How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter Online

Nov 26, 2019

Sign language interpreters need specific skills to practice in the field, but formal education and certification requirements can vary by job and state. The following article describes the steps to become a sign language interpreter using mostly online resources.

Information About Sign Language Interpreters

Sign language interpreters assist with the communication between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear. Depending on their level of education, some interpreters work in public school districts or community service agencies, while others contract with private agencies or freelance. It takes time to develop the skills to become a sign language interpreter, but there are online resources that can make the process more efficient.

Required Skills Dexterity, attentiveness, affability, focus, cultural awareness
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 19% (all interpreters and translators)
Median Salary (May 2018)* $49,930 per year (all interpreters and translators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps to Become a Sign Language Interpreter Using Online Resources

Although some of the education and certification process to become a sign language interpreter must be done on site, much of it can be accomplished online. Read the steps below to learn how to incorporate online resources to enter this field.

Step 1. Explore Introductory Online Classes in American Sign Language and Volunteer

To become familiar with what a sign language interpreter does, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests taking introductory classes in American Sign Language, the most commonly used in the United States, and volunteering to work with people who are deaf. The website for the National Association of the Deaf provides a list of applications and websites that offer both free and subscription-based instructional videos. Local libraries, colleges, and government websites often publicize both online and community classes as well. Volunteering in the deaf community most likely cannot be done online, but it can provide practical experience and may lead to finding a mentor in the field who can help guide the way toward becoming a sign language interpreter. Many local community organizations for the deaf advertise volunteer opportunities, which can be found by doing an online search.

Step 2. Obtain an Associate's or Bachelor's Degree Online in American Sign Language

A bachelor's degree in American Sign Language is typically needed to work as a sign language interpreter, but an associate's degree might be acceptable for some entry-level positions. The coursework done in an associate's program often can be transferred to a four-year bachelor's degree program, and in some cases, it might be required to have an associate's degree to be accepted to a bachelor's program. For both associate's and bachelor's degrees, students might take classes in deaf culture, fingerspelling and numbers, linguistics, and American Sign Language. There are some colleges that offer online bachelor's degree programs in American Sign Language, but a portion of the classes may be distance learning, which means students attend certain classes via video at the same time as those who are on campus. Colleges that offer two-year associate's degrees tend to include a mix of online, distance learning, and hybrid classes. Both types of degrees generally require an on-site practicum or internship, typically in a public school or educational setting.

Step 3. Prepare for a National Certification Exam

Becoming nationally certified as a sign language interpreter is not necessary in all cases, but some states require certification in order to provide interpreting services. In addition, national certification also may be a prerequisite for many higher level jobs. However, many interpreters might spend a couple of years working in the field to gain experience before taking the exam, which typically requires candidates to hold a bachelor's degree. The National Interpreter Certification Exam (NIC) consists of two parts that must be completed at a testing center and is administered by the Center for the Assessment of Sign Language Interpretation (CASLI). The first part consists of 150 multiple-choice questions, and the second part, done on a separate day, is an interview and performance exam that requires the candidate to respond to a number of real-world vignettes, some of which are video-based. Preparing for the exam can take months, but the CASLI provides an in-depth list of study resources on its website, as well as sample questions for the knowledge exam.

Step 4. Search for a Job or Promote Freelancing Services Online

Sign language interpreters work for various agencies in both the public and private sectors, and finding the right job might include browsing the career sections on government, community, education, and corporate websites. In addition, there are some companies that hire remote sign language interpreters who can use video technology to interpret for clients in real time while working online from home. Some sign language interpreters also choose to work as freelancers or contractors and can use online networking sites to gain clients or market their services by creating a website.

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