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American Sign Language Interpretation: A Rewarding Career Opportunity

Becoming an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter is a very popular choice for job seekers today. This is a great time to pursue a career as an American Sign Language interpretation expert.

In fact, this is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States, growing nearly 20% faster than the average career, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

People like you chose this job because they love helping deaf people. And they love the American Sign Language. They enjoy helping people. Even more, this is a job that is fun and rewarding. If you like working where each day is different, and you meet new people every day, this may be the perfect career path for you.

To find out if this is a good job for you, keep reading. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about becoming a certified ASL Interpreter (ASLI). You’ll learn about the training you need to start your new career. We have also included information about salary.

First, let’s discuss American Sign Language, and how it got started.

What is the American Sign Language?

American Sign Language is a non-verbal language. People speak through hand signs rather than using words. There are many forms of sign language, Some are regional. Others are national. And, finally, some are unique to a single family or community. Each sign language has its own grammar rules. Clients may become confused because you use the wrong grammatical structure.

Continue reading for a brief history of American Sign Language Interpretation in the United States.

A Historic Snapshot of Sign Language In North America

Some people believe that if you sign, you can speak to anyone that signs. The truth is, there are at least 300 different sign languages around the globe. And, while there are similarities between British Sign Language and French Sign language popular in India, each language has its own nuances.

ASL is the most common sign language in North America. In fact, it is the most popular sign language in both the United States and some parts of Canada.

The American Sign Language history began in 1814. Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a minister realized a neighbor’s child was very bright. Even though the child was blind and deaf, Gallaudet believed he could teach her to read and spell. To get more education on the European signing methods, he traveled to Europe.

While learning the teaching methods, he studied with Laurent Clerc. Together they founded the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut.

American Sign Language is a mix of the home signs and a French-inspired sign language used at the 1st American School for the Deaf (circa 1817). The first teacher, Laurent Clerc, was from France. When Clerc joined the school, he brought many new signs and interpretations with him.

Over the years, ALS has evolved. Like spoken language, signing adds new words and expressions as society changes. And often, outdated words are retired.

American Sign Language Interpretation Courses

Before enrolling in American Sign Language Interpretation courses, you may want to know what you will learn.

Below, you’ll find some common courses taught in American Sign Language interpretation programs:

  • Artistic texts
  • Best practices for interpreters
  • Billing Codes
  • Ethics and standards
  • Practicing your new skills
  • Research
  • Sign language literature
  • Working with different languages

Each course gives you more skills to help people who are deaf and/or mute. Taking extra courses allows you to work in many situations. In a later paragraph, we talk about some additional courses.

For now, remember that sign language is a way for the deaf and non-verbal to communicate with others. Therefore, excellent communication skills are important for American Sign Language interpretation. In addition to translating in a home setting, you might want special skills working in specialized settings.

Excellent communication skills often lead to jobs that pay more. With exceptional skills, you may qualify for a job interpreting for doctors or teachers. To get this type of job you would use skills like the ones below.

  1. Translating for different cultures,
  2. Interpreting based on gender or age,
  3. Using sign language for non-verbal people,
  4. Speaking ASL in business meetings, and
  5. Explaining complex issues.

Jobs For People With An ASLI Certificate

People who get an ASLI certificate can get entry-level jobs that launch rewarding, lifelong careers.

Some examples include work in:

  1. Adult training sites,
  2. Blind-tactile, sight impaired and deaf client settings.
  3. Business conferences,
  4. Colleges, trade schools and universities,
  5. Doctor’s offices,
  6. Hospitals,
  7. Jobs training locations,
  8. Kindergarten and daycare centers,
  9. Legal settings,
  10. Private and public events,
  11. Religious hubs,
  12. Social services spots,
  13. Substance abuse clinics,
  14. Theater and other performing arts places, and
  15. Video relay interpreting settings.

Now that you know what jobs are possible, let’s back up and look at the educational requirements in addition to certification.

Educational Requirements For Sign Language Careers

Certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf requires a four-year degree. Although a specialty communications degree may be needed for some jobs, you can present any Bachelor of Arts Degree when you schedule your ASLI examination.

Once you have gained your degree, there are a variety of sign language certificates that will improve your chances of getting a job in the field you prefer. In addition, your degree, some states, including Florida and North Carolina, require American Sign Language Teacher Association (ASLTA) certification to teach K-12 classes.

According to the RID website, The State of Texas requires ASL interpretation professionals to demonstrate competency. ASL interpreters must meet industry standards, such as the ones listed below.

  • Registry of qualified sign language interpreters and transliterators
  • Requirements for legal interpreters and transliterators
  • Certification requirements for educational interpreters

If you want to provide real-time interpreting in Nevada, you may have to meet rigorous standards based on the setting where you will work. For example, you must complete the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment, and get a proficiency rating of at least 4 to teach in any educational setting. Plus, applicants must have at least 4 years of classroom interpreting experience, and professional development plans in place.

Because each state has different licensing rules, you’ll want to visit the RID State-by-State Regulations for Interpreters and Transliterators web page.

Real-Time Interpreting vs Consecutive Interpreting

Just as some states have different application and licensing requirements, not all American Sign Language interpretation careers are the same. Below we discuss the three basic types of interpretation services of the deaf. First, we’ll define Real-Time Interpretation. Second, we will describe Consecutive Interpretation. And, finally, we’ll explain Sight Translation.

Real-Time Sign Language Interpretation

Real-time interpretation, often call simultaneous interpretation because the interpreter translate at the same time a person is speaking, is often seen in business settings. You will also see real-time interpreting at large gatherings, such as association conferences and speeches. Two other times we often see this signing service class are during religious services and television news reporting.

Consecutive American Sign Language Interpreting

Unlike real time sessions, consecutive ASL interpreting is most often used in face-to-face conversations. Taking court statements is one example of this type of interpretation service. There is typically a pause in the conversation for an interpreter to translate what one party says. Then, the other party continues the conversation, and waits for the interpreter to sign their response.

Sight Translation

Remember signing is not just about delivering words. People who cannot hear depend on the interpreter to convey emotions and tone. This ensures that the true context of the conversation is express. To clarify, body language is an important part of American Sign Language interpreting. For instance, all of the follow actions convey meaning while signing.

  • Facial expressions
  • Head shake, tilt or nod
  • Mouth movements
  • Mouthing words
  • Raising one or both shoulders
  • Stomping feet
  • Waving arms

When it is not necessary to show emotion, ASL interpreters may use a sight translation format. This is simply converting signed conversation to a written document for better understanding.

Special Skills For Special Jobs

In addition to a degree and certification, you may need special skills to get a job in some settings. The following list shows some examples.

  • Medical signers must know medical terms, and how to explain what they mean to deaf clients.
  • Education interpreters must know how to sign complex topics at the grade level they serve.
  • Legal interpreting experts must have experience translating conversations about laws.
  • Working with non-native English speakers requires speaking another language.
  • Becoming a social worker means you have certain skills you do not learn from books. Most social workers understand childcare laws and are:
    • Compassionate,
    • Patient, and
    • Self-motivated.
  • ASL instructors need a teaching certificate.
  • Some government jobs require a National Sign Language Interpreter Certificate.
  • Becoming an ASL curriculum designer may require at least 5 years classroom teaching experience and 5 years course building experience.
  • Literary American Sign Language interpreting skills include the ability to keep to mood and tone in place.
  • Localizers have a unique role. The use their skills to adapt brochures, websites and packaging. This results in a product or document that looks like it was created especially for the culture and people in a region or market. This would include designing items for the deaf community.

Average Pay & Benefits

Special jobs like the ones above usually pay more and offer benefits. American sign language interpretation for public and private schools may vary. And, services performed in courtrooms may be less than those offer to private clients. There are also differences in pay for freelance jobs and jobs working for a company.

According to the BLS, the median wage for United States translators and interpreters is $26.16 per hour. That equals an annual wage of $52, 330. Although many people think of translating and interpretation as the same, they are not. However, this salary range includes both signers and non-signers. Because translators are included in the formula, the real median may be higher or lower.

To understand the difference in these two classes of workers, let’s look at what each worker’s job is.


Convert sign language to a spoken language, and vice versa. The goal is to give people a chance to “hear” a conversation in their own language.


Convert written material from on language into another language, such as translating Spanish to English, or German to French. The goal is to allow someone to read an accurate copy of a book or report in their own native language.

Final Thoughts

American Sign Language interpretation services change over time. The language once served only a few hundred people. However, today there are half a million deaf Americans. And, thousands more Americans speak the language.

There are thousands of teachers and more than 30 schools that teach the deaf. But, certified ASL professionals aren’t all teachers. Members of the deaf community become doctors and lawyers. There are also deaf bookkeepers, nurses and landscapers. Because people with limited hearing need help communicating with clients, they need experienced American Sign Language interpretation services.

For people who feel a connection to the deaf community, becoming an American Sign Language interpreter may be the perfect career. For one thing, the salary is higher than the national average. And, this job sector is growing. At the current rate, there will be another 15,000 jobs by 2029. This means this is a good time to start your career path.

If you love working with people and already have a four-year degree you have a good start on this career path. Today, you’ll find both freelancing and regular 9 to 5 job opportunities.

Do you want to learn more about job openings in your area? Perhaps, you need to hire an ASL interpreter. We can help.

Contact us today for more info on American Sign Language Interpretation services. Or call (646) 873-4000 to speak to an Accurate Communication customer service representative.