Marlee Matlin is well known as an Academy Award-winning actress. But her latest role has her ditching the big screen in favor of something a bit smaller: your iPhone. As an influential member of the National Association for the Deaf, Marlee has teamed up with MEDL Mobile to release a fun interactive sign language app that teaches the fundamentals of American Sign Language (ASL).
Marlee Signs is a simple, visual presentation of ASL using high-quality videos of Marlee herself — rather than just static images on a page. Lessons are broken down into individual videos, and feature everything from the signed alphabet and basic vocabulary to common expressions. The first category, simply titled “You,” is free and features seven lessons ranging from the alphabet to everyday signs and questions. You can purchase additional lessons for $1.99 each. These include categories like “Around You,” “Home,” “Around Town,” “Around World,” and “Baby Signs.”
If you’re trying to learn a particular word or phrase, you can type that into the “Spell” section of the app and Marlee will sign it for you. You can swipe any time during a video to move to next one, or re-watch the previous one — whether you’re watching the lessons or spelling. According to the App Store, Marlee Signs is supposed to check off completed lessons so you can quickly find where you left off, but it didn’t seem to keep track during testing. It also has a Slow Motion feature, which enables you to watch any video in greater detail. To access this, tap the video when it begins playing and tap again on the button to the right. It’s not very obvious, but it’s a nice option to have.
The videos definitely set Marlee Signs apart from other ASL apps, but it’s definitely got a few kinks to work out in future iterations. An issue that I ran into early on was that of feedback. Upon launching the app for the first time, I was greeting by a pop-up thanking me for using the app, and asking what I thought of it. I chose “Could Be Better” from my options so I could tell the developers about the early prompt. After submitting my feedback I was greeted by the same prompt again. After a few more attempts, I was basically forced into selecting “Great Stuff” from the menu. This bothers me because I had just started using the app so I couldn’t possibly have any valuable feedback or really any opinion at all about it. According to the developers, this bug should be fixed in the next update — due out later this week.
[Updated 10/23 5:18pm: I was just notified by the developers that the updated version of Marlee Signs is now available in the App Store.]
The next update will also ensure that all of the app’s screens support the iPhone 5. Currently some screens appear shorter, as if made fore a smaller screen, but it doesn’t interfere with video playback or any of the features. Overall Marlee Signs is a great learning tool (coming from someone who doesn’t know a lick of sign language). The videos are clear and work well on the iPhone’s (now bigger, but still small) screen. I love that the focus of the app is Marlee herself, as it makes watching the signs all the more enjoyable.