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Sign Language and Oral Interpreter Job Description, Career as a Sign Language and Oral Interpreter, Salary, Employment - Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

interpreters deaf people interpreting

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Median—$16.28 per hour

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Sign language and oral interpreters bridge the communication gap between those who can hear and those who cannot. Sign language interpreters use their hands and fingers to translate spoken English into American Sign Language (ASL). These signs are understood by the deaf person, who then signs in return for the interpreter to repeat aloud to the hearing audience. Oral interpreters use silent lip movements to repeat the spoken words. Many deaf or partially deaf people prefer lipreading. Sign language interpreters using the sign-to-voice method may lip-read at the same time. Interpreters must be able to change the mode of communication to fit the needs of the individuals being served.

Interpreters strive to make the communication as clear as possible for both hearing and nonhearing persons. They must convey thoughts and feelings as accurately as possible and never impose their own ideas. Interpreters relay information; they do not initiate or change it.

Sign language interpreters working in schools may use Signed or Manually Coded English, in which the teacher's spoken message is manually spelled out, with a special sign to indicate spaces between words. Sign language interpreters working with adults use American Sign Language, a distinct language. Sometimes finger spelling is used for rarely used names or technical terms.

Interpreters for the deaf work in schools, financial institutions, courts, and hospitals. They may also work for television stations, where they sign spoken messages to the viewing audience. Except for schools, most of these employers hire interpreters on an assignment basis, so interpreters are usually freelance workers.

Education and Training Requirements

The first step toward becoming a sign language interpreter is to acquire fluency in sign language. People with deaf relatives who use sign language usually acquire signing skills at an early age. For those who do not have this opportunity, training sources include colleges, universities, adult education courses, and local agencies serving the deaf. Some courses are more structured than others, and some offer a greater opportunity for interaction with deaf people. It is difficult A sign language interpreter uses American Sign Language to communicate with a deaf mother in a school. She would use finger spelling for technical terms or rarely used names. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.) to predict how long it will take a student to learn sign language. It is equally important that interpreters possess a high level of skill in English, the other language involved in this process.

Educational programs for interpreters cover a wide variety of subject areas. These include the role of the interpreter and methods of communicating American Sign Language, Manually Coded English, mime, and gesture. Other areas of study may be physical factors involved with interpreting, such as lighting, seating arrangements, and backgrounds. An understanding of linguistic and language development is also important for the interpreter. Those who work in specialized fields should have the knowledge to understand what they are interpreting. For instance, those who work in courts should have a good grasp of legal terms and procedures.

Although interpreters need not be certified to work, employers often specify or prefer certified applicants. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf certify interpreters. Evaluations assess the candidate's skills, knowledge, and attitude. Completing an interpreter's training program cannot guarantee passing this certification evaluation. Standards for the evaluation are high, and students often need field experience before they are able to pass it. There are several thousand certified sign language interpreters in the United States.

Getting the Job

People interested in interpreting for the deaf should get in touch with colleges, universities, local courts, and continuing education programs that offer vocational rehabilitation classes. All are regular users of interpreters. RID also provides job information.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

An interpreter with certification and experience in a specialty such as law or medicine will soon gain the recognition to attract many interpreting jobs. Some interpreters acquire extra skills and then move into advisory positions.

As society increasingly recognizes the needs of all its physically challenged citizens, the demand will increase for qualified interpreters. By law, interpreters must be available to deaf persons in public health centers, courts, schools, and other public agencies.

Working Conditions

Sign language interpreters work in a wide range of interesting environments. They may interpret for a witness in a courtroom or a patient in a doctor's office. They usually work with just one or two deaf people at a time, although interpreters for television viewers may have a large audience with whom they have no personal contact.

Hours may be irregular, but freelance interpreters who have a steady clientele soon develop a regular schedule. Many interpreters work part time and hold other jobs that may or may not be related to their work with the deaf.

Where to Go for More Information

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
3417 Volta Place NW
Washington, DC, 20007
(202) 337-5220
http://www.agbell.org/

National Association of the Deaf
8630 Fenton St., Ste. 820
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3876
(301) 587-1789
http://www.nad.org/

National Cued Speech Association
23970 Hermitage Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44122-4008
(800) 459-3529
http://www.cuedspeech.org/

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.
333 Commerce St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 838-0030
http://www.rid.org/

Earnings and Benefits

The annual earnings of sign language and oral interpreters vary widely. Hourly rates for freelance interpreters range from $12 to $40. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly salary for sign language and oral interpreters was $16.28 in 2004. Rates vary with education and experience. Certification by RID usually ensures better pay. Interpreters employed by a public agency, government organization, or school system may receive vacation, health, and retirement benefits. Freelance interpreters must provide their own benefits.

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over 8 years ago

Jill is absolutely right with her corrections. Thank you Jill for clarifying as brilliantly as you did.

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almost 9 years ago

I came across this website while looking for career opportunities. I have just graduated with an Assiciates Degree in Deaf Interpretive Services. First, I would like to say, Thank you to Jill for all of the correct, updated information. To Katie and Julia, I too run the Deaf Ministry at my church, but I believe that knowlege is power. If you would like to further your education, I suggest that you look up Interpreter Training Programs (ITPs) in your area. Check out your local colleges and universities as well. If it is not possible for you to enroll in a college, go to www.RID.org. Many times they will have workshops for interpreters. You do have to pay for them. Sometimes they offer them online. There is also an organization called National Association of Black Interpreters (NAOBI)that has Certified interpreters giving workshops. No, you do not have to be Black to join or participate. You may also go to www.NAD.org, the National Association of the Deaf, for more information on workshops. Katie, go ahead and enroll in those programs at the University of Vermont. It can't hurt. I hope this helps the both of you. God Bless

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about 10 years ago

Unfortunately, the majority of the things reported on this page are completely archaic and not applicable to the profession of sign language interpreting. It is very clear that the person who researched this information has no personal experience in the field of sign language interpreting. Here are some of the more blatant misrepresentations found in your article.

"Sign language and oral interpreters bridge the communication gap between those who can hear and those who cannot."
- Many deaf people who use sign language to communicate do, in fact, have residual hearing. This is an ignorant and offensive comment to those in the Deaf community. A more accpetable way to state this would be to say, "Sign language and oral interpreters facilitate communication for those who use a sign language system or oral communication system to communicate."

"Sign language interpreters use their hands and fingers to translate spoken English into American Sign Language (ASL)."
- Interpreters use a lot more than their "hands and fingers". This is such an oversimplification that this sentence is also extremely offensive. Clearly the person who wrote this does not know that all of the grammar of ASL is conveyed through non-manual signs, which include facial expression and body movement. Also, "translating" is defined as "changing one language to another VIA WRITTEN INFORMATION". When you're discussing spoken or signed communication, the appropriate word to use is "interpret". Dont ever call an interpreter a "translator" if you are interested in keeping a good working relationship with that person.

"Many deaf or partially deaf people prefer lipreading."
- This is 100% incorrect and it is very presumptious to assume that this is the case. Even expert lipreaders only retain about 30% of lipread coversations and fill in the rest by using context clues and becoming good guessers. This can cause some severely embarassing and confidence-crushing situations. Many people who, in their youth, are only taught to lipread later find a vibrant and proud deaf community in their high school or college years and finally feel as though they are "home", embracing sign language as their natural language and abandoning the limited and opressive way of life they were raised to struggle through. The fact is, very FEW deaf or partially deaf people actually prefer lipreading.

"Sign language interpreters using the sign-to-voice method may lip-read at the same time."
- This comment lacks an ounce of common sense. Sign language interpreters are hearing themselves, so there is no need for them to use "lip reading". Many uneducated people obvserving sign language interpreters think that ASL interpreters are mouthing words, when in fact they are adding grammar to their interpretation, as was mentioned previously. This comment does nothing but display the ignornce of the author of this piece.

"Sign language interpreters working in schools may use Signed or Manually Coded English, in which the teacher's spoken message is manually spelled out, with a special sign to indicate spaces between words."
- Many school systems and parents of deaf children have recognied the minimal success of using SEE (Signed Exact English) and MCE (Manually Coded English) in most academic situations. I work in the school system in the greater Phoenix area and I have used ASL in 98% of the interpreter situations I have experienced. Regardless, neither SEE or MCE "manually spells out (words), with a special sign to indicate spaces between words." What you are speaking of is called the Rochester Method, where fingerspelling is the sole mode of communication. This method has not been used in the educational system since the 1950's and I've only heard of extremely elderly deaf adults who still prefer to use this kind of sign system.

"Sign language interpreters working with adults use American Sign Language, a distinct language."
- If deaf children are using SEE or MCE when they're young, where are they learned ASL to use it when they're older? Most people who used an alternative sign system when they were children continue to use some form of that sign system in their adult years. However, to your credit, you did mention an important fact, which is that ASL is a language all it's own.

"People with deaf relatives who use sign language usually acquire signing skills at an early age."
- People with deaf relatives often learn to conversationally sign, which is a completely different skill than interpreting. A few decades ago, CODA's (Children Of Deaf Adults) were put on a pedestal as automatic wonderful interpreters, however that mode of thinking has been long abandoned, except from those who are uneducated about this field and dont know any better. Sure, there are plenty of CODA's that are highly skilled interpreters, however any CODA that thinks they can grow up with deaf parents and automatically become accepted in this field have a very rude awakenening because most of them have zero professionalism and no understanding of interpreter's ethics.

"These include the role of the interpreter and methods of communicating American Sign Language, Manually Coded English, mime, and gesture."
- I attended one of only 33 bachelors programs for Interpreting and now interpret and teach in an Associate's level training program....I have never seen, experienced, or even heard of any ITP (Interpreter Training Program) supporting the instruction of "mime and gesture". In fact, it is very important for professional interpreters to clearly move away from the archaic ideas that deaf people use "mime and gesture" to communicate. It is a very offensive idea.

"Although interpreters need not be certified to work, employers often specify or prefer certified applicants."
- Interpreters absolutely should be certified to work, and more and more employers and consumers are demading this assurance of skill and ethics as the general populous becomes more educated regarding what it means to be a qualified interpreter. In fact, the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is instituting a new licensing procedure for all working interpreters requiring any professional to be nationally certified. Any person caught or reported to be interpreting without a license after October of 2007 can be fined or even face jail time, equivalent to a therpaist or doctor practicing medicine without their license.

All in all, if this webpage is to be used to inform prospective interpreters who are looking to come into this field, the information here has done a very very poor job in preparing someone with the necessary information to take the first steps to become a professional in the field. The entire webpage is very misleading and there was clearly little to no research done to provide the most current and factual information. I'm shocked and appalled and sincerely hope that if anyone has read this page in the past and felt they had a good handle on what it takes to be an interpreter, they will come back and re-read this comment for the rude awakening any previous readers will absolutely need.

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over 5 years ago

I am doing a project about becoming a sign language translator some day. Your information really helped me finish my task

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over 9 years ago

Jill,
Although you wrote this commentary 10 months ago I am extremely grateful to have come across it. I have been shopping the internet for information regarding a possible career in Sign Language. I would appreciate any more information you would like to pass on to me. I live in Vermont and although the University of Vermont offers classes in sign language believe I will have to enroll in an SPL program to get most of the additional education of language development etc.
I am not in a position to enroll in a school with perhaps a better program that would require a relocation of my entire family. Perhaps there are programs that offer intensives that eventaully lead to a certification in the field.
Thanks, Katie

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almost 5 years ago

Hi! i would like to have a job as a interputer for the deaf and hearing the people who can't hear. I really like to do sign language i usually do sign language for practice i usually do it in books when i read.

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over 5 years ago

I am doing a project about becoming a sign language translator some day. Your information really helped me finish my task

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almost 9 years ago

I have certificates in Sign Language. Also, the certifcates are in Beginner's- Vocbulary Building I &II. In addition, I am a interpretor at my church( deaf ministy). ALso, I wanted to further my career as a intepretor. I wanted to ask you what advice or information you can give me to further my education in Sign language.



Thanks,

Ms. Julia Bush