It is a common misconception that raising your voice will make a Deaf person able to hear you. Shouting does not make communication any clearer. Also assuming that a Deaf person can read your lips is wrong; reading lips is extremely difficult. Certain sounds look the same on your mouth, for example “B” and “P”. Deafness is a range. Some people may be able to hear environmental sounds (fire truck, ambulance, thunder), others may be able to hear speech, while others may have no hearing at all.

If you need to communicate with a Deaf individual you can write notes, gesture, use an interpreter, or learn the language!

Deaf Interpreters

When many people think of sign language interpreters, they often have an image of hearing interpreters signing and voicing for their clients. But there is a slowly growing group of Deaf interpreters joining the field.

Deaf interpreters are an amazing addition to an interpreting team because they understand the Deaf culture and can expand and change the language to best fit their client. They can also communicate with a variety of types of Deaf clients. They can produce ASL ranging from pure ASL to more signed English, communicate with Deaf clients from different countries, in a highly emotional state, and others that strictly use home signs. They can match their communication style to provide successful communication to any Deaf client.

RID was developed in 1964 and it’s great to see how the interpreting profession has changed and grown!

ASL Bicentennial

This Saturday marks the anniversary of a huge event that took place in Deaf history. April 15, 1817 was the opening of the first permanent school for the Deaf in the United States of America and the beginning stages toward the creation of American Sign Language.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet met Dr. Mason Cogswell and wanted to discover a better technique for educating Cogswell’s daughter, Alice. Gallaudet traveled to Europe and met a Deaf educator, Laurent Clerc at I’Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, a school for the Deaf in Paris, and brought him back to the United States. Together they founded the American School for the Deaf.

They brought in Deaf students using Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, village sign languages, and incorporated them with French Sign Language. This joining of languages, lead to the creation of American Sign Language. Since this time American Sign Language has been accepted as an official language with its own linguistic components.

The Futility Illusion

Interpreters may sometimes experience situations that bring them face to face with a difficult choice. It is important to not allow the futility illusion to guide you through your interpreting practice.

Futility Illusion: If I don’t take this job, someone else less qualified will.

Interpreters should only accept jobs that they feel prepared and qualified performing. Many times this involves attending workshops and trainings to gain specialized skill sets and knowledge needed for the job.

It is alright for an interpreter to pass on a job.

Interpreters working with Deaf students in the beginning years are also the student’s language model. They need to be aware of the importance of using proper ASL structure and syntax and modeling these features to their students. Only the most experienced interpreters should be taking jobs with younger students. Students in 8th-12th grade and post-secondary levels are already comfortable and knowledgeable of their language and can therefore have less seasoned interpreters working with them.


          Many people might consider the job of an American Sign Language Interpreter and think “Oh, I could do that!” However, have you considered all that goes into this career path? ASL – English Interpretation is definitely not a textbook profession. What is it that makes a successful and mindful Interpreter? What makes a stellar interpreter?

Of course the first thing and most obvious thing to do is become fluent in both English and American Sign Language (ASL). If you are unfamiliar with ASL, it is imperative that you receive adequate education and training if you wish to pursue Interpretation as a professional field. Most schools in San Diego and across the country offer American Sign Language classes as well as appropriate degree options. Examples of degrees include American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. The requirements for these degrees offer a variety of classes that will teach you not only the language, but the culture and ethics involved. Many of these classes also require outside assignments, including hours in the community. The most beneficial thing you can do as a student is spend time in the community. This is really where you will learn the most. Interacting with Deaf individuals and applying your skills is crucial to your language development. After going through ASL Levels 1-4, your next step is to go through the Interpreter Training Program (ITP). We have two options here in San Diego, Palomar College and San Diego Mesa College. Both colleges offer great training including hands up and voicing experience. Your last semester as an ITP student will be in field work, where you are able to shadow a certified interpreter and observe jobs in different situations, such as education, medical, business, religious, etc. After you graduate from the 2 year program, it is important that you stay connected in the community. Part of being a successful interpreter is building a positive reputation, getting to know members of the community and being committed to the community. As you spend time volunteering and going to community events, you will gain experience that will help you prepare for the National Certification test. Due to recent changes, it is also required that you have a Bachelor’s Degree to gain your certification. We recommend pursuing a Deaf Studies degree so you can simultaneously get your degree and stay connected in the community. This can be done before or after the ITP. As you work toward the ITP, certification, or perhaps you are a working interpreter already, what characteristics should you strive for? What does the Deaf community want?

Humility – One thing Deaf individuals complain about the most is an interpreter with a bad attitude. Remember you are doing a service. Have a good attitude, be respectful, and be humble in everything you do.

Patience – Be patient when things don’t go as planned. We guarantee it hardly will, but isn’t that most of life?

Flexibility – The job of an interpreter is never the same. Things change last minute, people don’t show up, roads are blocked, etc. Be ready for change and go with the flow. Think on your feet as things are thrown at you. If you need consistency in a career, maybe consider another career path.

Mindfulness – Remember you are working with people every day. Be mindful of who is involved. Get to know your client, be friendly and kind.

Bi-Cultural/ Bi-Lingual – You are the communication facilitator. It is crucial that you understand deaf culture as well as hearing culture. You are not only interpreting between languages, but cultures as well.

 Team Mentality – There’s a reason your parents forced you to join that softball team as a kid. No matter what you work towards in your lifetime, you will need to work in groups and to get along with others. Being a team member is important as a human and interpreter because any job over 50 minutes long, you will be teamed with another interpreter. Chances are that you will work with that interpreter in the future, too. In the CPC (Code of Professional Conduct), Tenet 5.0 says Interpreters must exhibit Respect for Colleagues. Colleagues include students of the profession, classmates, volunteer interpreters, certified interpreters, veteran interpreters, teachers, and really anyone besides the client.

 Advocacy – Speak up with the Deaf community! You may sometimes be the first impression for the community and educating the hearing world about what is appropriate and what isn’t, is part of your job! Advocate for the community and make sure your client is not being taken advantage of.

If this sounds like you and you have a passion for the Deaf community, we welcome you to the world of Interpreting. We have yet to meet an Interpreter who doesn’t love their job. We do too 😉