How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter

Last Updated on January 17, 2023

Do you need to know about how hard is it to become a sign language interpreter,? Starting from how to become a sign language interpreter, how to become a sign language interpreter in America, sign language interpreter certification online, sign language interpreter jobs to how long does it take to become a sign language interpreter you can get all the information you need in the article and find relevant, recent posts on Collegelearners

How Can I Become a Sign Language Interpreter?

Explore the career requirements for becoming a sign language interpreter. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, licensure and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you.View Schools

Learn How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter - CareerLancer

What Does a Sign Language Interpreter Do?

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between deaf and hearing people. They convert spoken language into sign language by making the interpretation as close to the hearer’s language as possible and interpreting the sign language back into spoken language. These professionals need to be proficient in two languages, not only in the interpreted language, but English as well. Accuracy is vital in this profession.

Learn about the general requirements for this career in the chart below.

Degree RequiredCertificate or associate degree for entry level; bachelor’s degree; advanced degree, optional.
CertificationAvailable through Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
Training RequiredTwo to five years’ experience required for some jobs.
Key ResponsibilitiesHelp with communication between the deaf and hearing communities; provide assistance for the deaf community at businesses, schools, and courts
Job Growth (2018-2028)19% (for interpreters and translators with bachelor’s degrees)*
Median Salary (2016)$39,267**
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Education Will I Need to Become a Sign Language Interpreter?

Becoming a Sign Language Interpreter | Start ASL

While most employers only require experience and certification, formal training programs in ASL or interpreter training can help prepare you for a career in sign language interpretation. Although certificate and associate degree programs are most common, bachelor’s and graduate degree programs are also available. These programs offer courses in ASL, interpreting, deaf culture, comparative linguistics, sign tuning and deaf literature. Be aware that sign language interpreters should also have thorough knowledge of the cultures of both the deaf and hearing communities.

Once you’re comfortable with your knowledge of ASL and deaf culture, you may apply to test for certification. Several levels of certification are available through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Once certified, you’ll need to maintain your certification by participating in continuing education and paying annual RID or NAD membership fees.

How Do I Gain Work Experience?

It will be necessary to perfect and develop your interpretation skills. The best way to do this is by acquiring work experience. You might consider joining a sign language group, tutoring ASL students or volunteering your interpreting services at community events. You can also work with community organizations, such as the American Red Cross. You’ll probably need between two and five years of signing experience to qualify for many jobs.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

As a sign language interpreter, you’ll use a combination of body language, facial expressions and finger spelling techniques to facilitate communications between hearing and deaf persons. You might provide expressive (voice to sign) interpretation, or you might utilize a method called Signing Exact English (SEE). Also, you can choose to specialize in tactile signing, which involves manually signing directly into the hands of individuals who are both blind and deaf, or you may specialize in oral interpreting, which is designed for deaf people who read lips and pick up visual cues, rather than sign. You might sign for deaf parents when they need to communicate with the staff at their children’s schools, or you could provide interpreting services in places such as courtrooms or medical facilities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Education is a natural alternative career path. Teaching middle school, high school, adult ed and career/technical education will require a bachelor’s degree at least. These jobs require lesson plan writing, class presentations and close work with students, parents, faculty and administrators. Other related fields might include courtroom reporting or medical transcription. Both of these jobs need post-high school training and certification and work to convert language or text into another form.

How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter

Interpreter signing during business meeting.

Demand for sign language interpreters has skyrocketed in your area. Seeing the need, you decide to become an interpreter. Where can you go for that training, and how do you become an interpreter?

College Education

Most people who become interpreters obtain some formal training in colleges and universities. The Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education has a listing of accredited programs that offer degrees in sign language interpreting.

Despite the abundance of training programs, scholarships for interpreters appear to be relatively few. Some of the scholarships available for interpreters, primarily through state associations for interpreters:

  • Florida Registry of Interpreters for the Deafhas scholarships to help defray the cost of certification testing
  • Harper College (Palatine, IL)Jacob and Iris Wolf Sign Language Interpreting Scholarship for students in their Sign Language Interpreter Program
  • Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, for educational interpreters in Minnesota
  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf scholarshipsRID has scholarships for interpreter training program students, and to help pay testing fees.
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Organizations

Testing

After education is completed and some experience is gained, the professional interpreter-to-be must take a certification test. There is a National Interpreter Certification (NIC) certification test given jointly by the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. This test (which involves a written test, an interview, and a performance test) has three levels of certification:

  • National Interpreter Certification
  • National Interpreter Certification Advanced
  • National Interpreter Certification Master

Over the years, there has been some criticism in the deaf community of interpreter certification programs, particularly the cost involved, which has been a barrier for some people wanting to become interpreters. However, starting in June 2012, hearing candidates for interpreter certification had to have at least a bachelor’s degree and as of June 2016, deaf candidates for interpreter certification needed to have at least a bachelor’s degree, but requirements may vary by state.1

Additional Interpreter Training Resources

There is a National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC), and you can read an interview with the leads of the NCIEC. In addition, there is a national organization for people that do the training of interpreters, the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT). The CIT promotes standards and holds biennial conventions.

Be an American Sign Language Interpreter

Degree LevelBachelor’s degree
Degree Field(s)ASL interpretation or related field
Licensure/CertificationVoluntary certification available
ExperienceVaries by position
Key SkillsFluency in English and ASL; clear, expressive communicator; cultural sensitivity
Average Annual Salary (2018)$55,230 (for translators and interpreters across all fields)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters use ASL signs, finger spelling, and body language to enable communication between the deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing communities. ASL interpreters may find work in a variety of settings, such as schools, health care facilities, and businesses. ASL interpreters must be fluent in both English, and ASL and typically have a bachelor’s degree. Optional certification can also be earned to demonstrate competence as an ASL interpreter.

Salary Information

In May 2018, translators and interpreters across all fields, including ASL and foreign language translators and interpreters, earned an average annual income of $55,230 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, reports.

Professional scientific and technical service, elementary and high schools, medical facilities, and colleges and universities were among the largest employers of interpreters. Earnings as an ASL interpreter largely depend on one’s level of experience and place of work. In May 2013, the BLS reported that the highest paid interpreters and translators worked for engineering services, office administrative services, and the federal government. Certain specialities may require additional training.

Translators and interpreters working in computer systems design and related services earned an annual average income of $74,340 and interpreters and translators in elementary and high schools earned an average annual income of $45,100, per the BLS in 2018.

Licenses/Certifications

There is currently no universal certification required of interpreters and translators beyond passing the required court interpreting exams offered by most states. However, workers can take a variety of tests that show proficiency. For example, the American Translators Association provides certification in 29 language combinations

Career Information for ASL Interpreters

Many ASL interpreters get their start in informal ways, such as conversations with deaf or hearing-impaired individuals. Fluency in English and ASL is required, though it is not always enough to obtain a position. Interpreters must be clear, expressive communicators who are sensitive to the cultures and institutions in which they work. They must accurately and objectively convey the meaning and emotion of what they interpret.

Education Requirements for ASL Interpreters

ASL interpreters typically have at least a bachelor’s degree. Specialized certificate and degree programs in ASL interpretation are available from community colleges and universities. Bachelor’s degree programs may incorporate courses in deaf culture along with sign language training.

It takes time and experience to gain the skills required to become a qualified ASL interpreter. Further education, internships, and volunteer work are ways of improving fluency and communication skills. Certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is a means of demonstrating competence as an ASL interpreter.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, translator and interpreter jobs should grow rapidly due to the expansion of video relay service and video remote interpreting technologies. These technologies allow real-time ASL translation through video calling over high-speed Internet connections. Employment opportunities can be found in educational and religious institutions as well as social service, community and arts organizations. More experienced interpreters may establish careers in legal or medical interpretation.

Careers for Interpreters and Translators

  • Community interpreters
  • Conference interpreters
  • Coordinating interpreters
  • Educational interpreters
  • Escort interpreters
  • Federal court interpreters
  • Foreign language interpreters and translators
  • Health or medical interpreters and translators
  • Healthcare interpreters and translators
  • Interpreters
  • Judiciary interpreters and translators
  • Legal or judicial interpreters and translators
  • Liaison interpreters
  • Liaison or escort interpreters
  • Literary interpreters
  • Literary translators
  • Localization translators
  • Localizers
  • Medical interpreters and translators
  • Mental health interpreters
  • Simultaneous interpreters
  • State court interpreters
  • Translators
  • Trilingual interpreters

Similar Careers

Higher Paid

  • Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers
  • Career and Technical Education Teachers
  • Court Reporters
  • High School Teachers
  • Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
  • Middle School Teachers
  • Postsecondary Teachers
  • Special Education Teachers
  • Technical Writers
  • Writers and Authors

Less Education

  • Court Reporters
  • Medical Transcriptionists
  • Postsecondary Teachers

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