ASL Interpreter Career Overview
Interested in learning how to become a sign language interpreter? This job requires education and certification. Read on to learn more.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field(s)||ASL interpretation or related field|
|Licensure/Certification||RID certification required|
|Experience||Varies by position|
|Key Skills||Fluency in English and ASL; clear, expressive communicator; cultural sensitivity|
|Median Annual Salary (2019)||$51,830 (for translators and interpreters across all fields)|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters use ASL signs and finger spelling to enable communication between the D/deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing communities. ASL interpreters may find work in a variety of settings, such as schools, health care facilities, and businesses. They may also be employed by individuals. ASL interpreters must be fluent in both English and ASL, and typically have a bachelor's degree. Optional certification can also be earned to demonstrate competence as an ASL interpreter.
A Note on Terminology
There is a distinction made between Deaf and deaf in many ASL-speaking communities. The former, with a capital D, is used for those who self-identify as being part of the Deaf community. Many Deaf people speak ASL as a first language, and some attend D/deaf schools and universities. The term deaf with a lower case d is used for those who are deaf or hard of hearing but who do not consider themselves to be part of the Deaf community. Often, deaf people speak English as a first language and focus on lip-reading and other tactics. Many of them attend mainstream schooling, and it is common for people to identify as deaf rather than Deaf if they lose their hearing later in life and have not yet become integrated into Deaf culture. These words are combined in most research, academic, and cultural institutions as ''D/deaf'' in order to include both groups, and the distinction is of great importance to many D/deaf people.
ASL Interpreter Salary Information
How much do sign language interpreters make? A sign language interpreter salary will vary based on experience and location. In May 2019, translators and interpreters across all fields, including ASL and foreign language translators and interpreters, earned a median annual income of $51,830 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, reports. In ASL careers, salary will also depend on the interpreter's expertise and specific job placement.
Professional scientific and technical service, elementary and high schools, medical facilities, and colleges and universities were among the largest employers of interpreters. Earnings as an ASL interpreter largely depend on one's level of experience and place of work. In May 2019, the BLS reported that the highest paid interpreters and translators worked for the federal government, colleges and universities, and architectural and engineering services. Certain specialities may require additional training. The highest-paid translators and interpreters earned an annual average income of 94,370, while the lowest-paid earned an average of $28,170, per the BLS in 2019.
Career Requirements for ASL Interpreters
Many ASL interpreters get their start in informal ways, such as conversations with D/deaf or hearing-impaired individuals and involvement in the community. Children of D/deaf adults (often called CODAs) may be uniquely well suited to becoming an American Sign Language interpreter. Fluency in English and ASL is required, though it is not always enough to obtain a position. Interpreters must be clear, expressive communicators who are sensitive to the cultures and institutions in which they work. They must accurately and objectively convey the meaning and emotion of what they interpret.
Education Requirements for ASL Interpreters
ASL interpreters typically have at least a bachelor's degree. Specialized certificate and degree programs in ASL interpretation are available from community colleges and universities. Sign language interpreter degree programs may incorporate courses in Deaf culture along with sign language training. It takes time and experience to gain the skills required to become a qualified ASL interpreter. Further education, internships, and volunteer work are ways of improving fluency and communication skills. Becoming a sign language interpreter should first and foremost be born of a genuine desire to learn about Deaf culture and an interest in working with the D/deaf community.
Sign Language Interpreter Certification Requirements
Certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is a means of demonstrating competence as an ASL interpreter. Obtaining National Interpreter Certification (NIC) through the RID is now required for all ASL interpreter jobs. Sign language certification requirements involve taking the NIC exam, which is done on a computer and consists of 150 questions.
Keep the following in mind when considering becoming an ASL interpreter:
- ASL is a complete language, not a form of mime
- ASL is not mutually intelligible with other sign languages like British Sign Language
- The grammar and syntax of ASL are quite different from English grammar and syntax
- ASL has a number of regional variations
- D/deaf people's reasons for using or not using ASL may be highly varied and complex
Now that you understand how to become an ASL interpreter, what is the job outlook like for this career? According to the BLS, translator and interpreter jobs should grow rapidly due to the expansion of video relay service and video remote interpreting technologies. These technologies allow real-time ASL translation through video calling over high-speed Internet connections. Employment opportunities can be found in educational and religious institutions as well as social service, community and arts organizations. More experienced interpreters may establish careers in legal or medical interpretation. The job outlook for interpreters and translators is extremely good, with a projected 20% increase in job availability between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the national average.