How do I become an American Sign Language Interpreter?

William Woods ASL

No origin story of an American Sign Language interpreter looks the same.

You may have grown up with a Deaf member in your family. Or perhaps you got a taste of the language — whether in a class, at a concert, presentation or anywhere else — and knew that is what you wanted to do with the rest of your life.

It may have been clear this is what you wanted to do, but it’s not always clear how to go about achieving your career goals.

“Fascination with sign language and/or the desire to “help” are admirable, but these alone are not qualifications to be interpreting for persons who are Deaf or hard of hearing,” writes the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. “Patience, persistence, dedication and professional training are just some of the few key elements that are crucial to becoming a successful interpreter.”

“Prospective interpreters will be tested on their expressive and receptive signing, sign-to-voice, and voice-to-sign skills,” writes The National Association of the Deaf. “You are encouraged to take as many workshops and classes as possible to increase and improve your skills.”

Education requirements for licensure vary from state to state, however as of this year, the national certification test given jointly through the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf requires a bachelor’s degree. Interpreters interested in becoming nationally certified must obtain one.

William Woods University offers an on-campus bachelor’s in American Sign Language Interpreting English-ASL program as well as an online transfer program for current associate degree holders interested in earning a bachelor’s to fulfill this requirement.

Interpreter certification in the state of Missouri, known as the Missouri Interpreters Certification System (MICS), holds several levels: novice, apprentice, advanced, comprehensive, and so on. Certification includes a written test and a performance test.

When you’ve earned all of the credentials you need, it’s time to figure out what kind of interpreter you want to be.

According to the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, interpreters typically fall in one of three categories, each with their own advantages:

  • Agency interpreter
  • Freelance interpreter
  • Contracted interpreter

In the next post, Look Into ASL will explore the differences between these.