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. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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 Required Certificate or associate degree for entry level; bachelor's degree; advanced degree, optional.
Certification Available through Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
Training Required Two to five years' experience required for some jobs.
Key Responsibilities Help with communication between the deaf and hearing communities; provide assistance for the deaf community at businesses, schools, and courts
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29% (for interpreters and translators with bachelor's degrees)*
Median Salary (2016) $38,599**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

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

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 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.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • Ashford University

    Ashford University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Ashford University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Johns Hopkins University

    Johns Hopkins University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Johns Hopkins University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • American University

    American University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at American University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Purdue University

    Purdue University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Purdue University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Saint Joseph's University

    Saint Joseph's University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Saint Joseph's University:

    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Colorado State University Global

    Colorado State University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Colorado State University Global:

    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Saint John's University

    Saint John's University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Saint John's University:

    • Doctoral

    Online Programs Available

  • Full Sail University

    Full Sail University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Full Sail University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster Career School

    Penn Foster Career School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster Career School:

    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »