ASL Interpreter: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for ASL interpreters. Get the facts about training and experience requirements, salary information and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an ASL Interpreter?

ASL interpreters are American Sign Language interpreters. Interpreters process information from one spoken language and then translate it into another spoken language so that different groups of people can communicate with each other. They can also interpret sign language and relay data between sign and spoken language, and this is what ASL interpreters do. They must be fluent in ASL, and they work with individuals who are deaf or have suffered hearing loss to help them communicate. They typically interpret information as it's being said, or interpret a block of information after the speaker is finished.

Education Required Varies from certificate to master's
Key Skills Verbatim signing of spoken communications, summarized signing of what is said, translating ASL into spoken English
Certification Optional
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 19% for all interpreters and translators*
Median Salary (May 2018) $49,930 for all interpreters and translators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Will I Do As an ASL Interpreter?

As an ASL interpreter you will assist the hearing impaired and deaf by signing spoken communications. Your basic job duty is to convey what is being spoken through sign language. You may have to summarize or sign word-for-word what is being said. You may interpret the spoken word into sign language or sign language into the spoken word.

ASL interpreters are needed in situations where a hearing impaired or deaf person may need to know what is being said, such as when receiving medical care, attending a business meeting, sitting on a jury or learning in a classroom. Employment can be found in business, government, legal and medical organizations.

How Do I Prepare For This Career?

The top requirement for an ASL interpreter is to be proficient in American Sign Language. You need to have the skills to sign as you listen to someone speak. You may also need expertise or knowledge in a specific field, depending on where you wish to work. For example, if you want to work in a courtroom then you would need to know legal terminology and have a basic understanding of the court procedures.

There is not a typical educational requirement for an ASL interpreter. Employers may require a bachelor's degree and some technical positions may require a master's degree. Other employers may not require any degree or may accept a certificate or associate degree in sign language interpreting. These programs may teach you to use body language when signing, as well as how to correctly use fingerspelling, express meaning in different situations and interpret ASL into spoken English.

Another important part of preparing for a career as an ASL interpreter is gaining experience. Most employers value experience over education and training. There are opportunities for internships, mentorships or apprenticeships through which you can gain adequate experience. You may also consider certification as a way to prove your skills and abilities.

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf offers the National Interpreter Certification at three levels. Each level tests your general interpreting knowledge, ethics and interpreting skills.

How Much Can I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of May 2018, interpreters and translators had a median annual wage of $49,930. Interpreter salary can vary due to several factors including location, education, experience and employer. To maximize your earning potential you may want to pursue an advanced degree in sign language interpreting, seek employment with a large employer or gain a few years of experience before finding a job.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that ASL interpreters do is most similar to the work of translators. Translators perform the same functions as interpreters; they convert data from one written language to another. They may need a bachelor's or master's degree to prepare for their career, and they need to be fluent in both languages that they work with. Special education teachers may also have some specific similarities to ASL interpreters. They may work with students who use sign language to communicate and may need to work with an interpreter, or be fluent in sign language themselves. They need a bachelor's degree and teaching license to work as a special education teacher.

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