A degree in sign language provides the necessary training for aspiring interpreters of American Sign Language (ASL). Students learn through coursework, labs and internships. Graduates can pursue voluntary certification through a professional registry as some states have specific licensing and certification requirements for sign language interpreters.
Prerequisites for American Sign Language degree programs include a high school diploma or passed GED. Some ASL courses and programs may be offered online, and bachelor's programs may require a practicum prior to completion of the degree.
Associate of Science in Sign Language Studies
An associate's degree in sign language studies concentrates on effective communication with hard-of-hearing individuals. Students study the hand gestures and finger spelling of sign language, while also learning about the sociolinguistic and cultural aspects of deafness. Graduates can earn certification as sign language interpreters or can transfer credits to a baccalaureate program in sign language or educational interpretation. Associate's degree programs contain a mixture of classroom lectures, seminars and practicum courses. Students are encouraged to practice sign language individually and in groups. Some specific courses include:
- Deaf studies
- Introduction to American Sign Language
- Communication disorders
- Vocabulary building
- Psychology of deafness
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Bachelor's Degree in Sign Language Interpreting
Aspiring sign language translators and interpreters may enroll in a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science in American Sign Language Interpreting. These programs provide students with a theoretical and practical understanding of interpreting American Sign Language to English, along with a general education background in the humanities and sciences. Students complete an internship or practicum to gain first-hand experience in sign interpretation. Specific courses for this degree may include:
- Introduction to speech communication
- Deaf culture
- Basics of interpreting
- Math in deaf culture
- Deaf literature
Popular Career Options
A degree in sign language studies can prepare students for entry-level positions in healthcare, government, education, social services, human services or interpretation services. Some specific job titles include:
- Sign language interpreter
- Speech-language assistant
- Sign language teacher
- Elementary school ASL translator
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
More than 49,650 interpreters and translators were employed in the United States in 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. According to BLS, demand for interpreters and translators will likely continue to grow over the next decade, and those who have professional certification will have the best job prospects to choose from. The median annual salary for interpreters and translators in general in 2015 was $44,190, according to the BLS.
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf offers National Interpreter Certification for sign language interpreters who complete an examination. Individuals can gain certification as generalists or as specialists. Some states have additional licensure and certification requirements for aspiring sign language interpreters.
Associate's degrees in sign language can focus on communication with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, while related bachelor's degrees aim to prepare students who hope to work as sign language interpreters and translators. Students may take course work that focuses on the elements of sign language acquisition and interpretation, as well as courses about deaf literature and culture.