In addition to helping people who speak different languages understand each other, there are interpreters who are also specialized in offering American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting services. Sign language interpreters are highly trained professionals who offer reliable help to people who need it. The service is often used by health institutions and government organization, and such professionals are often present in court or can be seen in educational institutions.

become asl interpreter

Basically, there are two types of services offered by language providers specializing in sign language interpretation – in person interpretation and video remote interpreting. Here are some facts that you need to know if you want to become a sign language interpreter or you need to use the services of such professionals.  

American Sign Language Facts

American Sign Language is a language that has evolved naturally as a non-verbal means of communication. It is the predominant sign language that is used by the deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada. Its origin can be traced back to the beginning of the 19th century in the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. It evolved as a result of a language contact between people with impaired hearing. The school used a mixture of old French Sign language, village sign languages, and home sign systems.  

Since then, the ASL has been widely used in schools for the deaf and in various organization of the Deaf Community in the USA. Currently, it is estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 people use ASL. People who use sign language, regardless of the fact whether they have a hearing impairment or not, are called signers.  

In the beginning, ASL was considered inferior to oral languages but the concept was changed thanks to William Stokoe. He was a professor who researched signed languages and worked at Gallaudet University. As a result of his work and the civil rights movement, ASL was recognized as equal in the 1960s. 

American Sign Language Interpreting Services  

There is a demand for qualified sign language interpreters and their services are required in different spheres and industries – from business meetings to court hearings. It is important to be aware of the specifications of the service should you need to use it. Here are some important points to note: 

  • There is a difference between a sign language interpreter and a signer. The interpreter is qualified to provide interpretation services and has the necessary experience and education to do it. A signer is a person who can use ASL but is not necessarily qualified to interpret in a formal setting.  
  • Sign language interpreters should be licensed in order to provide the service. 
  • Interpreters have specific billing rates – each interpreter has the right to determine the rate for the service they provide. The price might depend on the complexity and length of the assignment as well as on the qualification and experience of the interpreter. 
  • Avoid using family members or relatives as sign language interpreters as they might be emotionally involved with the particular situation and unable to provide unbiased interpretation. They may also be tempted to speak instead of the deaf or hearing-impaired person.  

Having this information in mind can help both sides enjoy a better interpretation service. It is also good to know that quite often clients might request to work with one and the same interpreter, whom they trust. If possible, it is a good idea of the service provider to meet this demand as it will make all participants feel more comfortable and facilitate the overall process. 

How to Become an American Sign Language Interpreter 

Knowing American Sign Language makes you a signer and not a qualified interpreter. The principle is the same as speaking any other foreign language – the fact that you can speak German or Spanish does not mean that you have the skills and abilities to help other people communicate with each other.  

If you want to become a sign language interpreter you need to be proficient both in English and in the sign language but also have a thorough knowledge of the culture of both the deaf and the hearing communities. There are different programs that you can enroll in so that you can learn about ASL, interpreting, comparative linguistics, sign tuning, deaf culture, and deaf literature. Such courses can be taken as part of certificate or associate degrees or bachelor and graduate degree programs. 

Once you have finished your education and feel comfortable with your knowledge of ASL, you can apply for certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Once certified, you will need to participate in continuing education and pay for an annual membership fee in RID or NAD, so that you maintain your certificate. 

Sign language interpreters facilitate the communication between the deaf and the hearing communities. Their services are used in courts and hospitals, at schools and during business meetings. It is a highly responsible job that requires professionalism and dedication. 

American Sign Language is spread throughout Anglo-America, which puts it in a unique situation. In Europe, for example, there are several sign languages that are used on the continent. The proliferation of ASL is possibly a result of its usage in the schools of the deaf and the establishment of several Deaf community organizations that also adopted it. As it is recognized as a language equal to its oral counterparts, it is only natural that ASL interpretation services also developed and got better throughout the years.

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