Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image

Professional Sign Language Interpreting
                      ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series
Professional Sign Language Interpreting
What is Interpreting?
Interpreting, simply stated, is receiving a message in one language and delivering it in another. Not as simple as it sounds, interpreting is a complex process that requires a high degree of linguistic, cognitive and technical skills.
Professional sign language interpreters develop interpreting skills through extensive training and practice over a long period of time. Interpreters continue to actively improve their skills, knowledge, and professionalism through membership in RID. An increasing number of interpreters have completed college or university interpreter education programs, earning associates, bachelors, and/or masters degrees in interpreting. Some interpreters have also obtained advanced degrees in related fields such as linguistics or cultural studies.
Sign language interpreting is a highly specialized field; simply knowing both sign language and English does not qualify a person as an interpreter. The professional sign language interpreter is able to adjust to a broad range of deaf consumer preferences and/or needs for interpretation. Some deaf individuals use American Sign Language, a natural language with its own grammar and structure that is distinct from English. Others prefer a form of signing that more closely follows the grammar and structure of spoken English. The professional interpreter is expected to work comfortably along this wide spectrum. Sometimes it is necessary to have two or more interpreters working simultaneously in order to satisfy the preferences and needs of a varied audience.* On occasion, one of the interpreters may be a deaf individual** or a person fluent in a language other than English or American Sign Language. Interpreters should be aware of and sensitive to ethnic/cultural and linguistic concerns.
  Where professional interpreters work  
Interpreters work in a variety of settings and situations. Many interpreters work in private practice; they are self-employed. From scheduling assignments to handling billing, the interpreter is responsible for all business aspects.*** The private practice interpreter may also receive assignments through interpreter service agencies. Others interpreters are salaried staff of an agency, institution, or corporation.~ Still others interpret in educational settings-from pre-school to graduate school and any level in between. Interpreters work in settings as intimate as a private therapy session or as public as a televised address at a national political convention. The interpreter must be a versatile, flexible, skilled professional.
  Interpreter Ethics  
Professional interpreters adhere to the RID Code of Ethics. This Code, shown on the final page of this brochure, holds interpreters to a high level of professionalism in matters of interpretation and business practices.
  Interpreting Credentials  
In the field of interpreting, as in other professions, appropriate credentials are an important indicator of an interpreter´s qualifications. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) awards certification to interpreters who successfully pass national tests. The tests assess not only language knowledge and communication skills, but also knowledge and judgment on issues of ethics, culture and professionalism. An interpreter may hold one or more certifications. Information on certifications is available from RID.
Some common sign language interpreting certifications are:
  • CI - Certificate of Interpretation
  • CT - Certificate of Transliteration
  • CSC - Comprehensive Skills Certificate
  • SC:L - Specialist Certificate: Legal
  • IC - Interpretation Certificate
  • TC - Transliteration Certificate
  • CDI - Certified Deaf Interpreter
To verify an individual interpreter´s current certification status, contact the Association´s National Office.
The Association has played the leading role in establishing a national standard of quality for interpreters and is committed to continued professionalism in the practice of sign language interpretation. Local interpreter service agencies, individual interpreters or the Association´s national office can provide information on certified interpreters and interpreting throughout the United States.
RID has a series of Standard Practice Papers available upon request. Footnotes frequently reference these materials.
* see Team Interpreting
** see Use of a CDI
*** see Business Practices: Billing Considerations
~ see Multiple Roles