What Is the Average Salary of a Sign Language Interpreter?

As a sign language interpreter, you can work in a variety of job settings, and you may enjoy well-paying employment. Your average salary will depend on a variety of factors, from experience to location. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

If you have strong English skills, the commitment to learn a new language and a desire to assist others, then you might enjoy a career as a sign language interpreter. As a sign language interpreter, you translate spoken English into American Sign Language (ASL) for the benefit of deaf or hearing-impaired individuals.

Important Facts About This Occupation

On-the-Job Training Short-term training is typical for interpreters
Key Skills Ability to listen, speak, and write well; knowledge of business and cultural differences; manual dexterity and ability to interact well with others
Work Environment Schools, meeting and conference facilities, hospitals, and in court settings
Similar Occupations Court reporter, medical transcriptionist, technical writer

Career Prospects

The job prospects for sign language interpreters are favorable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that positions in interpreting and translating would grow very quickly at a rate of 46% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). This growth is due to an increase in Internet video communication.

Salary Overview

According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), salary statistics for this field are hard to come by, mostly because sign language interpreter jobs and their pay vary widely (www.rid.org). In September 2015, PayScale.com reported that most sign language interpreters reporting made between $14.82-$41.78 hourly; however, many interpreters work as freelancers and are sometimes unable to find 40 hours of work in a week. Your particular salary may depend on your geographic location, training, credentials and experience.

Salary by Industry

Jobs are available in several sectors. The BLS reported that most interpreters and translators in May 2014 worked for other professional, scientific and technical services, with an hourly mean wage of $27.18. Many also worked in elementary and secondary schools and earned an hourly mean wage of $19.72.

The highest mean pay was found in architectural, engineering and related services, as well as the federal executive government. These two industries paid hourly mean wages of $50.23 and $35.67, respectively.

Salary by Location

Mean hourly wages in the states with the highest employment levels of interpreters and translators were $23.96 for California, $22.37 for Texas, $26.84 for New York, $19.25 for Florida and $34.22 for Virginia. Mean hourly wages in the states with the highest pay included $34.22 for Virginia, $34.01 for Maryland, $33.96 for the District of Columbia, $30.51 for Nevada and $28.20 for Massachusetts. Mean wages were much lower in states that included Montana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Iowa.

Education Requirements

While it's possible to learn ASL without formal education, attending a sign language interpretation program can be very helpful because of the interactive nature of this type of interpretation. You could choose to pursue either an associate or bachelor's degree in this field, with programs including courses in interpretation analysis, deaf culture, ASL, transliterating and more. These programs are designed to be interactive and provide practical interpreting opportunities to students.

Certification Options

To advance your earning potential, you might consider pursuing certification, such as the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) offered by RID in association with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Earning this certification requires passing a written exam, oral interview and performance test. You can earn certification at a generalist, advanced or master level. Each certification requires a higher-level exam and interview. A bachelor's degree is required for certification.

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