Not enough statistical surveys have focused on the deaf and hearing impaired community to determine just how many people living in the United States today have hearing disabilities. Estimates tend to very drastically, the numbers being anywhere from 22 to 36 million. The bottom line is, however, that people with hearing disabilities make up a large portion of our society. As such, American Sign Language interpreters are in high demand. Their services are employed at almost every school district and higher education institution as well as in hospitals, community service centers and vocational rehabilitation centers.

The Role of Interpreters

Interpreters' job is to help people from different cultures and languages communicate effectively. In our multi-cultural, multi-lingual society, their function is one of the most important ones we have. Interpreters let doctors relay important information to their patients, and they allow patients to communicate their medical needs to their health care providers. With the help of interpreters, schools, hospitals, and other institutions run more smoothly.

Interpreters are in charge not just of translating words. They must accurately translate between cultures. On occasion, they will inevitably encounter phrases and idioms that are culturally informed and not directly translatable, and so they must be able to think on their feet and come up with an appropriate equivalent in the target language. Interpreters must convey complex concepts and ideas between languages in order to ensure that there's a proper understanding. In addition to all this, interpreters working within a specific field must also be familiar with specific terminology that relates to that field.

Sign Language Interpreters

In addition to having to deal with all of the usual tasks of spoken language translators, sign language interpreters must translate not just between two languages, but between two different kinds of language modes: spoken and visual. They must rely on hand gestures, body motion and facial expressions in order to appropriately convey the emotion, tone and even meaning that would otherwise be expressed via the speaker's voice inflections and volume.

As far as qualifications, the most important characteristic of a sign language interpreter is to be proficient in both English and ASL and to be familiar enough with ASL culture to facilitate communication and understanding.