How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter or ASL Translator

Wondering how to become a sign language interpreter? Interpreting is an excellent career to pursue because it offers a variety of exciting job opportunities and you get to be a part of the diverse Deaf community.

As an ASL interpreter, you get to be a mediator to a group of people that, otherwise, has struggles in completing everyday tasks such as going to the dentist or meeting up with a school counselor. 

How to Become an ASL Translator

If you want to become an ASL translator, congratulations! There is a real need for more interpreters in the Deaf community. Here are four basic steps for how to become a sign language interpreter.

1. Master ASL

If you already know ASL, skip this step! If not, consider how you plan to learn American Sign Language. Will you take local or online classes, or would you rather work with a private tutor one-on-one? Remember to set aside a budget for acquiring your training. For example, working with a private tutor costs an average of $54/hour.

asl translator

ASL can be a difficult language to learn at first because it has very different grammar rules than English. Fluency can take several years, but you should be able to have basic conversations within the first couple weeks of learning. Your exact time frame will largely depend on how much effort and time you can put into learning.

One way to speed up your progress is to get involved in the Deaf community. The Deaf community has an abundance of knowledge to share. They’ll be able to show you exactly what they need from you as an ASL interpreter.

Look up the Deaf chats in your area that take place at local libraries or coffee shops. Anyone who wants to practice signing (whether beginner, intermediate, or advanced) is welcome.

See Also: Little-Known Insights About Sign Language and Deaf Culture

2. Consider a Formal Education

Like the video below says, there are a couple different options for pursuing an education in sign language interpreting. Start by considering one of the interpreting training programs that city and state colleges offer. 

You can either work toward an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s in Sign Language Interpreting. In most states, it’s required to have a degree in Interpreting – not just ASL or Deaf Studies. However there are some exceptions, for example, if you’re a child of a Deaf adult or a sibling of a Deaf adult.

Whether it’s required in your state or not, an interpreting training program is an excellent experience to have under your belt. It will help you not just learn the language, but practice the skills necessary to translate.

3. Get Certified

Different states have their own unique laws about the required licenses and certifications for an ASL translator. In many states, it’s required to at least have a state certification. In some states, you’ll just need a national certification, so it’s best to check your local laws.

For example, if you’re an ASL translator in Nebraska, you must pass a statewide screening test and be nationally certified. You may also need to have a degree in Sign Language Interpreting, depending on the state you live in.

4. Find ASL Interpreter Jobs

There’s a variety of sign language interpreter jobs to choose from. Here are just a few:

Community interpreters for local agencies – Agencies get calls from doctors, dentists, schools, etc. that have a Deaf client in need of an interpreter. The agency will then assign a job to an interpreter.

School interpreters – These interpreters work full-time in a school, such as a Regional School for the Deaf. Some colleges and universities also hire ASL interpreters.

Video relay service interpreters –  This type of interpreter works on video phones in an office or remotely. They answer and mediate calls between the hearing and the Deaf. (These jobs are in high demand!)

Medical interpreters and court certified interpreters – These specialized interpreters are typically required to have additional certifications.

Once you’ve decided which field you’d like to work in, research the companies that are hiring to learn more about the specific requirements for each role.

Need a visual reminder of these steps? Here’s a helpful infographic to keep you motivated!

How to become a sign language interpreter

Final Thoughts

One of the best tips for reaching your goal is to keep in mind that becoming a sign language interpreter isn’t going to happen over night. Remember to be patient with yourself and set reasonable expectations. Give yourself time to grow, and put as much effort and energy as you can into learning!

Additional American Sign Language Resources

An Intro to ASL Grammar Rules [American Sign Language]

Need help learning American Sign Language?

Try one of our most popular online American Sign Language classes for free

How to Sign Colors & Physical Traits
This online sign language class will teach you the signs for colors, physical traits, family members, and more. Practicing with other students will give you the opportunity to use what you’ve learned in real conversation. You’ll also get to practice facial grammar and non-manual behaviors such as eye gazes.
ASL Basic Vocabulary - Making Requests Part 1
In this class, we'll learn signs that are related to making requests, and incorporate them into sentences. For example: "Would you please close the window for me? I'm cold." In this class -- Part 1 -- we will watch a receptive practice video where a native ASL speaker signs sentences that use the signs we've learned in class. We'll have the opportunity to pick out our vocabulary from the video (and interpret the sentences). This will help build our basic conversations.
ASL Fingerspelling Practice - Bingo!
What a fun way to practice our fingerspelling receptivity. I will distribute a bingo card to each student. You can either print them out or open up a second window on your computer to mark them off online, OR, if you are unable to do either, you can write the answers down on paper. Then I will fingerspell 25 words. Once you get five in a row correct, you get Bingo. We'll play until everyone gets a Bingo or we finish the 25 words. Super fun way to practice our fingerspelling receptivity.
ASL Basic Vocabulary - Occupations
In this series of classes, we'll learn some of the basic signs, grouped by category. This class will be "Occupations" -- we'll learn and practice 25 signs, then incorporate some of them into sentences.
ASL Basic Vocabulary - Transportation
In this series of classes, we'll learn some of the basic signs, grouped by category. This class will be "Transportation" -- we'll learn and practice 25 signs, and create sentences.
ASL Vocabulary - Abstract & Conceptual Thought (1)
In this vocabulary class, we'll continue learning some of the signs regarding "thought;" this time signs that are more conceptual or abstract. We'll learn and practice 25 signs. This is part 1 of 2 of these conceptual/abstract vocabulary classes.
ASL Vocabulary - Minimal Pairs
ASL uses five parameters to create a sign. This means that every sign is unique, and if one of those parameters changes, it is a different sign. This class will pick up where "ASL The Five Parameters" leaves off: we'll look at "Minimal Pairs" -- these are signs where 3 of 4 parameters are the same. We'll discuss which one of the parameters is different, and how it affects each sign.
ASL Basics - Math & Numbers
Practice your numbers using simple math problems. This interactive class will have the teacher signing a simple math formula (like "1 plus 1 equals [what]"), and the students will sign back the formula plus the answer. A fun way to practice signing numbers!