Sign Language and Oral Interpreters


Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, interested students should take English and composition courses, as well as foreign language courses. ASL is taught in some high schools and some community learning centers.

Postsecondary Training

Many colleges offer sign language courses, courses in deaf culture, and some offer certificate, baccalaureate, and master's programs in deaf studies. Earning a college degree is highly recommended because it will help you to land better jobs and receive higher pay. A postsecondary education will also provide you with the background and skills necessary for passing the certification exams.

Visit the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf's Web site, https://rid.org/about-rid/about-interpreting/become-an-interpreter, for a database of postsecondary programs that offer interpreter education.

Other Education or Training

The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf offers workshops, classes, and other continuing education opportunities. Recent offerings included "I’m Graduating...Now What?," "Best Practices in Interpreting," and "Deaf-Blind Interpreting." The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers seminars such as "Identifying and Managing Pediatric Hearing Loss" and "Auditory-Verbal Practice: State of the Art." Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Interpreter Certification Program is sponsored by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Certification is awarded to applicants who pass a multiple-choice knowledge examination, an interview, and a performance examination. RID certification is the only national certification for sign language interpreters.

Most qualified sign language interpreters without certification are in the process of getting certified. Tests are expensive and are only offered at various times of the year, at random sites. As a result, interpreters don't take the tests until they are certain they can pass them. Certificants must keep their certification valid by earning continuing education credits via a RID-approved sponsor. Contact RID for further information regarding continuing education requirements.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Previous education and experience (via internships, part-time jobs, etc.) are required to work as a sign language or oral interpreter. 

Interpreters should be interested in the ways people communicate. They should also be prepared to learn all about complex languages, and to take on the responsibility of conveying accurate messages from one person to another. Sign language and oral interpreting is difficult and demanding work. It requires a thorough understanding of both English and ASL. Interpreters must also be honest and trustworthy—people will be relying upon them to get their messages and meanings across.

Some experience with the deaf community is very important. Though interpreters may spend many hours studying ASL, they will need to see the language in use among deaf people to gain a more complete understanding of ASL. This will require a commitment to a continuing education in deaf culture. Interpreters should be aware of the issues that affect deaf people, such as the debate of ASL versus oralism, or special residential schooling versus mainstreaming into an English-based classroom. They also need to learn about the technological tools used by deaf people: devices that assist in amplification, phone calls, and watching television and movies.

It is also important that interpreters remain on an equal level with the clientele they serve. The interpreter should remain cooperative and respect the client's self-esteem and independence.