Sign Language Interpreter Career Profile

If you're interested in a career as a sign language interpreter, you should know that many sign language interpreters are employed on a freelance basis. It is easier to have a full-time career in this field if you live in a large urban center.

A Day in the Life of a Sign Language Interpreter

A sign language interpreter may have several different workplaces: They are employed by health care facilities, nonprofits, post-secondary institutions or court systems, and others work on a freelance basis. They will usually spend their days converting oral communication, such as instructions from doctors, professors or social workers, to their clients, or they will be available to assist in the translation of legal communications and contracts to their clients.

In a conference or classroom setting, ASL interpreters will usually work in pairs, signing for as long as they are physically comfortable and then switching with their partners. They will usually work for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until they take a break.  If you work at a conference, you can expect to work long hours in order to be available for the social part of the conference, which can continue well into the evening, as well as during the conference proceedings.

Some interpreters will travel out of town to their assignments, and the cost of travel is usually paid by the employer or by the event organizer.

Salary for a Sign Language Interpreter

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the salary for interpreters and translators, where ASL interpreters are classified, the middle 50 percent of interpreters earned between $29,000 per year and $52,000 per year. However, if you can build a reputation as a conscientious and capable sign language interpreter, and if you work in an area with a high demand for interpreters, you may be able to work more hours. In addition, extra certification, such as certification as a teacher, may increase the number of hours that a sign language interpreter can work and the variety of work placements.

Since many interpreters work on a freelance basis, they may encounter some periods with low to no employment, unless they maintain a steady relationship with a client. Other periods may offer brisk, more than full-time employment. This variety of hours may also mean that the interpreter will have an erratic pay check, as they wait to be reimbursed for services.

Tips and Advice

Recommendations for continuing and additional employment depend on the interpreter's capability. Interpreters that are friendly with both parties in the interpretation process can expect recommendations from both the deaf or hard-of-hearing client and the professional on the other end of the communication.

If you plan to pursue a career as a sign language interpreter, you should cultivate a strong work ethic. Develop the habit of showing up on time, dealing with clients in a professional but friendly manner, and completing activities without complaint (unless you are treated unfairly). Cultivating a good reputation with both parties will lead to more employment opportunities.

ASL interpreters can also supplement their income by teaching, such as offering lessons in ASL communication to parents or students who are learning ASL.

Others offer online interpretation services, usually via the Internet and a web camera. The use of technology for interpretation should help to decrease the amount of time spent traveling to events that require interpretation services, but it requires the sign language interpreter to have access to a computer, a web camera and a high-speed Internet connection for video transmission.