Do You Need a Degree to Be an ASL Interpreter?

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ASL interpreters use sign language to communicate for the deaf.
ASL interpreters use sign language to communicate for the deaf. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

An ASL, or American Sign Language, interpreter uses hand motions to translate the English language into American Sign Language. ASL interpreters are needed to interpret communication from individuals who are deaf to individuals who are able to hear the English language, and vice versa. A variety of different industries use ASL interpreters, including schools, mental health facilities and courts.

Skills

ASL interpreters must be fluent in two languages: English and American Sign Language. ASL interpreters are required to be able communicate effectively with deaf persons, sometimes using facial expressions and physical gestures to help communicate the language and transmit the content of the speakers. Essential skills needed to work as an ASL interpreter include listening skills and the ability to memorize what each speaker is trying to communicate.

Qualifications

Employers usually require individuals to have a college degree; colleges and universities often offer degree programs in communications or English with the option of learning sign language as a foreign language. Certain colleges and universities offer associate or bachelor’s degree programs in American Sign Language. Also, certain vocational schools offer adult education courses in interpreting. Employers may require candidates for the position to also have a specific amount of work experience in a particular interpreting industry, such as the legal, medical or theatrical industry.

Certification

Becoming a certified ASL interpreter isn't a requirement to work as an interpreter. However, certification gives you access to different employment opportunities, and the certification may help you earn a higher-than-average salary in the profession. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the National Association of the Deaf offer certification programs to certify ASL interpreters. These associations also offer specialty certifications in legal interpreting, speech reading and deaf-to-deaf interpreting. Other associations that offer certification programs in interpreting are the American Translators Association and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators.

Employment and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that interpreters and translators held 50,900 jobs in 2008, and they're expected to hold 62,200 jobs by 2018, which is a 22 percent increase in employment over the course of a decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reveals that the median annual salary for interpreters and translators was $38,850 in 2008.

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