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Signer or Interpreter?

By April 8, 2007

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StarFan asked a question on the forum that generated quite a bit of discussion about what defines acceptable competency in ASL:

Right now I am studying ASL at a local community college..I currently have 2 Bachelor's degrees: Psychology and Social Work. I have had zero luck getting work in those fields. SO this past summer, after taking a family ASL course through the YMCA, I thought since I had the time, I would go back to college while working and take some ASL courses there. Now, when I originally signed up to take these ASL courses, I had the intention of pursuing a certificate in Sign Language Studies (like half of a degree, since I already have the others), and this is what I am currently signed up for. My reasoning for pursuing this was that I would just add this to my list of skills that I can offer an employer. So, I am wondering:

There is another certificate at the same college in interpreting. Should I pursue the other certificate to better secure my chances of getting suitable employment (and hopefully avoid legal/ethical issues, not sure), and to make me look more versatile in my skills. OR, is just being a "signer" enough? Do I need to be pursuing both certificates, so that I will be perceived as the most qualified for a job where I might encounter deaf clientele? Or are there jobs out there where just knowing the language itself (being a "signer") is enough?

April 9, 2007 at 5:49 pm
(1) Jacklyn says:

As of this year, all sign language interpreters have to have a B.A. interpretation for the Deaf. It’s a four year degree program. If you want to be an interpreter, you must get your bachelors. A B.A. in interpretation will include the American Sign Language skills. (At least it should!) Being “just a signer” will allow you to only use ASL in casual conversations and religious settings. If you want to work and get paid–the bachelors degree is a must!!

April 10, 2007 at 7:47 am
(2) Anonymous says:

I am not sure about what Jacklyn said. I have not heard that becoming an interpreter requires you to go to a 4-year college and get a degree. This is new to me. I advise you do some research. To my knowledge, it is encouraged to get your certificate(s) to become an interpreter. Take note, please… Just because you “graduated” with your certificate(s) or B.A. degree in interpreting still does not qualify you as an interpreter. It all boils down to your skills, understanding, professionalism, courteousness, and willingness to meet the client’s needs. I have met many non-certified interpreters who are highly skilled and professional who gets paid. I have met many certified interpreters who are not qualified and unprofessional, too. Although, if you are certified, you do get more money than a non-certified interpreter. I also disagree with “signer” definition of what Jacklyn said. Anyone can be a “signer”. There are different levels of skills, just like being able to fluently speak Spanish. A signer is anyone who can sign, or tries to, but does not actually mean s/he is skilled or fluent. Also, there are many qualified certified and non-certified interpreters who interprets religious services, not just “signers.” I would advise you to meet other qualified and successful interpreters, both certified and non-certified and find out what they say. Everyone is different. More importantly, though, I do emphasize that if you do desire to become and ASL interpreter, to focus on your skills, professionalism, courteousness, meeting and understanding the client’s needs, etc… and don’t just “add” to your list of accomplishments with a “piece of paper” saying you’re a certified interpreter when you don’t have the skills. I wish you the best in your future.

April 10, 2007 at 11:11 am
(3) Anonymous says:

If you are pursuing a career in interpreting, it is advised that you get your certificate(s). And in addition to getting your qualifications, focus on your skills, and professionalism.
If you desire to just pursue Psychology and Social Work and wish to have deaf clientele, you don’t need certificates or degrees in interpreting because you are focusing on therapy. It is very helpful when the actual Psychologist knows how to sign so that there is complete one-on-one interaction without having a 3rd person (an interpreter) to assist in communicating between doctor and patient (it makes it less awkward/embarrassing and gives the right to privacy). Make sure that when counseling a deaf patient on your own that you understand your patientís signing. No two people sign/speak alike. Itís not the same as a hearing patient, where the English language is dominant. Thank you for considering taking signing/interpreting so that you can better communicate with your future patients.

April 13, 2007 at 9:01 pm
(4) Tina Rhodes says:

I admire your desire to become an interpreter – if this is what you truly want to do then research what is necessary in your state for certification as an interpreter. I am only a signer – I studied ASL for 3 years at a Jr. College, then moved to a very small town where there is no opportunity for me to improve my skills – in a classromm enviorment – but I am blessed to be able to work in the high school as a volunteer and work with 4 deaf students. In three months my skills and knowledge have improved 100 fold. The students have taught me as much as some of my classes.
However, if you are in a community where the education is available – I would encourage you to pursue all the classes possible. Involve yourself in the deaf community, deaf activities and avail yourself of any and all education/information that is available. Explore and utilize any and every opportunity to practice and become proficient in ASL. The needs are everywhere.

April 14, 2007 at 8:03 am
(5) jennifer says:

Congratulations on choosing ASL as a means to enhance your understanding of the world. I too am an ASL student and have recently learned a lot about the requirements for becoming an interpreter. One website I can suggest for you is a nationally accredited interpreting organization. They detail all the necessary education for interpreting and have many helpful tools. Also bear in mind that every state has different requirements for what is needed to be considered an interpreter.
My classmates and I found it helpful to attend Deaf events (like plays, dance performances, mixers, etc) as well as shadow working interpreters. It really shows you the Deaf language.
Good luck in your endeavors! See ya in the interpreting world. :)

April 14, 2007 at 9:02 am
(6) Sharon says:

It is true that every state has different requirements related to certification for interpreters. National certification will allow more flexability should you decide to move arould the country. As Jennifer said, check out the website for RID and see what their requirements are, especially for education. They will soon require that all interpreters, deaf and hearing, wanting to take the test for national certification have a bachelors degree, but it does NOT need to be a degree in interpreting, sign language studies, deaf culture, deaf education, or any degree related to deafness. I was in the conference meeting when this was voted on a few years ago. It was a BIG misunderstanding people had, thinking their degree had to be in anything related to interpreting or deafness. Now if the state you are living in requires a specific degree, then to be STATE certified, you must follow those requirements. National certification seems to override state requirements and is accepted in all states and several countries outside the US.

April 14, 2007 at 9:53 am
(7) andrea says:

it takes years…YEARS… to be proficient enough to be an interpreter. a course or two at a junior college is a great start, but years of experience associating with the Deaf community are necessary. registration with the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf is usually required for interpreter jobs as well. i know the test to be a certified interpreter is very intense. also, be aware that many jr colleges are offering “ASL” classes but are really teaching signed english or PSE. make sure the instructor is truly teaching ASL. good luck in the many years you have ahead of you.

April 15, 2007 at 9:31 pm
(8) Canadian says:

Dear StarFan

I’m surprised at the first comment that it would take a B.A. to become an interpreter. In Canada, depending on the province, it’s a 2-year program at the community college.

What makes an interpreter though, as many of the above comments stated, is not a piece of paper. We have a large Deaf ministry at my church and the leader and his wife have been involved as interpreters – without that piece of paper – for 45 years. They are fluent in SE (Signed English) as well as ASL and MSL (what is known as Maritime Sign Language, very common among the older Deaf in our area). They don’t only interpret in the church, they take them on outtings, where they meet other Deaf, they have gone to the States as far as PA and TN. So are these 2 people, who have been involved with so many different groups of Deaf just mere signers or can they be considered interpreters?

To most interpreters, they are just mere signers.

I have been involved with that ministry for 13 years and have been signing SE until I took my level 4. I became more involved with the Deaf community and found it very confusing to go from SE to ASL so I decided to stick to one. And ASL is what I sign now.

Most interpreters, those with their certificates, consider me a signer because I didn’t pay the money they did to get my certification, and I can see where they are coming from. However the Deaf at the church see me as their interpreters.

Follow your heart and if interpreting is what you want to do, then go for it. With or without the piece of paper.

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