How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter
Are you considering a career as a sign language interpreter for schools? Becoming a sign language interpreter may be the best choice you ever make. Read on to find out what skills are required and how to become an SLI.
Sign Language Interpreter
Not too long ago, there was no standard language for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community. In 1814, Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet introduced American Sign Language (ASL), which provided a unified method of communication to people with hearing impairment in the United States. Enter the demand for sign language interpreters. An SLI plays a crucial role in helping people with hearing loss communicate with those who can hear. In this guide, we’ll look at how to become a sign language interpreter. In this rewarding and dynamic profession, you can positively affect lives while creating a successful career. Variety and opportunities abound, and each day in the life of a sign language interpreter may be different than the one before.
How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter
So, you want to become a sign language interpreter. But how? Let’s take a look at the specific steps you need to take to get there.
The minimum prerequisite for an SLI position is a high school diploma or equivalent. However, many employers require an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree, in the field of American Sign Language. Other accepted degrees include English or communications, ideally with coursework in deaf culture or ASL. Many colleges and universities offer separate sign language interpreter programs, which can result in an associate’s degree or certificate of achievement. Both of these can help you land an entry-level SLI position
For those looking to achieve their highest potential in this career, certification is critical. The Registry for the Interpreters of the Deaf (RID) provides sign language interpreter certification, which demonstrates proficiency in the field. Through the completion of a rigorous process, successful participants will receive their National Interpreter Certification (NIC). Some of the requirements of this certification include holding a bachelor’s degree, completing interviews, and passing the NIC Knowledge exam, as well as the NIC Performance exam. Frequently, certification can unlock new, challenging, and rewarding opportunities in the field. As you diversify industries and positions, you can obtain specialized certification in different areas and broaden your skillset.
Many positions require substantial experience, along with your degree or certification. Often, employers ask for between two and five years of experience in the realm of American Sign Language interpretation. This experience can be varied, such as joining sign language groups, volunteering with organizations that assist the deaf, or tutoring deaf and hard of hearing students with ASL. Other ways to gain experience include mentorships and interning under certified sign language interpreting experts, offered through many universities and ASL training programs.
Personality and Professional Traits
As an SLI, certain traits are expected of you. You will need to have a firm grasp of both American Sign Language and English, as you will be translating nuanced spoken language through signs. You should be flexible, as you are responsible for delivering the message of many personality types, relaying ideas with which you may not agree. Additionally, you will be continuously active and use your hands throughout the day. Other traits that SLIs possess are cultural sensitivity, compassion, and positivity. If these characteristics describe you, you may be a good fit as an SLI.
Sign Language Interpreter Salary
There is a wide range of salaries for sign language interpreters. Much of this discrepancy is geographical. Average salaries vary between states and regions, with a low of $30,840 (Arkansas) to a high $98,850 (Washington, D.C.). Nationally, the median salary for SLIs is $55,230.
There is also a large gap between what entry-level positions offer compared to the highest-paying SLI positions. To land the most rewarding jobs, you will want to ensure that you have all of the necessary prerequisites, such as a bachelor’s degree in ASL, along with the appropriate certification from nationally-recognized organizations like RID. Experience is a significant factor in your potential salary, as well. The more specialized training you gain, the more likely it is that you will receive higher compensation. In general, you can expect to begin at a lower rate of pay and move up the scale as you gain work experience.
As technology permeates the industry, more and more exciting new possibilities are emerging in the realm of virtual sign language interpretation. Increasingly, the ability to work remotely is appealing to many SLIs. The average pay for online sign language interpreter jobs is comparable to in-person service providers, with the added freedom of working where you want.
American Sign Language Interpreter Career Outlook
The career growth outlook for ASL interpreters has been steadily increasing recently, but even more so with the advent of virtual positions. In a recent estimation, job growth projects to be 19% by 2028. Sign language interpreting services are in need across multiple industries. SLIs are in demand for positions in the federal government, including such departments as the CIA and Department of Defense. If you are interested in working for public and private corporations, healthcare, technology, or scientific industries, you can expect significant growth potential, as well.
A primary area of need for SLIs is in education. Schools of all levels need sign language interpreters, and students across the country benefit from their services. The demand for remote school-based positions, in particular, is increasing steadily. Most SLIs are concentrated in just a few states, leaving significant gaps between student needs and available providers. With virtual sign language interpretation, remote ASL interpreters can serve students across the country fairly and equitably, no matter where the student is located.
Final Thoughts on Becoming a Sign Language Interpreter
Becoming an ASL interpreter is a journey. Along the way, you will gain not only knowledge on how to deliver much-needed services expertly, but also a deep understanding of an entire culture. By following the appropriate steps to become a certified SLI, you can thrive in your career while helping those deaf and hard of hearing clients who need you most. If you are caring, dedicated, and ready to grow professionally, sign language interpreting can be the future for you.
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