How Can I Become a Sign Language Interpreter?

Explore the career requirements for becoming a sign language interpreter. Get the facts about degree options, certification and 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.

Career Information At a Glance

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication between deaf and hearing people. Learn about requirements for this career, including education options and job duties in the chart below.

Degree Required Certificate or a bachelor's degree. Advanced degree optional.
Training Required Two to five years experience required for some jobs.
Education Field of Study ASL, linguistics, deaf literature, communications, English
Certification Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
Key Responsibilities Help with communication between the deaf and hearing communities; provide assistance for the deaf community at businesses, schools, and courts
Job Growth (2012-2022) 46%*
Median Salary (2014) $35,694**

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

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's 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 by acquiring work experience. Some ways you can do this are by 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 of their children's schools, or you could provide interpreting services in places such as courtrooms or medical facilities.

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:

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