deaf without knowing ASL?


We used texting, and looked like a pair of newfangled kids for the trip. He appreciated that I had thought it all out already, and when he got back he told me that it was one of the most enjoyable trips he'd taken.

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I had a roommate for a year who was deaf and I didn't ever learn ASL! We didn't communicate a whole lot but we certainly did have to talk from time to time. The various solutions we used will work well for you, too... and they all pretty much come down to the same thing - write it down.

If you're not in the same place, communicate the way you're used to. Use a chat room, messenger program, or texts... You can do this on a computer or cell phone.

If you're together, have a pad of paper and a pen with you so that you can write down what you want to say. Your friend may have to write back, too, depending on how good their spoken English is. If your handwriting isn't very good, you can also use texting but I think you'll feel more like you're "together" if you write because you are more likely to look at each other and you can also doodle, whereas with texting you'll be wrapped up in your phones.

Your friend may also know how to lip read, but don't expect them to. Ask if they can and that may make things a little bit easier but writing still may be more accurate, as lip reading isn't perfect.

And finally, start learning ASL. Make an effort to learn simple things like "hello" and "goodbye" and "thanks" before your friend arrives and when they're there, be open to learning more and you'll never run out of things to talk about!

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    Was about to answer +/- the same, as I had 2 deaf students in the past: beside the text / notebook-pen, if he can read lips, think of always face him and remember not to talk to him when he can't see you. – OldPadawan Aug 4 '17 at 17:40
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    Most important ASL phrase to learn: "I don't know ASL". – Mark Aug 5 '17 at 0:17
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A quick google search didn't really pull up anything (for me) other than "Well learn ASL!". To give a time frame, he's coming in two weeks.

Learning ASL is as big a project as learning any foreign language, but learning to finger-spell is actually pretty easy, and can be convenient as an alternative to writing things down all the time. I find it difficult to read rapid finger-spelling, but deaf people will realize if you're not able to keep up, and will slow down.

It's also pretty easy to learn five or ten useful phrases in ASL, like "how are you?," "yes/no" "I/you want ..." [point to object], and turning statements into questions.

In general, don't freak out about it too much. Your friend has been dealing with hearing people all his life. Being deaf is extremely socially isolating, so it's cool if you just go with it and have fun.

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Your best bet is to ask your friend how they prefer to communicate with hearing people, and then do your best to learn some useful phrases while he's visiting. Most deaf people are happy to teach the basics. That being said, as others have mentioned, text messages are easy, free, and not socially awkward. Finger spelling is easy enough to learn, but clumsy until you get practice. There's lots on YouTube about that if you have the time, though, and he will certainly appreciate the effort.

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I would treat this like traveling to a foreign country where you don't know the language. Take those 2 weeks & learn the basics, such as references to eating, bathrooms, etc (any phrases or questions likely to be repeated, so beyond food & toilets, things like "Are you tired? Do you want to leave?") and then plan to use supplemental communication aids like writing & texting. And for sure you can ask too, as they live in a world FULL of hearing people. They know how to get by & asking politely will show an effort on your part to be accommodating.

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