Regardless of the languages they use, interpreters serve to bridge the communication gap between people speaking different languages. People who have some hearing impairment use sign language to express their thoughts and may also need professional interpreting services in order to communicate with a broader audience.  

Many people wrongly believe that there is only one universal sign language utilized all over the world. This is far from the truth. There are over 300 sign languages that are currently used and quite often one country may have more than one official sign language. The USA is an exception as it uses American Sign Language (ASL) throughout its entire territory and ASL is the universal sign language for Northern American and the English-speaking parts of Canada.  

Since a lot of people use sign language, it is natural that the profession of sign language interpreter was also established. The main purpose of a sign language interpreter is to ease the communication between people who use sign language and people who don’t.  

What are the main duties of the sign language interpreter?

In general, the job of the sign language interpreter is to facilitate communication between hard-of-hearing or deaf people and the rest of the audience. The need for interpreting services may be in a one-to-one situation or during an official meeting, conference or other form of interaction.  

In order to be a sign language interpreter, you need to be both proficient in the particular sign language and be aware of the subject matter discussed. As a professional, you have the same duties as any other interpreter – to render a message from one language into another as accurately as possible.  

If you are using a sign language interpreter, you shall expect them to convey your message without making any judgement of it. To work with such an expert, you need to realize that they are simply there to facilitate your communication. You need to speak normally and address directly the other party in your questions or answers as you would do normally.  

Sign language interpreters can also help with some cultural differences between the two parties as they are trained how to communicate properly with both groups.  

Where do sign language interpreters work?  

Sign language interpretation is utilized in many situations. The goal of the interpreter is to help the hard-of-hearing or deaf person understand what is said and express back their thoughts and opinion. The need for such services may arise in the following cases:

  • Education 

In this case, the interpreter is fully integrated in the education system and is part of the educational institution, they work for. Sign language interpreters can be employed at all educational stages and work in elementary schools right through university level. The interpreter usually works with one or two students and translates the spoken words of the teacher to a sign language thus facilitating the educational growth of the students.  

  • Courtrooms

If a hearing impaired or deaf person is present in a court room as a witness, suspect or in any other form, a sign language interpreter is assigned to help them with communication. 

  • Business meetings 

Sign language interpreters are often used during business meetings or other high-level meetings when one of the parties utilizes sign language for their communication.  

  • In the media 

There are many events broadcasted on TV that are accompanied by sign language interpretation. A professional may work for a given TV channel and interpret the news, weather forecasts or specialized programs. In many cases, when there is an official speech by a politician or the President, there is also a sign interpreter present to interpret for those who are hard-of-hearing. 

  • Community service 

There are also many other institutions that utilize the service of sign language interpreters in order to facilitate the community. Such interpreters may work in banks or hospitals and help clients and patients communicate easier with the staff.  

  • Remote services 

Video remote interpreting is a popular service used when the interpreter cannot be physically present at the event. The technology and the service can be utilized for sign language interpreting as well.  

How to become a sign language interpreter?  

If you want to pursue a career as a American Sign Language interpreter, you need to gain both expertise and experience in the language and in the field of interpretation. In general, most employers prefer experience over education, however it is also an important asset in your job. 

As a sign language interpreter, you need to possess linguistic and cultural knowledge of both the deaf and the hearing communities. It is a good idea to start by volunteering to interpret at various community events, as this will help you gain experience with sign language. 

To earn a competitive advantage, you can also get certified as a sign language interpreter by either the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Note, that certification is not a must and you can do the job even without one. 

It is worth noting that you can get a certificate in ASL online as well as complete a bachelor’s or master’s degree in sign language. You can combine this education with a diploma in the preferred field of interpretation – law degree for a courtroom interpreter or medical education for those who want to work in hospitals or other health institutions.  

As a whole, the job of the sign language interpreter is similar to that of any other interpreter – to facilitate the communication between two parties speaking different languages. It requires a high level of professionalism and ability to deal with sensitive issues without being biased.  

A sign language interpreter can choose between a great variety of working places as their work is equally valued in an office, a courtroom or a media press conference.  

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