Careers in Sign Language Interpretation

sign language student in class

Professional sign language interpreters work in a variety of settings, including education, social services, religion, government, business, performing arts, mental health, medical, legal fields and more. Some interpreters work as independent contractors (extremely resource intensive); others are employees. The majority of our graduates are hired to work in educational settings. Currently, the demand for interpreters is high.

What will I do on the job?

A sign language interpreter takes the language of one person and relays it as accurately as possible in another language, working from ASL to English or English to ASL. Many schools and colleges use interpreters in classrooms where Deaf and hearing students attend classes together. Most students who graduate from PCC’s Sign Language Interpretation Program begin their careers in educational interpreting.

What skills will I use on the job?

An interpreter receives a message in one language and relays it as accurately as possible in the other, providing a communication link between two people who do not share a common language or culture. American Sign Language, used by Deaf people in the U.S. and Canada, is a language in its own right, different in grammar and syntax from English. When interpreting between Deaf and hearing people, interpreters relay an ASL message into English and an English message into ASL, taking into consideration the differences between Deaf and hearing cultures. The interpreter must also apply skills in multitasking, active listening, and ethical communication.

Who will hire me?

Graduates of our program are most often hired by kindergarten through grade 12 public schools, community colleges and four-year colleges. Many also do independent contracting through one of the local interpreter referral agencies or on their own. Advanced and high-risk settings, such as mental health, medical and legal require additional training, passing a national certification exam and more experience. Graduates who continue to develop their skills are often able to pass the national certification exam within five years of graduation.

How much can I earn?

Interpreters may work as full-time salaried employees in some situations, and as independent contractors in others. Those working in the Portland area in kindergarten through grade 12 may earn $16 to $21 per hour; college interpreters may earn $19 to $45 per hour; and freelance interpreters, $30 to $50 per hour. Pay rates vary depending on training, experience and certification by the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf or National Council on Interpreting.