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Interpreter Degree Options and Course Information

An interpreter converts conversation spoken in one language to another language to facilitate understanding. Aspiring interpreters can pursue a certificate or bachelor's degree to prepare for this career

Essential Information

Interpreters are needed in several industries, including the judicial system, medical community, social services and business arena. Students entering the interpreting and translating field can choose a broader bachelor's degree program in interpretation and translation with a chosen specialization, or can pick a focused bachelor's degree in American Sign Language (ASL).

Prospective interpreters may also choose to enroll in a post-baccalaureate certificate program. These programs often offer interpretation specializations in several different foreign languages and ASL. A high school diploma and proficiency in language interpreting is necessary for 4-year bachelor's programs, and a bachelor's degree is required for a 2-year certificate program.


Bachelor's Degree in Interpretation and Translation

Several universities offer bachelor's degree programs in interpretation and translation. These programs tend to either specify a language or allow a student to individually tailor the course load according to his or her language of expertise. Students learn to interpret and translate between English and another language at multiple speeds of conversation and in several professional settings.

Students can choose to specialize in interpretation or translation common to a certain industry. For example, he or she may take electives to learn frequently-used vocabulary of the legal system or the structure of social service departments. Classes may broach subjects such as basic business management skills and common problems of translation. Common topics may include:

  • Ethics of translation
  • Consecutive interpretation note taking
  • Speaking and discourse
  • Business interpreting
  • Sight interpretation

Bachelor's Degree in American Sign Language Interpretation

Many schools offer a Bachelor of Science in Interpretation program that focuses on American Sign Language. Students learn about anthropology, language development, common industry technology and the theory of interpreting.

Students' first few years feature fast-paced language proficiency courses in ASL, deaf culture and core course work in the sciences or humanities. Later years in this degree program are typically devoted to gaining practical experience working with deaf populations and professional skill building. Common subjects include:

  • Fingerspelling
  • English to ASL interpreting
  • Community service interpreting
  • Classroom interpreting
  • Deaf - blind interpreting
  • Interpreting theory

Find schools that offer these popular programs

Certificate Programs in Interpreting

Students applying for certificate programs must have previous experience from a bachelor's degree program before gaining admittance. Previously acquired education in the field is used to build further practical and professional skills in business management, modes of interpretation, cultural idioms and written translation. These programs are then typically sub-divided by fields, such as community, legal or medical interpreting. At the end of the program, students gain practical experience in professional interpreting through internships. Courses topics might include:

  • Transliteration
  • Business ethics
  • Sight translation
  • Consecutive interpretation
  • Simultaneous interpretation

Popular Career Options

A student's career options depend on their area of interest and language of focus. Graduates might pursue a career in the arts, government, educational or medical industries, including the following positions:

  • ASL interpreter for arts performances
  • Elementary school classroom interpreter
  • Court-appointed Spanish-language interpreter

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of interpreters and translators is expected to increase 29% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported in 2015 that interpreters and translators earned $44,190 as a median annual wage.

Continuing Education Information

Though not required, many ASL interpreters seek certification to demonstrate professional competency and appeal to employers. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offers a National Interpreter Certification for ASL interpreters. Those who take the test can qualify at three levels of proficiency, depending on their level of fluency. Exams consist of a written test and a videotaped performance. Applicants must have completed at least an associate's degree to qualify for testing.

Several different levels of degrees that offer similar coursework are available to those interested in becoming interpreters. After completion of the programs, there are a number of different areas in which an interpreter can work.


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