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Becoming an ASL Interpreter: A Step-by-Step Guide

December 9, 2020

Becoming an ASL Interpreter: A Step-by-Step Guide

Are you considering a career as a sign language an interpreter? There’s always a demand for proficient interpreters with a firm grasp of both American Sign Language (ASL) and English who can sign fluently (i.e., expressive skills) and understand signing well (i.e., receptive skills). If you’re not sure where to start, use these general steps as a rough guideline to assist you on your journey to getting certified, and becoming an ASL interpreter:

1. Research interpreting.

2. Develop knowledge and skills in interpreting through formal training. 

    • Interpreter training programs are offered at various colleges and universities across the US. Visit The Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education for a list of accredited programs.  
    • Obtain a degree in interpreting from an accredited and credible program
    • Observe and intern under certified sign language interpreters in a variety of settings. 
    • Find a mentor, or several mentors, that can provide advice, suggestions, feedback, and support throughout your journey. 

If you’re interested in becoming an ASL interpreter, keep in mind that interpreting often requires more than simply knowing ASL. Most interpreting positions require appropriate interpreter certification from nationally recognized organizations, like RID. 

RID is a national membership organization that establishes and oversees national standards, professional conduct, governance, and resources for sign language interpreters and transliterators. Further, RID maintains the education, certification, and professional development records of its members. 

National Interpreter Certification (NIC) is conferred by RID upon completion of a two-part exam. The NIC Knowledge Exam (a multiple-choice test) and the NIC Interview and Performance Exam, which assesses expressive and receptive signing, sign-to-voice, and voice-to-sign skills. It’s important to note that candidates cannot sit for the test without meeting educational requirements (i.e., a bachelor’s degree in any major or approval for the Alternative Pathway, which uses a point system that assigns credit for college classes, interpreting experience, and professional development). To learn more about RID’s interpreter certification process, visit the Certification Overview section of the RID website. 

3. Meet the NIC Knowledge Exam eligibility requirements and take the exam. 

    • You must be 18 years old to be eligible for this exam. 
    • The cost of the exam varies for RID members and non-members. 
    • The NIC Knowledge Exam is administered by CASLI, so visit their website to learn more. 
    • Keep in mind that as of Dec. 31, 2020, the NIC Knowledge Exam will be retired. So, by the time you read this, you may be able to skip step 3.  

4. Meet the NIC Interview and Performance Exam eligibility requirements and take the exam.