What is an American Sign Language Interpreter?

If you are interested in the Deaf culture and working with the Deaf community, you may want to look at becoming an American Sign Language interpreter!

An American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter helps hearing impaired or deaf individuals understand American English by converting it into sign language. American Sign Language (not to be confused with British Sign Language, or BSL), is its own language with its own grammatical structure, syntax, and cultural subtleties.

An American sign language interpreter is able to sign, using ASL, what is spoken in American English and then voice into spoken American English what is signed in ASL.

What does an American Sign Language Interpreter do?

An American Sign Language interpreter is a specially trained professional whose job is to provide hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing people equal access to information and verbal conversation.

An American Sign Language interpreter signing for a deaf individual.

American Sign Language interpreters are strictly bound by a Code of Professional Conduct that protects the rights of those who are hearing, deaf, or hard of hearing. Standards of practice and behavior are there for ASL interpreters in order to make certain that confidentiality, discretion, and impartiality is present during any communication.

ASL interpreters cannot advise, change, promote, explain, or participate while they are interpreting. They can only pass on what the speaker or signer is saying, ensuring it is communicated with the same spirit or tone. They forfeit the right to control the communication, and serve only as a broker between parties.

ASL interpreters need to understand the subject they are interpreting and be able to accurately translate the information to the receiver. Oftentimes, research will need to be done ahead of time with the use of reference materials, particularly if there is complicated or technical information being translated.

Typically, the ASL interpreter will listen to the spoken word, or will watch someone signing, and then interpret what the person is speaking or signing. In order to do this properly, there is some lag time due to the interpreter needing to process the information. After the speaking or signing stops, it takes a few seconds for the interpretation to conclude.

Every individual who is deaf or hard of hearing is different, and so is their ability to process information. Therefore, ASL interpreters need to allow an appropriate amount of time for the information that is presented to be processed by the receiver.

Interestingly, facial expressions play a key role in sign language. For example, the word 'fine' can have different meanings. By using facial expressions, interpreters can portray the difference between fine (happy), fine (annoyed), or fine (angry). And by using eyebrows, they can frame how a sentence is stated — an interpreter's eyebrows will indicate whether the sentence ends with a question mark, exclamation mark, or period.

Body language is just as important as facial expressions. For example, the sign for 'understand' and 'don't understand' is exactly the same, except for the addition of a head shake from side-to-side which changes the grammar. Additionally, the English words 'and', 'or', 'the', 'of', and 'is' are not used in ASL. These are expressed through facial expressions and pointing instead.

Are you suited to be an american sign language interpreter?

American sign language interpreters have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also social, meaning they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly.

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What is the workplace of an American Sign Language Interpreter like?

American Sign Language interpreters are needed in both one-on-one situations, as well as in group settings. Interpreters can be found working for the performing arts, schools, hospitals, doctors offices, court rooms, law offices, and the government.

There are generally three different areas an American Sign Language interpreter can work in:

ASL interpreters work in schools, from elementary school right through to the university level. Their work schedule is the same as the school's schedule, and they typically work with one or two students at a time. Their job is to take the spoken language of the teacher and interpret the lesson into sign language for the deaf student(s).

This type of interpreting can be very encouraging, as the progress and growth of the student can be seen and the interpreter is part of an educational team environment.

ASL interpreters work in banks, hospitals, offices, courthouses, colleges etc. There is no typical day, therefore the job is never boring. Their schedule may include some evenings or weekends, depending on their client's needs, so they need to be flexible. They also need to be very discreet and trustworthy, as a lot of their interpreting will be of a private nature.

Video Relay Service (VRS)
This challenging type of work involves ASL interpreting between a deaf person that needs to connect to a hearing person on the telephone. In order to do this, the deaf caller will use a video telephone and connect to a hearing person in real-time.

Phone calls can be made for a variety of reasons. For example, to make a doctor's appointment, to inquire about a job application or school application, or to make bank inquiries or credit card inquiries. This service is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, so the interpreter would need a flexible work schedule.

American Sign Language Interpreters are also known as:
Sign Language Interpreter ASL Interpreter Deaf Interpreter