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Interpreting:  How to become an interpreter

Note to online or classroom students: You don't have to read any of this unless specifically told to by your syllabus or local instructor.
I just want you to know that this page is here in case you are considering becoming an interpreter or want to learn more about interpreting.
--Dr. Bill

Interpreting: "Educational Interpreting"
Interpreting in California
Interpreting in Texas
Interpreting:  The Necessity For Sign Language Interpreters
Interpreting: Sample Legislation
Interpreting: What are the negatives?
Interpreter fees
Interpreter Pay

In a message dated 1/5/02 9:39:24 PM Central Standard Time, a student writes:

I am an elementary school teacher that has decided to stay home and spend more time volunteering at my child's elementary school. I grew up with a friend who was deaf and he taught me sign language. Not fluently, but bits and pieces here and there. I am quite interested in learning more. I would like to become fluent enough to become an interpreter. I learn fast and believe with the proper training and practice I can be quite good. Please send me some information about your program.

Could you also answer a couple of questions?

First, how do I become qualified to be an interpreter?
And second, what type of places, and so forth would I be able to interpret for?

Any help or encouragement you may have would be so very helpful.
Thank you ahead of time for your time.

Hi Jane,

The actual process of becoming a certified interpreter varies from state to state. Plus there is a "National Certification" that is available.

Contact your state's division of occupational licensing and ask them what is required to work for pay as an interpreter in your state. They may refer you to some other department such as the "Division of Interpreter Services," the "State Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services," or the "Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing." Keep calling around until you find the right department. Most "local Deaf centers" should be able to give you some idea of whom to call or you could ask them to help you track down a working interpreter and take him or her out to lunch and ask questions.

A good resource is the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, see:

Places you could interpret for would include any organization serving a large deaf population. For example: government entities, school districts, colleges, large companies, Deaf centers, State Schools for the Deaf, and "freelance interpreting" for the community. 

Good luck and happy signing.

Dr. Bill

In a message dated 8/6/2003 10:41:27 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

My name is Steven De Crescenzo. I live in Colorado and would like to be certified as an interpreter. As you many know, Front Range Community College offers an Interpreter Preparation Program. Unfortunately, classes are only offered during the day. Since I work during the day, it would not be feasible for me to attend classes.

I am wondering if Gallaudet offers an Interpreter program via the Internet, etc. If not, can you make any recommendations such as other Universities that may offer Distance Learning.

Thank you.


Tell me you "need" to go to college to become an interpreter in your state? Or do you just need to pass the state exam?
If you just need to pass the exam, why not hire a Deaf person to tutor your in ASL? You can design your own "program" using books and your Deaf mentor. It might actually cost you much less and be much faster than attending college.

Dr. Bill


A Look at Interpreting


Nicole Madden


            American Sign Language is more complex than some may think.  Interpretation and transliteration are used to translate communication.  Instead of ASL, many use Signed Exact English and Cued Speech, especially in educational settings with children.  In order for one to become a proficient interpreter, he or she must pass the national tests put forth by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc (NAD, 2000).  The difference between many of these terms, levels of certification, and opportunities for interpreters will be discussed.

Interpretation & Transliteration

Interpretation is the procedure used to assist communication between those unable to communicate directly with one another.  Interpretation requires the interpreter to be competent in at least two languages (RID, 1999).  Mouth patterns reflect appropriate adult American Sign Language (ASL) usage.

Transliteration occurs when the verbatim spoken or written is representation of one language by another.  An example of transliteration is when word for word conversion between two languages.  In deaf communication, transliteration is used to provide messages within one language.  Mouth patterns in transliteration should be either exact words from the original text or as English paraphrasing of the text (Fant, 1990).

Signed Exact English & Cued Speech

Both Signed Exact English and Cued Speech are used widely by schools and parents as tools to teach children.  Even though these two types of deaf communication are different, they are both used in settings with young students.

Signed Exact English (SEE) is a form of communication that uses signs in exact English order, with some additional signs used to represent the "-ing" ending.  SEE has been combined with ASL to create another communication called Pidgin Signed English (PSE).

Cued Speech is a sound-based visual communication system.  It is a not a language in and of itself but a communication mode (Garretson, 1990).  Eight hand shapes are used to represent consonant sounds.  Vowel sounds are identified by locations near the mouth.  In cued speech, hand movements in addition to lip movements are utilized.  Cued Speech is especially helpful with assisting children in the learning process.  Consistent exposure to spoken language through Cued Speech results in literacy and language skills similar to those of hearing students.

RID Certification

Through extensive training and practice, professional sign language interpreters are able to develop interpreting skills.  As members of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID), they continue to improve their skills, professionalism, and knowledge.

RID gives certification to interpreters who pass the national tests.  These national tests not only check language knowledge and communication skills, but also test knowledge and judgment on issues involving ethics, professionalism, and culture.  The standards for national testing are high, and extensive experience is usually required before beginners are able to pass (RID, 1999).  An interpreter may hold more than one of the following certifications:

      Certificate of Interpretation (CI)

      Certificate of Transliteration (CT)

      Comprehensive Skills Certificate (CSC)

      Specialist Certificate: Legal (SC: L)

      Interpretation Certificate (IC)

      Transliteration Certificate (TC)

      Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI)

Currently, experienced interpreters are in high demand and can be employed full-time or part-time.  Interpreters can work in a variety of settings, such as medical, legal, arts, and business.  Salary for interpreters varies depending on certification, experience, and interpreting situation.  Freelance interpreters earn between $12 and $40 per hour, but usually do not receive forty hours in a work week.  Staff interpreters may earn between $15,000 and $30,000 per year.  In metropolitan cities, highly skilled and experienced earn up to $50,000 per year (RID, 1999).


            In conclusion, the world of deaf communication can become very complicated when dealing with the various forms of communication.  A certified interpreter must be able to understand these types of communication and also be able to pass the national tests put forth by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.  In order for someone to better understand these issues, the difference between interpretation and transliteration, the types of communication, and the levels of certification available must be examined.


Fant, Louie J. (1990). Silver Threads: A Personal Look at the First Twenty-Five Years of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Silver Spring, MD: RID Publications.

Garretson, Merv (1990). Eyes, Hands, Voices: Communication Issues Among Deaf People. Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf.

National Association for the Deaf. <>.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. <>.

Submission date: 4-29-03

How Much are Sign Language Interpreters Paid?

By: Ruth Tate

             Sign language interpreters hold very important jobs in our communities. They bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing and especially in events where the public is addressed. So if sign language interpreters hold such important jobs, how much are they paid? This paper will investigate three resources to answer this question.

            "Approximately 75% of sign language interpreters are employed in the educational setting"(1).  The starting salary of most of the examples or salary pay scales on average was about $20,000 a year, but with experience in almost every case the salary increased, according to the Rochester Institute of Technology.

            Factors that determine how much one will be paid obviously is education. Employers want to see a college degree or some kind of certification. Next to education, they want to see experience. An article in the Los Angeles Times showed a four thousand dollar difference in pay with only two more years of experience (2). "With many years of experience and a college degree, a sign language interpreter may earn as much as $35,000 to $45,000 a year." 1 Another example that this is an accurate pay scale is a source from El Camino College. They pay their experienced sign language interpreters $36,000 to $44,000 a year (2).

            Another way to make a living as a sign language interpreter is to be self employed. These interpreters are hired out by organizations or individuals  at an hourly or daily rate. The average pay is approximately $15.00 an hour, but again with experience or a college degree the hourly rate can be as high as $45.00 an hour. The only draw backs to being self employed is there are no benefits like insurance and 401K plans. The interpreter must also be able to provide his/her own transportation. Being self employed does have great pay though, and of course the hours are the best part of it. The interpreter can make his/her own schedule and work around important events.

            Not only does pay vary between job to job or because of experience, but it also varies from country to country. In Australia they have an accreditation level. Level 1 pays $15.00 an hour. Level 2 pays $20.00 an hour. Level 3 pays $25.00 an hour.3 Canada's pay scale is pretty close to the United States. Their pay scale with experience is $36,000 to $66,000 a year (3).

            As one can tell, a sign language interpreter's job is very important and there are many jobs available whether one wants to be employed by the educational field or be a freelance interpreter. The pay scale has just as many options. After reviewing much information one can determine whether they want to make more money by earning a college degree or make a still fair amount of money with a certificate. Another option that was researched was freelancing. This field comes with a lot of freedom with the hours worked. The field of sign language interpreting offers many options and a promising future for many who do want to pursue this career.


1) Rochester Institute of Technology-

2) Los Angeles Times- "Interpreter for the Deaf" Susan W. Miller, M.A. Special to the Times

3) National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI)

Submission date: 4-25-03


Kim Garrett submitted the following:



The term interpreter, "is commonly used to denote anyone who facilitates communication between parties unable to communicate directly with each other; however, it more accurately refers to the individual who translates messages from one language to another. The process of interpreting is highly complex, requiring the interpreter to be proficient in at least two languages. In order to function properly, interpreters must understand the meaning of an expressed message in one language (source language) and convert it to a second language (target language) as accurately as they can. Jokes, idioms, and famous quotes might be interpreted literally or they might be transferred to a comparable expression in the target language. Interpreters often find themselves charged with the responsibility of bridging cultural barriers as well as linguistic ones. Transliteration refers to the verbatim spoken or written representation of one language by another. Word for word transference between Spanish and German is one example of transliteration. However, sometimes the meaning of the original message is not preserved by verbatim transference. The term transliteration is also applied to the process whereby a language is written for the purpose of conveying pronunciation. For instance, Latin of Hebrew can be written for use in a religious setting so that a congregation can pronounce prayers, even when they might not understand the meaning of the words they are pronouncing. When facilitating communications for hearing-impaired/deaf people, transliteration refers to the rendering of messages within a single language."

Theory and Application, by Earl Fleetwood and Melanie Metzger.
Copyright 1990, Calliope Press, Silver Springs Md.



As a non-profit association, RID or any of its affiliate chapters cannot recommend pay rates. While we can advocate for professionalism, etc., we cannot say -- "Interpreters should get paid XYZ." This restriction is based on a federal law.  Salaries are completely regional and vary greatly on the type of work, certification status, etc.


A Look At Interpreting

 Terra Davis

     The purpose of this research is to provide information on interpretation and transliteration.  According to research there is a distinct difference between the two terms.  Interpretation is the process of transmitting spoken English into American Sign Language for gestures for communication between deaf and hearing people, whereas transliteration is the process of transmitting spoken English into one of several English oriented varieties of manual communications between deaf and hearing people. (

     Examples of transliteration include the terms Cued Speech and Signed Exact English.  Signed Exact English can best be described as a form of communication/ instruction in which signs are used in exact English word order, with some additional signs representing conventions such as the, "ing" word ending. (  This is a rather young method, being that it was developed in 1972.  It is considered to be a useful tool for instructing deaf children in the English language.  Cued Speech, according to National Cued Speech Association is a sound-based visual communication system, which in English uses eight hand shapes in four different locations, "cues" in combination with the natural mouth movements of speech, to make all the sounds of spoken language look different.

     Sign Language interpreting was not recognized as a profession until the late 60's early 70's.  During this time frame, most interpreters were usually individuals who had parents, or siblings that were deaf or they were teachers of the deaf.  Early interpreters were not usually paid, but instead, volunteered their services.  According to research, in 1964 at Ball State University in Indiana, interpreters across the U.S.A. came together for the first time to interpret a meeting. (  During this meeting the interpreters had a discussion on the demand for interpreters and the need to have a list of nationally qualified interpreters.  From this meeting the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, "RID" was established, bylaws were created and the code of Ethics for Interpreters was written.  This organization was the first organization in the world of its kind to be established. 

     The RID organization was incorporated in 1972.  The RID organization provided the, "three Q's of interpreting which are: Quantity, Qualifications, and Quality", namely the RID Triad.  RID's  Triad is composed of ; training for new and professional Interpreters through the Professional Development Committee(PPC), and the Certification Maintenance Program (CMP) , Continued Certification through RID's National Testing Systems )NTS), and Self Regulation through the National Ethical Practices (EPS).  (  Although RID is responsible for originating and administering the National Testing System that certifies interpreters, it is also responsible for providing various support services to practicing interpreters, students of interpreters, and persons who share an interest in the field of interpretation. 

      The Americans with Disabilities Act requires the provision of qualified interpreters in a variety of settings.  It is stated that an interpreter must have the proven ability to effectively communicate. (  Credentials can be obtained by taking and passing an assessment of your skills.  RID  provides testing for national certification. 

     College is not a requirement for taking an assessment, but the background skills development and theory learned in a recognized interpreter-training program is very important in receiving your national certification.  Once an individual graduates from a good program they are usually able to pass the RID written exam.  If one is a active participate in the field and continues to upgrade knowledge and skills in the field, one should be ready to pass the RID skills certification within three to five years.

     The kind of salary depends on a variety of factors such as geographical areas, education, the amount of experience, and credentials.  Some interpreters contract their services  and earn anywhere from $12.00-$40.00 per hour, but they cannot schedule a full forty hours per week.  These individuals do not receive employee benefits.  Other interpreters work for agencies, businesses, government organizations, or school systems.  They can earn anywhere between $15,000- $30,000 per year.  Usually in metropolitan cities interpreters can earn $40,000-$50,000  year.

     Once someone completes a program they may not necessarily be guaranteed their certification.  One can only be certified if they pass the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf  written and performance tests.  Continued work in the field, and participation in workshops, and work with mentors will help in preparing one to earn certification. 


  1. .  29 April 2003
  2.  29 April 2003
  3.  11 April 2003
  4.  29 April 2003
  5.  29 April 2003

Submitted: 4/29/03



In a message dated 3/6/2006 3:26:27 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, Terri White
of Greenville, South Carolina writes:
[When you are interpreting in a classroom setting,] if the teacher is lecturing and asks a question and the deaf student raises his/her hand to answer--but the teacher doesn't see him/her or maybe has his back to the class--and students start answering/having a discussion and the interpreter voices, how do you indicate that it's the student's answer and NOT the interpreter's? Many times the students begin answering without being recognized by the teacher. I feel sometimes that the students/teacher thinks it's my opinion since they hear my voice.
This generally only becomes a problem if you've established a precedent of sharing your own opinion in the class in the past. The way it should work is that you only voice the Deaf student's opinion and you never voice your own.  You are not there to voice your own opinion, you are there to interpret for the student. If you feel this is a problem, then schedule a time to meet with the teacher and explain the nature of your work to him or her.  Then request that the teacher, at an appropriate time, take a minute or two to explain to the class how the interpreting process works.
I'm sure the teacher has various equipment in the classroom.  It is normal and expected that the teacher explains to the students how to use the classroom resources and equipment.  A teacher might explain to the students how to use an overhead projector, when they can sharpen their pencils, her policy on passing notes in class, seating arrangements, rules for bathroom breaks, tardiness policies, and any number of other classroom management issues.  You are just one more issue to be explained.

It is your job or that of your supervisor to inform the teacher of how you (as a resource) are to be used.  It is the teacher's job to explain to the other students that when you speak you are expressing the views and opinions of the Deaf student and not your own views and opinions.
Dr. Bill



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