Translator's Guide

How Much Do ASL Interpreters Make – Salaries of American Sign Language Interpreters

All languages are important, without exception. They help people communicate, understand each other, and keep us together overall. So, being fluent in more than one language is certainly a plus for everybody. Yet, what about sign languages? They are extremely important without a doubt as they connect people with hearing impairments with those who don’t suffer from hearing loss. Removing the barriers between those people is a very noble mission, of course, but is it really worth the final output? How much does an ASL interpreter make, for instance? What sign language interpreter jobs salary is minimum? What do such interpreters do in the first place? Let’s take a look at some facts about this curious profession and find out.

What Do They Do? ASL Interpreters’ Work

The American Sign Language (ASL) is mostly used by people with hearing or vocal impairments to communicate with each other. Additionally, this language is also known to the volunteers and caregivers that work with deaf people. So, essentially, for the most part, the ASL interpreters will work with people who have hearing impairments and those who don’t, in order to help them communicate. From a more practical standpoint, ASL interpreters can be found working at schools and universities translating lectures from English to ASL for the students with hearing loss. Some may work at courtrooms and help lead case proceeding with deaf people involved. 

Yet, is there a high demand for sign language interpreters? Judging by the salaries and users of ASL, yes, the demand is relatively high. Yet, to earn well, have high deaf interpreter salary, an ASL interpreter has to be highly professional, well-educated, and possess some additional skills, especially for jobs such as courtroom interpreter that requires high accuracy and swiftness of translation.

Education and Skill Requirements

Obviously, like in any translation or interpretation job, an ASL interpreter has to be fluent in both sign language and the target language, which is English for the most part. From a formal standpoint, you will need several official certifications issued by various related organizations of people with hearing impairments as well. Some of these certifications may increase the ASL interpreter salary significantly, while others may simply give you the job.

The basic certification you will certainly need to become an American Sign Language interpreter is the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) that is issued by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. (RID). This certificate shows that in addition to high interpreting skills, you are also masterful in ethical decision-making, which is something that the RID and employers of ASL interpreters pay special attention to. Those who carry such certification have to be at least 18 years old and have a Bachelor’s Degree in interpretation. This document does not affect the salaries for sign language interpreters, yet, it certainly helps you to get the job in the field.

What Certifications Are Necessary

Now, for the certifications that might get you a higher sign language interpreter salary. Those vary depending on the employer. Most of them will certainly state the preferred certification in the job description, yet, most requirements in this regard draw down to the following. As such, having a Certificate of Interpretation, Certificate of Transliteration, or the Comprehensive Skills Certificate, all recognized by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, could be a huge plus in certain cases. In others, you might need a National Association of the Deaf (NAD) certificate that has three variations depending on the level of your performance. The RID and the NAD in fact work in cooperation, so, in most cases, the certification from one of them will largely help to increase the salary for sign language interpreters.

In addition to the formal part, the ASL interpreters will need additional skills that can only be developed by self-training and devotion. As such, hand dexterity, swiftness of reaction, and accuracy of translation and interpretation are all crucial for courtroom work. In absolutely all cases, whether you work in the court, class at school or university, or an organization that holds various events for the deaf, you will need highly developed communication skills. Interpretation is not only about understanding the two languages, but it is also about connecting them. It is crucial to know what each person says as well as understand what message they are trying to deliver.

How Much Money Do ASL Interpreters Make Indeed

While the education, certification, and the array of skills all influence the level of payment the ASL interpreters will receive throughout their career, the industry and the environment of work also matter. Traditionally, the more complex the vocabulary an interpreter will have to work with, the higher will be the reward. Yet, in the case of sign language, there might be exceptions. As such, some of the lowest salaries ASL interpreters may expect are most often found in the educational sector, primarily in primary schools. Such salaries might reach a mean of about $50,000 per year. A similar case can be found in medical settings as well.

On the other hand, some of the most valued specialists in ASL can be found in legal and political spheres. More specifically, the federal ASL interpreters, along with those working at the Department of Defense and Veterans Health Administration. The annual salaries in those areas might reach as high as $80,000. Depending on the need, such a picture can also be observed in legal interpretation.

Finally, those ASL interpreters who work at colleges, universities, private schools, and scientific research organizations, can be found in the middle. With a mean annual sign language salary of about $70,000, the higher education and research interpreters feel fine doing their work. The salaries may largely vary in this area oftentimes, depending on the subject and the direction of research.

How Much Do ASL Interpreters Make Depending on Their Experience?

Regardless of the area, you work in, there is always a certain level of pay that depends on how long you work as an ASL interpreter. So, you will still gain this minimum in most cases even if you decided to change the related industry or area for interpretation. For instance, if you decided to become an interpreter at school after years of working as a legal ASL interpreter. Depending on the state you aim to work in, the salaries will lie in the following ranges:

  • Entry-level (between 1 and 3 years of experience) — $22,000 – $60,000.
  • Mid-career (between 3 and 5 years) — $23,000 – $65,000.
  • Experienced (5-8 years) — $24,000 – $67,000.
  • Late-career (8 years and more) – $25,000 – $70,000.

It’s also worthy to add that as an ASL interpreter, you can work on a freelance basis, thus, being able to regulate the amount of work you do and, hence, your sign language translator salary. On top of that, you can also work online via video relay, thus, having an additional source of finance without going out of your place. However, being a freelance ASL interpreter, you will constantly need to search for a way to fill up your schedule. In addition, some other issues may occur, such as low demand in certain areas during a certain period of time or the unexpected changes in your schedule brought on by the clients.

ASL Interpretation is Job Worth a Try

If you are familiar enough with the American Sign Language as well as English, you can start right away. In order to be a freelance ASL interpreter, there’s no need for special education or certification in some cases. In addition, you can try asking someone you know whether they know any jobs available. On the other hand, if you have always had a noble mission to help people with hearing impairments and already have the needed education and certification, don’t wait and apply! Working with people who have hearing loss can be not only a rewarding, but also a very positive experience as such people are often very kind, humorous, and have an extremely positive attitude towards life.