Be an American Sign Language Interpreter: Salary and Career Info
An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter requires some formal education. Learn about the training, job duties and certification to see if this is the right career for you.
American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters use ASL signs, finger spelling, and body language to enable communication between the 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. ASL interpreters must be fluent in both English and ASL and typically have a bachelor's degree. Optional certification can also be earned.
In May 2015, translators and interpreters across all fields, including ASL and foreign language translators and interpreters, earned an average annual income of $48,360 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, reports.
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 2013, the BLS reported that the highest paid interpreters and translators worked for engineering services, office administrative services, and the federal government.
Translators and interpreters working in engineering and related services earned an annual average income of $115,390 and interpreters and translators in elementary and high schools earned an average annual income of $41,590, per the BLS in 2015.
Career Information for ASL Interpreters
Many ASL interpreters get their start in informal ways, such as conversations with deaf or hearing-impaired individuals. 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. Bachelor's 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. Certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is a means of demonstrating competence as an ASL interpreter.
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.