American Sign Language Fluency

How long does it take to become fluent in Japanese, Russian or any other foreign language? Language fluency, be it spoken or visual, requires time, dedication, study, immersion in the language community, and constant practice. While you may have the potential to handle communication of simple concepts of daily life after just three classes, it will most likely take you years to be comfortably fluent in native conversations at normal rates discussing complex topics.

Getting Started

Professional sign language interpreters develop interpreting skills through extensive training and practice over a long period of time. Before committing to this profession, it is imperative that you prepare yourself for the expectations, requirements and standards that will be asked of you.

Below are a few resources that will help guide you along the process:

    This site, funded by the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC), provides all the tools needed to learn more about the interpreting profession and how to get started.  
  • The Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education
    CCIE was established to promote professionalism in the field of sign language interpreter education through an accreditation process. This site provides a list of accredited programs to help you prepare to enter the field of interpreting.
  • Professional Sign Language Interpreting
    This RID standard practice paper provides a quick-glance and overview of the interpreting profession.
  • Interpreter Training and Preparation Programs
    These programs provide you with the education and knowledge base to develop the skills to become an interpreter.

    *NEW* View an intensive spreadsheet of available 2 and 4 year ITP programs HERE
    (Resource made available by CCBC Program Assistant Jesse Hammons, CIT and CCBC)

  • RID’s Certification Programs
    RID’s Certification Programs measure your knowledge and skill level and provides you with the appropriate level credentials for your testing skills.
  • NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct
    The NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct sets the standards to which all certified members of RID are expected to adhere.
  • RID’s Standard Practice Papers
    RID’s Standard Practice Papers (SPPs) articulate the consensus of the membership in outlining standard practices and positions on various interpreting roles and issues. These SPPs are excellent resources to educate all interpreters as well as hearing and deaf clients, the general public, business contacts, school personnel, doctors and nurses, etc.
  • RID Affiliate Chapters and Local Chapters
    Your affiliate or local chapter can serve as an excellent source for guidance, mentorship and information.

Interpreting as a Career

There is a strong need for qualified interpreters with credentials as we are currently experiencing a period in the interpreting field where supply is not keeping up with demand. The greatest demand for interpreters is in medium-to-large cities. The more mobile you are, the more likely you are to find an interpreting job.

Interpreters typically fall in one of three categories

  • Agency interpreter, meaning that you are employed by an agency that provides you job assignments.
  • Free-lance interpreter, meaning that you are responsible for finding and maintaining your own client base
  • Contracted interpreter, meaning that you take on aspects of both the agency interpreter and the freelance interpreter. You provide services to an interpreter services agency or to other agencies in accordance with the terms and conditions of a particular contract or contracts. You are not an employee of the interpreter services agency or any other agencies for which they provide services

Interpreter Salaries

Salary statistics for interpreters is very difficult to find as salaries vary depending on many factors. These include:

  • geographical area (rural areas tend to pay less than urban areas)
  • education
  • amount of experience
  • credentials
  • type of interpreter, such as freelance, contracted or agency

You may want to call interpreter referral agencies and school systems to get specific information about the area of interpreting that interests you.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides occupational employment and wages for interpreters and translators. This information, which is from May 2013, includes foreign language translators, so it is not a complete and accurate representation of the sign language interpreting field.
Other resources regarding the salary of interpreters:

Join RID

You don’t have to wait until you are a practicing interpreter to become a RID member. Join today and enhance your networking opportunities within the field of professional interpreting.

If you already interpret out in the community but are not yet RID certified, you qualify to join as an Associate member. If you are a student in an Interpreter Training Program, you can join as a Student member.

If you are neither of the above yet still want to reap the benefits of membership, then join as a Supporting member.

Learn more about RID membership.

Additional Resources

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact RID Headquarters.