How to Become a Sign Language Interpreter

Getting Terp Training

Interpreter signing during business meeting.
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Demand for sign language interpreters has skyrocketed in your area. Seeing the need, you decide to become an interpreter. Where can you go for that training, and how do you become an interpreter?

College Education

Most people who become interpreters obtain some formal training in colleges and universities. Listings of programs are available on the web:

  • The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offers a long and growing listing of interpreter preparation programs in the United States and Canada. On the RID website, you can search by college name, program type (associate, bachelor, certificate, distance, or graduate), by city, and by state.
  • also maintains a listing of interpreter training programs.

Despite the abundance of training programs, scholarships for interpreters appear to be relatively few. Some of the scholarships available for interpreters, primarily through state associations for interpreters:

  • Colorado Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf
  • Florida Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf - has scholarships to help defray the cost of certification testing
  • Harper College (Palatine, IL) - Jacob and Iris Wolf Sign Language Interpreting Scholarship for students in their Sign Language Interpreter Program
  • Minnesota Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, for educational interpreters in Minnesota
  • Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf scholarships - RID has scholarships for interpreter training program students, and to help pay testing fees.


After education is completed and some experience is gained, the professional interpreter-to-be must take a certification test. There is a National Interpreter Certification (NIC) certification test given jointly by the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. This test (which involves a written test, an interview, and a performance test) has three levels of certification:

  • National Interpreter Certification
  • National Interpreter Certification Advanced
  • National Interpreter Certification Master

Over the years, there has been some criticism in the deaf community of interpreter certification programs, particularly the cost involved, which has been a barrier for some people wanting to become interpreters. However, starting in June 2012, hearing candidates for interpreter certification had to have at least a bachelor's degree and as of June 2016, deaf candidates for interpreter certification needed to have at least a bachelor's degree.

Additional Interpreter Training Resources

Gallaudet University offers a special Visiting Interpreter Program that allows inexperienced interpreters to benefit from being mentored by more skilled interpreters. A Visiting Interpreter Program form can be downloaded from the Gallaudet website.

There is a National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers, and you can read an interview with the leads of the NCIEC. In addition, there is a national organization for people that do the training of interpreters, the Conference of Interpreter Trainers (CIT). The CIT promotes standards and holds biennial conventions.

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