Sign language interpreters generally facilitate communication for people who have some hearing impairment by helping them understand what is being said in a variety of situations. The interactions can be in different settings – in a group, one-to-one and even remotely with the help of video communication technologies. In order to become a sign language interpreter, it is not sufficient simply to master American Sign Language (ASL) but also to have some additional skills and knowledge. 

In the guide below, you will find all the information you need to know about training and certification along with the main duties and responsibilities of an ASL interpreter. This can help you determine whether this job is the right for you and also give you some insights as to what other options are also available. 

How to Become an ASL Interpreter

In order to work as a sign language interpreter, you will need to know ASL and have some knowledge of interpreting techniques, culture of both the deaf and the hearing communities, comparative linguistics, and other similar courses. Such formal training programs will help you be more prepared for the work of a sign language interpreter.  

Note that most employers will require experience rather than education. Nevertheless, there are bachelors and graduate degree programs that are available for sign language interpreters. Still, you will need a certificate or associate’s degree for an entry level position.  

It is also important to choose the field you will work in and get the relevant knowledge. If you decide to be a courtroom sign language interpreter, for example, it is important to have general knowledge of the law system and of the terms associated with law and law enforcement. So, some courses in this field will be of help. 

Certification and Experience 

Most of the employers would rather hire a sign language interpreter who has significant experience and certification over those who have a specific educational degree. The usual experience required is between 2 and 5 years. In order to gain experience, you have several options to follow. One of the best ways is to volunteer as a sign language interpreter on various community events or join community organizations such as the American Red Cross. You can also tutor ASL students or join a sign language group.  

Once you feel confident with your sign language skills, you can also apply for certification. Even though certification is optional, it can give you some competitive advantages when applying for a job. You can apply for a certificate with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) who offer National Interpreter Certification at three levels testing your general interpreting skills, knowledge, and ethics along with your sign language knowledge. You can also get certified by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Once you get certified you become a member and you need to pay an annual membership fee to RID or NAD to keep your certification valid. You can also participate in different programs for continuous education that can help you get even better in what you do. 

Duties and Responsibilities of ASL Interpreters 

As an ASL interpreter, your primary duty is to facilitate communication between hearing and deaf communities in various occasions. You need to employ different techniques in order to achieve the best communication and understanding results. As a sign language interpreter, you use body language and facial expressions in addition to finger spelling techniques to convey the right message with all its nuances.  

There are several types of interpretation services that you can provide as a sign language interpreter: 

  • Provide expressive – voice to sign – interpretation  
  • Use the Signing Exact English (SEE) method – a system of manual communication that aims to be ab exact representation of English vocabulary and grammar 
  • Specialize in tactile signing – it is a method of signing directly into the hands of individuals who are both deaf and blind 
  • Specialize in oral interpreting designed for deaf people who read lips and do not use sign language that much.  

Regardless of the specialization you choose, you need to have strong interpreting skills and knowledge of the language systems and cultures of both communities in order to be able to perform your job. 

ASL Interpreter Salary and Career Outlook  

Your salary as a sign language interpreter may vary dependent on your workplace. It makes a difference whether you work for a professional language provide, in an office, hospital, school or governmental organization. Payment also differs based on your location, education and experience. 

In general, a sign language interpreter can expect an average hourly rate of $25.43, with the lowest rate standing at $15.41 according to PayScale data.  

The job outlook presented by the Bureau of Labor Statistic for the professions of interpreters and translators, that includes the position of sign language interpreters, predicts 18% growth for the period 2016-2026, which is higher than the average for the country. The median salary for 2017 according to BLS stood at $47,190.  

Other Career Options 

If you have acquired the qualification of a sign language interpreter, you can also look around for other alternative careers if interpretation is not the best option for you.  

One of the first possibilities is to become an ASL teacher for different levels. You can teach at schools, colleges, help children or adults and even prospective ASL interpreters in polishing their skills. You will need at least bachelor’s degree to perform this job and you should be prepared to perform tasks such as writing lesson plans, preparing class presentations and dealing with administrative issues in the given educational institution. 

The job of a sign language interpreter is challenging as it requires the skills and knowledge necessary for every interpreter in general in addition to the abilities to work with a specific group of people. In order to become good in the profession, you need to be passionate about helping people and determined to keep developing your skills in line with each specific work assignment you get.