Career as a Sign Language Interpreter

A sign language interpreter is a person who communicates feelings, ideas, and words between deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing individuals through the use of American sign language (ASL) translating the English language. A sign language interpreter works hard to make communication between deaf and hearing individuals possible. They must be able to communicate accurately as they also impose their own ideas without altering information. They need to be trained in ASL thoroughly as well as in interpretation and English. Some interpreters choose to specialize in the interpretation of spoken words for those who read another’s lips rather than using sign language, while other interpreters use tactile signing for both the deaf and blind. They work in various settings including televised media in which they are responsible to communicate spoken conversations to those viewing. Many also work as freelancers.

Work Environment

Interpreters go any place their clients need services. They can be found working in schools, doctor’s offices, courts, and other settings. They work at vocational centers, colleges, universities, social service agencies, community service agencies, and school district offices. Interpreters may be seen on television communicating content to viewers as well. Many interpreters also choose to work on a freelance basis which means they are self-employed. In many cases, interpreters are on call and they assist clients when their services are needed so the hours they work will vary.

Training, Education, and Licensing

The education an interpreter needs can vary but they must be fluent in the sign language alphabet, ASL and English. Most jobs require at least an Associate’s degree but Bachelor degrees are increasingly becoming the popular choice for many employers. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf offer several certification programs such as the National Interpreter Certification. In the future, a bachelor’s degree will be a requirement prior to becoming certified. The certification will provide increased career opportunities as well as advancement opportunities and certification requirements will vary according to geographical location. ASL training can be obtained through universities, colleges, adult education, and agencies that serve deaf communities. Most employers prefer individuals who have education and relevant experience working within the field.

Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in May of 2009 there were about 40,000 interpreters and translators employed in the United States. This includes interpreters of sign language and foreign language interpreters. Junior colleges, hospitals, professional, technical, and scientific services, local government agencies, and secondary and elementary schools is where most interpretation positions tend to be held. The BLS has forecasted this field to grow faster than average and because there is a shortage of qualified specialists, interpreters have great career prospects. The average salaries were over $45,000 per year in 2009. Depending on experience and length of time working in this career the annual salary could be more or less than the average.

How to Learn Sign Language

Anyone wanting to know how to learn sign language can often do so for free. There are many how to learn sign language websites, such as ASL University which offers self-study guides and instructor guided courses for a fee. Individuals can also find out how to learn sign language through various websites that offer the basics such as a sign language dictionary and the sign language alphabet. Signing Savvy is a great sign language dictionary available online where people can learn how to sign words, the sign language alphabet, and more.

The following links provide resources and more information about sign language interpretation, how to learn sign language, sign language dictionary, and hearing loss.