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

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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.
Workplace Vocabulary for ASL Beginners
This interactive group class will help you begin using ASL effectively in the workplace. Whether you’re speaking with coworkers or customers, you’ll gain the tools needed to communicate. An expert instructor will cover necessary vocabulary for around the office, as well as customer service positions. Your work day just got easier!
Beginner ASL Conversation Practice
Take your American Sign Language skills to the next level in this beginner-friendly ASL class that focuses on essential conversation signs. A live teacher will guide the class in real-time, explaining and showing you how to sign introductions, greetings, important questions, and descriptions for common objects and places in your life. You can meet students in the group class and practice your new ASL conversation skills with an interactive video format. TakeLessons Live weekly classes empower you to watch, learn, practice, and ask questions.
Advanced ASL Conversation Practice
Practice makes perfect! These weekly classes will help you improve your conversational sign language skills with some fun practice. You’ll work with a live instructor and other students to keep a conversation going. Topics such as holidays, school, activities, hobbies, favorites, and more will give you a wide variety of vocabulary to learn. Signing will become more and more natural to you!
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Fingerspelling is frequently used when speaking ASL. Learning the different hand shapes for fingerspelling is important, but one of the harder parts is being able to comprehend what someone else is fingerspelling to you. This interactive class will focus on tips and tricks for doing just that. Get ready to take your sign language skills to the next level! Students should have learn or practice their ABC's before taking this class.
Fingerspelling 101: Must-Know Tips and Tricks
Fingerspelling is frequently used when speaking ASL. Learning the different hand shapes for fingerspelling is important, but one of the harder parts is being able to comprehend what someone else is fingerspelling to you. This interactive class will focus on tips and tricks for doing just that. Get ready to take your sign language skills to the next level! Students should have learn or practice their ABC's before taking this class.
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This online sign language class will focus on formal and informal greetings in ASL, as well as basic grammar and vocabulary. You’ll also be introduced to the importance of facial grammar and non-manual behaviors. Get ready to kickstart your journey learning American Sign Language!
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It’s that time of year and what better way to celebrate than with fun Halloween vocabulary! This class will not only teach you signs relating to Halloween, but it will also allow you to converse with others about your favorite traditions! If you love spooky movies, candy, or carving pumpkins, this is the class for you!