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How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter

Image of interpreter signing in a classroom setting.

You have decided on an exciting career path that takes time and dedication. It takes several years to get started as an interpreter. Some people need an average of 2,200 to 3,200 hours to learn to fluently speak a new language. Universities that offer four-year interpreter training programs may require a lot of your time to learn American Sign Language, but they do not typically exceed the amount of time required for any other language.

There are several resources to help begin the journey toward becoming a qualified, professional interpreter. You may be a beginner or an advanced signer, or perhaps you are a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult). Regardless, the following resources should help you understand what it takes to become a qualified interpreter.

Where do you start?

Fascination with sign language and/or the desire to "help" are admirable, but these alone are not qualifications for becoming an interpreter. Patience, persistence, professional training and exposure to deaf individuals are the keys to becoming a qualified interpreter.

Before you begin, consider reading this book, “So You Want to Be an Interpreter: An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting” by Janice H. Humphrey. You can check out this book from our library. Another option is to purchase the book offered by various vendors.

The Registry of Interpreters (RID) is a national membership organization representing sign language interpreters. The RID website is

University Programs

In Kentucky there are two universities that offer accredited interpreter education programs.

Image of students in a lab.

Eastern Kentucky University
Department of ASL & Interpreter Education

University of Louisville
Department of Classical and Modern Languages

Immerse Yourself

As in studying any second language, you will need to immerse yourself in the culture and those who use sign language. Go to our bulletin page to see what is happening in your area.

Networking with other professionals in the field will help you meet other interpreters who can mentor. A way to network is to attend interpreting workshops. Try the following resources for workshops:

What is the difference between certification and licensure?

In the state of Kentucky, we have a licensure law that states all interpreters must have a license to interpret. In order to be licensed, you have to be certified as well.

"Nationally Certified or Nationally recognized certification" means certification granted by a national organization that is based on an assessment of the applicant’s skills. These organizations include, but are not limited to, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, the National Association of the Deaf and the National Training, Evaluation and Certification Unit.

"Kentucky License" means that those practicing interpreters have met minimum standards set forth by the state. The specifics on what is required varies from state to state. Please visit the Kentucky Board of Interpreters' (KBI) website for Kentucky licensure law. .

State Requirements to Interpret

The Kentucky Board of Interpreters (KBI) is an agency (separate from ours) under the Department of Professional Licensing within the Public Protection Cabinet.

Kentucky Board of Interpreters for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
911 Leawood Drive
Frankfort, KY 40601
502-564-3296 (Telephone)

Certification Requirements

On your path to becoming nationally certified, it’s important to take into consideration the certification requirements of each entity, such as a college degree. Certification is awarded by demonstrating an advanced level of expressive and receptive skills. There are several accredited organizations that provide certification. Please refer to Kentucky Board of Interpreters (KBI) what certifications meet the licensure requirements contained in KRS Chapter 309 and 201 KAR Chapter 39.

List of Sign Language Certification Exams

Under Kentucky Licensure the EIPA is a restricted certification applying only to K-12 educational interpreting. You must fulfill the certification requirements for the NIC or BEI Advanced to interpret in community settings.

Find A Mentor

KBI Mentors List

A mentor can help guide you in your exploration of becoming a sign language interpreter. You will need a mentor when you apply for your temporary license, but it is good to find someone ahead of time who can provide guidance. To find a mentor, attend interpreter workshops or events. Find these events under the topic “Immerse Yourself.”

When you are deciding where to receive training, ask how many deaf instructors are in the program. It is important that deaf people be involved in the training of sign language interpreters.

More Resources

Many other interpreter training programs are located throughout the United States.

The following is a list of organizations you may want to contact for additional information:

Upon completion of the interpreter training program, or once you are skilled enough, you can take the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test. Interpreters MUST be certified to work in Kentucky.

Adapted from: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.