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Dear Stacie,

This is strange, but I have to tell you: you're the very first person in my life who's going to hear this, because I've just made an amazing decision. There IS a question in here somewhere, just bear with me for a moment! This is SO exciting!!

I want to be an ASL interpreter/translator. I've been thinking about it for awhile, and tonight I've decided. This is what I want to do with my life. I was watching Youtube ASL videos, and for the first time I've noticed how ASL uses intuitive signs to convey information; for instance, "learn" looks like taking knowledge from a book and moving it to your head. AMAZING! I totally get how this works! I'm sure not all ASL is intuitive signs, but I absolutely LOVE the figurative signing!

Am I gushing? I'm gushing! I'm going to keep on gushing because I'm excited!

I've always been fascinated by language, and I have a strong talent for it. My grandfather was multilingual (English, French, Polish, and German). My father was trilingual (English, Spanish, German). My grandmother is trilingual (English, Norwegian, German). And I'm fluent in German, plus I'm learning conversational Spanish, but I'd also like to become fluent in ASL.

Since graduating with my English degree, I've been knocking around life, bouncing from pointless job to pointless mundane job, and not doing very well at any of them...I'm just so bored and listless doing mindless, repetitive tasks for no obvious benefit. My real passions lie in helping others, communicating, and discovering the joy and wonder of breaking down imaginary "barriers" between people to find the wondrous similarities we all share.

For awhile I wanted to become an English professor, but after learning about the "adjunct crisis", ehh....not so much anymore.

Effectiveness. Efficacy. Discovery. Exploration. Illumination. Making a difference in people's lives (and my own life) instead of wasting my life punching out =vlookup on Excel forever so shoddily constructed furniture ships from Shanghai to San Diego on time. This is now my life's goal. Does this sound like a great life goal? It does to me! :D

So here's my question(s):

1) I've read that ASL interpreters/signers are projected to experience the BIGGEST employment growth spurt of ANY job in the entire US over the next 15-20 years. Would you agree that this profession is indeed lucrative, with many possibilities and positions available for skilled signers?

2) In your opinion, where are signers MOST needed? By this I mean types of signers, fields of work, and types of positions--not regional areas, cities, or states.

3) Will a natural talent for enjoying and understanding language abstractions help me succeed along the way, or does it not really matter?

4) What are some of the biggest pros/cons of being a signer/interpreter? In other words, what should I look out for? Are there any major barriers to entry?

5) My local community college offers many ASL courses, but only one at a time. Beyond that, what certifications are necessary to pursue a lucrative career? By "lucrative", I mean something like $50,000+. I already have a BA in English. How can I propel myself upward to the stratosphere, get certified, and become the best dang interpreter I can be? By this I mean, what licenses/certifications are A) vital, and B) legally required to pursue this profession?

6) Estimating I'm an "average" speed learner, about how long will all these steps take, from non-signer to professional-grade signer? Are there internships, volunteer opportunities, etc?

7) How might I get in touch with hard-of-hearing people once I start in my program, so I can learn everything about the deaf community and how to communicate and work with the hard-of-hearing?

8) Anything else, further info, warnings, advice, tips, tricks, or even adulation, is most welcome!

Looking forward to your response!

Mit gebärdenfreundlichen Grüßen (I just learned that--it means "with friendly regards in sign language"!),

Bobby

Answer
Bobby,

Congrats on finding a career that excites you and that you are looking forward to!  

1) I've read that ASL interpreters/signers are projected to experience the BIGGEST employment growth spurt of ANY job in the entire US over the next 15-20 years. Would you agree that this profession is indeed lucrative, with many possibilities and positions available for skilled signers?

Interpreting is a growing field.  However, most of the work is going to be found in larger cities.  If you live in a rural area, they may be very few Deaf individuals needing interpreting on a regular basis.  I live in Kansas City, near the Kansas School for the Deaf and we have a "decent" need for interpreters.  Places like NYC or Los Angeles (big cities) will certainly have more need for interpreters but if you are a good interpreter you can find your place anywhere that has a need.

The pay expected varies greatly based on the region and the skill level of the interpreter.  Here in Kansas City a freelance interpreter working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, could expect to make between $50,000 - $90,000.  However, no one works that many hours as a freelancer.  The standard is more like 25-30 hours a week, plus lots of time spent traveling between locations.  

Some people find their niche interpreting in a K-12 setting.  There you are going to work school hours and have your summers off.  Those type of interpreters typically make $20-$25/hour only during the actual hours worked.  

Of course there are a few exceptionally skilled interpreters around the country that travel with famous people, do television or political work, and they may indeed consider the work lucrative, but those are few and far between.  The average person will make a nice middle income wage.

2) In your opinion, where are signers MOST needed? By this I mean types of signers, fields of work, and types of positions--not regional areas, cities, or states.

Interpreters are needed in all areas.  However, most any ITP (Interpreter Training Program) will train you on the basics for general use interpreting.  As your skills improve you will branch out and learn how to handle intense legal or medical interpreting but very few people (that I know at least) only do one specific kind of work.  Interpreters are generally used across a wide variety of areas - if a Deaf person is there, a need for an interpreter can arise!  

3) Will a natural talent for enjoying and understanding language abstractions help me succeed along the way, or does it not really matter?

Of course it will help.  ASL is just as different from English as Spanish is.  A knack for learning languages will definitely be useful.  

4) What are some of the biggest pros/cons of being a signer/interpreter? In other words, what should I look out for? Are there any major barriers to entry?

Burnout is a major issue among interpreters.  I believe that the last I heard the average interpreter only lasts in the field for 7 years.  You have to really find time to take care of yourself physically and mentally.  You also have to be willing to lead your work life on other peoples schedule.  You don't get to pick when they have a meeting or what time their job interview will be.  You have to be willing and ready to work crazy hours that are always different week to week.  

5) My local community college offers many ASL courses, but only one at a time. Beyond that, what certifications are necessary to pursue a lucrative career? By "lucrative", I mean something like $50,000+. I already have a BA in English. How can I propel myself upward to the stratosphere, get certified, and become the best dang interpreter I can be? By this I mean, what licenses/certifications are A) vital, and B) legally required to pursue this profession?

That really varies based on where you live.  Every state has different regulations for what is required of an interpreter.  I live on the border between KS and MO and I have to follow two different sets of regulations in each state.  

Your best bet is to get into an ITP – often offered as a two or three year program through community colleges.  It is more than just learning the language, but learning the actual skill of interpreting.  There are some 4-year programs in interpreting as well, depending on where you live and a few can even be found online.  Either way, you will need this education to prepare yourself for the career on top of learning the language itself.  

After you finish your ITP you will have to take a certification test (in most states) to receive your right to work.  Depending on how high you rate will affect the types of work you are allowed to accept.  There is a national certification organization called RID which you can look up on the internet.  Most states accept RID certification in lieu of taking an individual states test.  The RID test is hard and people study for it for months before sitting for it, usually after having been an interpreter for a while.  

6) Estimating I'm an "average" speed learner, about how long will all these steps take, from non-signer to professional-grade signer? Are there internships, volunteer opportunities, etc?

Since you already have a bachelors degree, I would say 2 years is the minimum you would need to became an interpreter, and that is with a full-time program.  Most programs will require an internship but they will work with you and the local community to get that set up.  Since it is a certified/licensed field of work, not just anyone can walk in and start interpreting.  You have to get special permission to work at the student level.  Volunteering before you are certified is generally not an option (unless you are doing work for a church) because, again, legally you have to be certified to interpret in most states.  


7) How might I get in touch with hard-of-hearing people once I start in my program, so I can learn everything about the deaf community and how to communicate and work with the hard-of-hearing?

Your ITP will help you with all of that.  They'll probably even require a certain amount of contact hours at Deaf socials and other non-interpreting events where you go and meet people and get your hands moving.  

8) Anything else, further info, warnings, advice, tips, tricks, or even adulation, is most welcome!

Good luck to you!  Its a demanding job but if you are a people person and enjoy languages you will surely find it satisfying and rewarding!  

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Stacie Valle

Expertise

I can answer questions about Norway or the Norwegian language. I can also answer questions about American Sign Language and Deaf culture as a whole. I can provide translation help between Norwegian and English as long as the text is limited in length.

Experience

Norwegian: I am married to a Norwegian man and spend my summers in Norway immersed in Norwegian culture and language. American Sign Language: I am a sign language interpreter which has required many years of classes learning the language, learning about the culture of the Deaf world, and interacting with the Deaf community.

Education/Credentials
Norwegian: Norwegian language classes at the University of Oslo; self-guided learning through textbooks and tutoring from family and friends. American Sign Language: more than three years of Sign Language and Interpreting studies at the college level in Missouri as well as real-world interpreting experience.

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