Online degree programs in sign language interpretation are available at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels. Students may be able to earn both types of degrees completely online or as a hybrid program, with some bachelor's degree programs calling for a few on-campus classes.
In many of the states that require licensing, certification is the main qualification, but some states also mandate at least an associate's degree or a certificate in sign language interpretation. To gain entry into the bachelor's degree program, students may be required to have ASL coursework or experience, or they may need to already have an associate's degree.
Associate's Degrees in Sign Language Interpretation
Students pursuing an online sign language interpreter associate's degree will acquire communication skills in American Sign Language (ASL) and are prepared to begin a career as an interpreter for the deaf and hearing-impaired community. Some programs focus on interpretation careers in educational environments.
Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees are among the most common offered online, and some schools may require students to demonstrate proficiency in ASL before acceptance. This requirement can be satisfied by taking courses in ASL in high school or at the college level.
Program and Technical Requirements
An online associate's degree in sign language interpretation can usually be completed in four or five semesters of full-time study. Students log onto an Internet portal and access lectures, assignments and exams. Most of these associate's programs can be earned entirely online, and no in-person contact is necessary.
Communication with instructors and other students occurs through interactive audio and video technology. Students are required to have access to a computer with high-speed Internet service, word processing software and a webcam.
Associate's degree programs in sign language interpretation require the completion of general education coursework that includes math, science, English and general psychology. Degree-related courses focus on studying and perfecting ASL communication skills.
Basics of Interpreting
Students learn how to receive a message visually or verbally and convert it into the proper format. Emphasis is placed on methods of relaying accurate emotions and inflections in the delivery.
An analysis of the many world languages and how ASL fits in will be discussed. Students study the grammatical similarities and differences between English and ASL and how to apply theories of language to ASL communication.
Students explore the legal issues, history, conflicts and attitudes of the deaf community. Classes taken while learning basic ASL provide an introduction to topics covered in this course.
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Bachelor's Degrees in Sign Language Interpretation
Graduates of an online bachelor's degree program in sign language interpretation are prepared to work as highly-skilled interpreters with knowledge of new research in the field of communicating with the deaf. Applicants must be high school graduates or hold a GED certificate. Students usually need prior ASL experience or take additional basic ASL courses while enrolled in the degree program. Some programs may also require students to complete an associate's degree program before applying. Students who only want to learn ASL and not study interpretation can find online courses in ASL or study ASL in a foreign language program.
Program Information and Requirements
An online bachelor's degree in sign language interpretation is a 4-year program, but could take longer if ASL basic courses are needed or if the student is not enrolled full-time. Students log into a virtual classroom, watch lectures and take exams. Some schools provide interaction technology such as instant messaging and chat rooms to communicate live with instructors and other students. Depending on the school, on-campus classwork may be required.
Coursework Commonly Encountered
General education requirements in English, math, science and humanities must be completed in order to earn the degree. Additionally, ASL proficiency courses may need to be completed before a student can take courses in the major.
Students move beyond basic ASL skills and become more fluent in the hand motions and emotive expression. Application of spatial use, non-manual behaviors and register variations are taught in the lab component of this course.
Coursework includes the study of communication events and the intent of the message. Students gain an understanding of the filters, signals and devices used in conversations.
Interpreting for Various Situations
Students are introduced to the vocabulary and skills necessary to interpret in special settings. Course material covers adaptation techniques when interpreting in legal, health, religious, artistic and conference environments.
Career Statistics for Graduates
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the hiring rate of all interpreters and translators is predicted to increase by 29% during the 2014-2024 decade (www.bls.gov). In May of 2015, a total of 49,650 interpreters and translators were employed in the U.S., earning an average annual salary of $48,360.
Based on research from the BLS, interpreters can obtain general professional certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf. RID also offers certification exams in speech reading, deaf-to-deaf interpreting and legal interpretation. Although not required for all interpreter positions, many employers prefer applicants who hold a certificate.
Both fully online and hybrid programs are available in the field of sign language interpretation, with students having the choice of a bachelor's or associate's degree program. These programs cover the foundations of ASL communication from the basics to advanced study, preparing students to find jobs as interpreters and translators.