Sign Language Interpreter: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a sign language interpreter. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Sign language interpreters can be used to help the hearing-impaired or deaf understand what is being communicated, either in a group setting or one-on-one. They can even use technology to provide interpretation from a distant location. Sign language interpreters require strong listening, research, memory and sign language skills.

Essential Information

A sign language interpreter converts spoken language into sign language. An interpreter may work for schools, hospitals or government agencies. Strong skills in both English and sign language are needed for a career as an interpreter, and degree programs in American Sign Language (ASL) and sign language interpreting are available. Fields like communications or English are also good choices. Interpreters typically need a bachelor's degree, though some associate-level programs are also offered. Professional certification is available, though voluntary.

Required Education Bachelor's degree is typical; associate programs also available
Certification Voluntary
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 29% for all interpreters and translators
Median Salary (2015)* $44,190 for all interpreters and translators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Sign Language Interpreter Job Description

A sign language interpreter is responsible for helping deaf or hearing-impaired individuals understand what is being said in a variety of situations. An interpreter must understand the subject matter so he or she can accurately translate what is being spoken into sign language. Whenever an audience will be in need of sign language interpretation, a sign language interpreter is provided, such as during an office meeting, in a court room or at a presidential speech. Interpreters may also be used in one-on-one situations; they might use technology to provide services from a remote location.

Sign Language Interpreter Duties

The main job duty of a sign language interpreter is to translate the spoken word into sign language. Carrying out this main duty requires listening, sign language and communication skills. An interpreter may also have to do research if he or she is working in a situation involving highly technical information or complex information to gain an understanding of what will be interpreted. A good memory is also important since an interpreter will need to remember what has been said in order to sign it.

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Sign Language Interpreter Requirements

According to O*NET OnLine, most employers require sign language interpreters to have a degree or vocational training ( Some colleges offer American Sign Language(ASL) programs as a foreign language option. This allows students to get a degree in English, communications or a related field, while also getting the necessary training in ASL. Students may also earn an associate or bachelor's degree in ASL or sign language interpreting.

Certification is not usually required by employers, but can help a person provide documentation for his or her skills in sign language interpretation. There are several organizations that offer general interpreting certifications, but the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offers certification specifically for sign language interpreters. The RID offers the Oral Transliteration Certificate for those who can demonstrate sign language interpretation skills (

The RID and the American Translators Association offer mentoring programs for ASL learners. Hands-on training builds confidence and mastery of skills to help further a career as a sign language interpreter.

Sign Language Interpreter Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides information on interpreters and translators, including sign language interpreters. The BLS has predicted that during the 2014-2024 decade, job opportunities for interpreters and translators in general will grow by 29%, which is much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. For sign language interpreters, continuing advances in communications technology are expected to rapidly increase the need for their services. In addition, the BLS reported that in May 2015, the median yearly salary for interpreters and translators, including those specializing in sign language, was $44,190.

Sign language interpreters can work in schools, offices, government agencies, hospitals or courtrooms. A bachelor's degree is typically required, although there are associate degree programs in the field, and voluntary certification is available. Demand for interpreters and translators, including those who interpret sign language, is predicted to be high, as job opportunities will grow at a rate of 29% from 2014 to 2024.

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