Becoming a Sign Language Interpreter
Interested in a career as an American Sign Language Interpreter? This is a very rewarding field for the person who has what it takes. Opportunities to learn American Sign Language and programs to learn the techniques of interpretation are more widespread now than ever before.
Be aware that the road ahead is not an easy one. Being a Sign Language Interpreter is not a matter of memorizing all the handshapes and signs within a book, one for each word in the English language, or attending a semester or two of non-credit "Basic American Sign Language". ASL is a language, and the learning process can be compared to learning Spanish, German, or Yugoslavian. You must first attend classes in American Sign Language which may be found by consulting your local phone directory and calling the colleges and educational institutions in your area. It is highly recommended that you contact your local RID or even attend some chapter meetings. See RID. Be sure that the class you choose has an instructor that is fluent in ASL. Too often someone with a little knowledge of sign is hired by an institution that may not know what criteria is essential for appropriate instruction. Your becoming fluent in American Sign Language as a "signer" will take several years.
Simultaneously, spend time conversing with Deaf members of the community on a regular basis, just as you would speak with native French-speaking persons in order to learn French. Anyone wishing to be a Sign Language interpreter must have extensive practice with both expressive and receptive ASL. Language fluency depends on your ability to pick up languages and the level of dedication you apply.
At this point it is worth noting that "signers" who are in the process of learning ASL are often persuaded by others to act as the official interpreter in various types of meetings. Just as a first-year medical student is not ready to perform surgery, a new signer is equally not ready to consistently relay all communication, with its nuances, ethical considerations, and specialized terminology for both sides of the conversation. Please don't practice your newly acquired signing talents on Deaf people's important life events!
Interpreter Education Programs
Once a fair amount of ASL fluency is obtained, commence with an "Interpreter Education Program" (IEP) to learn how to effectively communicate between ASL and English, conveying messages between Deaf and non-Deaf persons, while also adjusting for the cultural norms of both communities. It takes several years of education to be considered an entry-level interpreter. Naturally, honing one's skills is ongoing and requires long-term practice and continuing education.
Choosing the Right Program
First, narrow down what you are looking for in an IEP. Programs vary in their language and culture instruction, degree level, instructors' training and credentials, type of practicum offered, and support offered after graduation. Which ones will give you the most solid foundation to start your career? A good resource to help you generate a list of questions to ask before signing on the dotted line is located at Discover Interpreting, specifically looking at the pages "Paths to Interpreting" and "Careers in Interpreting". This site was created by The National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers. If you know an experienced interpreter she or he may help you come up with additional questions.
Second, The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID) maintains a list of various Interpreter Education Programs in the USA. You can seach by College Name, Program Type, City, and/or State. By calling, visiting, and observing each of the programs that match your search, and asking the questions on your list, you'll be armed with the most pertinent details to make an informed choice.
Once you graduate and are ready to enter the field, SLR strongly advises participation in a mentorship experience. Gaining insight and feedback about your work from a seasoned interpreter is essential.
To learn more about Mentorship, visit NCIEC's Mentorship Resources page.
Visit the Sign Language Resources' Mentorship Program page.