There are several American Sign Language (ASL) apps on the market, but I have been largely dissatisfied with the ones I’ve tried so far. So, similar to the Artik Pix review I posted a couple of weeks ago, I want this post to be less of my singular viewpoint and more of your comparisons. Again, I’ll review one of the apps I have, and then you can chime in with how your app compares. Feel free to just give a brief overview or go into more detail–anything that you think will help us find a good ASL app (or weed out the bad ones).

What It Is: An English-to-ASL translator and dictionary by BKS Investment.

Price: $2.99

Version: 1.1

How It Works: There are three main features of this app: translatordictionary, and categories. There is also a favorites section where frequently used vocabulary can be stored for quick reference. The translator section allows the user to type in up to five words to be translated to ASL. Note 1: the app developers suggest typing in grammatically correct English phrases for best results. Note 2: the app developers also strongly suggest using more than one word, because just typing in a single word may cause the app to close. (I’m not sure why. This can be avoided by typing in “a [insert word]”.) If looking for a specific single word, it’s best to use the dictionary feature of the app,  which has a search bar or can be scrolled through alphabetically. The categories section has about a hundred groupings of various signs (e.g. emotions). All of the signs are demonstrated via video featuring a deaf instructor.

My Therapy Applications: I mostly use this app with a client who is learning sign to supplement his unintelligible speech. If he wants to learn a sign that I’m not familiar with, I’ll look it up on the app. If we’re doing a particular activity or theme, I check to see if there are related categories and I’ll review the vocabulary beforehand. I almost never use the translator section because we focus on one- and two-word utterances to enhance his speech; we’re not trying to make him fluent in true ASL grammar. I could see this feature being useful for older clients who want to check their grammatical accuracy; however, I have not used the app for this purpose enough to know if it is consistently accurate. (I’ve found that many online translators are often slightly wrong, so I would imagine this app could be, too.)

Pros: 1. Price.

2. Large vocabulary. The app boasts over 5,800 signs. (Granted, over 1k of these are numbers.)

3. Various options for look-up: categories, single words, or phrase translation.

4. The ability to “favorite” a word. Unfortunately, this cannot be done with phrase translation.

Cons: 1. Takes forever to open. (Okay, maybe not forever, but it is a pretty long start-up time, which doesn’t go over well with a preschooler on the go…or anyone on the go.)

2. If you exit the app, you have to wait for it to start up again–it doesn’t take you to where you left off.

3. You can only enter 5 words in the translation section. Since I don’t really use this feature, the limitation has not been a big deal, but others have complained, saying that even one or two more words would be a huge improvement.

4. The translator goes quite fast, and there is no option to slow her down. This is a BIG negative for me, for a few reasons. First, using this with a preschooler with a disability, it’s almost pointless to show him the video. Which is a bummer, because he is really motivated by videos. Second, even if I were using this with adults trying to learn ASL, it would be hard for them to accurately mimic the signer. I understand that it is important for the learner to see a “real-time” version–but there should definitely be an option to slow it down. Third, the signs are not very clear, which is not great for teaching/learning purposes.

5. In addition to not being able to slow-motion the video, it’s frustrating trying to pause it, too. The pause button does not register touch well, and since each sign goes too quickly, hitting the pause in time is a challenge.

6. After the video has played (all .1 sec of it), it returns to the list instead of staying on the video. This has become a source of irritation for me.

7. It is technically compatible with the iPad but was only made for the iPhone/iPod Touch, so it’s very grainy on the tablet.

8. The app has crashed on me quite a few times, particularly when using the categories feature.

9. The app developer has not provided an update in almost two years.

The Take-Away: There are lots of little details about this app that make it a disappointment in my book. Basically, it takes an awesome concept and executes it poorly. Will it work for looking up basic sign vocabulary and phrases? Probably. Will it amaze you with its fluidity and ease of use? Definitely not. It’s worth the download if you’re only using it as an occasional quick reference and not much more.

My Questions for You: Now, tell me about your ASL app. 🙂 How is it similar/different? Are you pleased with it?

*Please, if you are an app developer or otherwise invested in a similar app, disclose this in your comment/review (good or bad). Thanks!*

2 thoughts on “iASL

  1. I’m a bit irritated with this app. I bought it about a year and a half ago (when I bought my iPad 2), and it would always crash. The problems seemed to get worse after I updated to IOS 7. I went to register a negative review and now iSign says I never bought the app to begin with and wants me to pay again before I can leave a comment. Not happy about it and definitely not going to buy it again. I’m sticking to online websites like http://www.handspeak.com, lifeprint.com, aslpro.com, and signingsavvy.com. Their resources are pretty good.

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