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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. The book can also be checked out from the Outreach Library located in the Department of ASL and Interpreter Education at Eastern Kentucky University. 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 www.rid.org.

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
Laurence Hayes, Ph.D.
245 Wallace Building
Richmond, Kentucky 40475
(859) 622-4966 (V/T)

University of Louisville
Department of Classical and Modern Languages
Dave Coyne, Coordinator, Assistant Professor, ASL
Phone: (502) 852-4113
Email: dave.coyne@louisville.edu

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. You can also try Kentucky Association of the Deaf's bulletin.

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:

State Requirements to Interpret

In Kentucky you must hold a license to interpret. When you are ready to start interpreting go to kbi.ky.gov to obtain your license.

Certification Requirements

Once you have completed your education and gained some interpreting experience, you must take a certification test. The National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test is given jointly by the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. First, you must take the NIC Knowledge Exam (on computer) then the NIC Performance Exam (you must have a bachelor’s degree in any field in order to register for this exam).

Find A Mentor

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.