1. Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?
  2. What is the difference between interpreting and transliterating?
  3. What is the role of an interpreter?
  4. Are there job opportunities for interpreters?
  5. Do interpreters specialize in certain areas?
  6. Can Deaf people become interpreters?

Can anyone who signs be an interpreter?
The biggest misconception by the general public is that anyone who has taken classes in American Sign Language (ASL) or Signed English or knows the manual alphabet is qualified to be an interpreter. Such an individual is referred to as a "signer". A signer is a person who may be able to communicate conversationally with deaf persons but who may not necessarily possess the skills and expertise to accurately interpret complex dialogue or information. A signer is not an interpreter, and using or hiring a signer in situations that clearly call for the provision of a professional interpreter can have serious legal consequences.

To become an interpreter, an individual must not only display bilingual and bicultural proficiency, but also have the ability to mediate meanings across languages and cultures, both simultaneously and consecutively. This takes years of intensive practice and professional training. In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) makes referrals only to nationally certified or MCDHH approved interpreters in an effort to provide the highest possible level of interpreter services.

What is the difference between interpreting and transliterating?
Interpreting is the cultural and linguistic transmission of a message from ASL to spoken English, or vice versa. Transliterating is the transmission of a message from spoken English to a visual, manually coded version of English.

What is the role of an interpreter?
It is virtually impossible to be both an active participant and a neutral communication facilitator between Deaf and hearing persons. For this reason, it is not within the realm of the interpreter's role to advise, edit, advocate, teach, or participate while in an interpreting situation. The interpreter must faithfully transmit the spirit and content of the speakers. Deaf and hearing persons using interpreter services have the right to control the communication interaction and make their own decisions and mistakes.

Are there job opportunities for interpreters?
There are many job opportunities in Massachusetts for interpreters seeking freelance work as well as full- and part-time employment. Free- lance interpreters are self-employed and contract their work through the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Interpreter Referral Service, or with requesting agencies and organizations directly. Interpreters also work as full- or part-time employees in a variety of places such as colleges and universities, public schools, insurance companies, state agencies, mental health programs and computing companies.

Do interpreters specialize in certain areas?
Interpreters may have expertise and special training in some areas and not others. For example, some interpreters work primarily in medical settings, while others work mainly in court and legal settings. Familiarity with the subject and vocabulary is crucial for effective interpreting. Can any interpreter work in courts or for police situations? According to the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 221, section 92A, only interpreters who have been certified as legal interpreters by MCDHH may interpret in court or police situations.

Can Deaf people become interpreters?
Yes. The professional term is "relay" or "certified deaf interpreter". These interpreters work in conjunction with the hearing interpreter. There is a growing need for such interpreters in critical situations such as court proceedings, psychiatric evaluations and other situations where a Deaf consumer who may not be familiar with ASL relies on visual-gestural means to communicate.


This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.