How To Become A Sign Language Interpreter

By: VocoVision

Thanks to those who have advocated for special education rights, more and more people who are Deaf or hard of hearing can access essential human services, like education, healthcare, and legal assistance. In public school settings, for example, students who qualify have certain special education rights, including the ability to work with a qualified interpreter in the classroom setting and during meetings focused on their individual education program (IEP).

In-person and remote sign language interpreters play an essential role in ensuring accurate communication between the world and people who are Deaf or experience hearing difficulties. Proponents of special education rights may be especially interested in pursuing this in-demand career. Requiring a diverse set of physical, cognitive, and socioemotional skills, a career in sign language interpretation promises fulfillment on a variety of levels. Continue reading to learn how to become a sign language interpreter.

What Is A Sign Language Interpreter?

A sign language interpreter is a trained professional who uses their skills to communicate messages to and from people who may be Deaf or hard of hearing. A key figure in ensuring people’s special education rights are honored, a sign language interpreter regularly connects people from different cultures or backgrounds and provides access to critical information.

There are three major types of sign language interpretation in the United States:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) consists of its own language, grammar, syntax, and cultural rules. An ASL interpreter will sign words spoken in English and provide a voice for what may be signed in ASL.
  • Transliteration in signed English involves a combination of signs and fingerspelling to communicate a visual form of the English language. The interpreter will give voice (in English) to what may be signed in visual or signed English.
  • Oral interpretation requires an interpreter to mouth the movements of a message communicated in English without using their voice. This technique may be used to communicate words considered more “lip-readable” or to clarify spoken communication.

In some situations, sign language interpreters fulfill their responsibilities in remote capacities. Using a headset, the interpreter signs a hearing person’s communication in front of a web camera, which a Deaf person will observe. The Deaf person may then reply using sign language, and the interpreter voices their communication to the hearing person.

Sign language interpreters are accountable to a Code of Professional Conduct, which establishes the standards for ensuring confidentiality, discretion, and impartiality when communicating all types of messages. The ultimate goal of the code is to show respect and guarantee ethical treatment for all parties involved, ensuring that the special education rights of people with Deafness or difficulty hearing are honored.

Sign language interpreters are expected to translate all communication with fidelity to the speaker’s intent, refraining from embellishment, advocacy, or any little or preferential changes.

How To Become A Sign Language Interpreter

There is a high demand for sign language interpretation in collegiate settings, public schools, community organizations, medical offices, courtrooms, and many other business contexts. As you might imagine, one must take specific steps to become a sign language interpreter including education, certification, and experience.

Sign Language Interpreter Certification

At the minimum, sign language interpreters should possess a high school diploma or equivalent. Many employers prefer candidates with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in the field of ASL. Graduates with a degree in English, communication, teaching, or special education may also be considered, particularly if they have completed coursework in ASL or Deaf culture. Sign language interpreter education is available in many higher learning institutions across the country,

Several organizations enroll interested candidates in ASL certification programs, including the Registry for the Interpreters of the Deaf (RID). Sign language interpreter requirements often include completing a bachelor’s degree, participating in a series of interviews, passing the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) Knowledge Exam, and passing the NIC Performance Exam. Depending on the setting where you intend to work, you may need to be well-versed in various special education rights.

The three-hour NIC Knowledge Exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions and is administered online. The NIC Performance Exam presents seven video-based scenarios, two ethical interview scenarios, and five interpreting scenarios. Each scenario prompts the test-taker to provide a response or solution to challenges they might encounter in the real world.

It takes several years to become ASL-certified, and the most sought-after ASL candidates have had at least two to five years of experience in ASL interpretation in addition to obtaining the credentials above.

Sign Language Interpreter Skills

A sign language interpreter career is ideal for someone with multiple talents and interests, as well as people who consider themselves to be lifelong learners. Travel is a frequent component of many sign language interpretation jobs, which can be exciting for people who love constant stimulation and the opportunity to explore new cultures.

The ideal sign language interpreter possesses a range of physical, cognitive, and social functions, including the ability to:

  • Hear, see, and speak clearly without supplemental aid
  • Move facial muscles and make rapid, coordinated movements with their fingers, hands, arms, and head
  • Possess the physical and mental stamina to attend to long periods of communication without becoming tired or distracted
  • Use logic and analytical skills to interpret communication and make necessary adjustments
  • Shift rapidly between multiple cognitive tasks and recall information quickly from their working memory
  • Anticipate conflicts or misunderstandings and exercise control in potentially stressful or emotional situations
  • Possess basic knowledge of a variety of subjects and deep knowledge of special education rights
  • Adjust communication-based on cultural norms and sensitivities and demonstrate an awareness of others’ reactions
  • Work independently and manage time effectively

The skills mentioned hardly constitute an exhaustive list. As you can see, successful sign language interpreters are well-rounded, attentive, and quick-thinking. In addition to these essential skills, all sign language interpreters should be able to pass a criminal background check.

Sign Language Interpreter Salary

Average salaries for sign language interpreters vary across geographical regions. Those with more experience may be eligible for higher wages. Jobs are available in in-person and remote settings, and the salary for interpreting in-person is comparable to providing remote interpretation services.

As of 2022, Virginia offers the highest average salary for ASL interpreters, with other states like Oregon, New York, California, and Alaska paying competitive salaries.

Conversely, the states offering the lowest average salaries for ASL interpreters in the nation tend to advertise fewer positions. In states like Oklahoma, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, and Hawaii, employees can expect less competitive average salaries.

Sign Language Interpreter Job Outlook

Now is an excellent time to start pursuing a career as a sign language interpreter. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 24% growth in the industry from 2020 to 2030, which is considerably faster than other industries. With the increasing popularity of online video calls, sign language interpreters can expect to see even more openings within diverse industries.

Speaking of which, there are few realms where sign language interpretation is not applicable. Here are some of the most popular sectors where sign language interpreters may find work (either as employees or contractors):

  • Education (i.e., K-12 schools, colleges, and universities)
  • Entertainment (i.e., concerts, awards ceremonies, films)
  • Media (i.e., TV news broadcasting, digital journalism, social media segments)
  • Military (i.e., the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps)
  • Government (i.e., the Department of Social Services, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Social Security Administration)
  • Healthcare (i.e., hospitals, pediatric offices, outpatient clinics, dental offices)
  • Business (i.e., conferences, presentations, meetings, negotiations)

For the most part, government and public services are expected to abide by special education rights outlined by policies like the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Larger corporations that have a national or global reach may rely more on the services of remote sign language interpreters, as their staff and clients may come from all over. People who have the ability to sign in multiple languages are even more desirable for these types of organizations.

Are You Ready To Become A Remote Sign Language Interpreter?

The demand for excellent sign language interpreters is so high that high schools are increasingly adding American Sign Language courses to their programs of study. Today, more than 1,000 public high schools offer these classes, which count as foreign language credits required for graduation.

Whether you start pursuing a career in sign language interpretation as a high school student or as a mid-career transition, there is an abundance of in-person and remote sign language interpreter jobs available in stimulating settings across the world. By taking the appropriate steps to gain fluency, complete a degree program, and pass the required certification exams for ASL, you can be well on your way to a personally thrilling and professionally fulfilling career.

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