Welcome to the Northern Virginia Community College Website

Accessibility Navigation:

American Sign Language & English Interpretation

American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States. It is the primary language used by the deaf community and those who consider themselves to be a member of deaf culture. Many colleges, including NOVA, accept ASL to fulfill their foreign language requirements. NOVA offers numerous courses in ASL along with a Career Studies Certificate. This Career Studies Certificate satisfies the prerequisite requirements for both of the degrees offered through the department.

Individuals interested in working with the deaf community have a variety of job options. Some careers require an Associate’s degree such as interpreters or teacher’s aides for deaf and hard of hearing programs. Other jobs require more advanced degrees, such as deaf education teachers, ASL teachers, social workers, counselors, speech and language pathologists or audiologists.

NOVA offers two degree options to assist students in pursuing their career goals:

  • ASL - English Interpretation A.A.S. is a two-year program that prepares students to become ASL interpreters in education and community settings. Students complete a structured program of study that provides them with the knowledge and practical skills necessary to take the written and performance portions of the state screening exam, the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS).
  • A.S. of Social Science With a Specialization of Deaf Studies is a two-year degree program designed for students planning to transfer to four-year institutions. The specialization courses focus on the acquisition of advanced ASL language skills and knowledge of the deaf culture and community. Students can then go on to pursue a variety of careers working with deaf people.

For students who have previously taken ASL courses in high school or college, you will need to take an ASL Placement test. Contact Kevin Taylor via email at ketaylor@nvcc.edu to schedule an appointment for the test.

A.A.S. Interpretation FAQ

1. What should I consider before I enter the Interpreting Program?

Before you enter the INT program, you should first consider the level of your language skills. Regardless of what courses you have taken, the stronger your language skills are, particularly in ASL (but also in English) the easier interpreting is going to be for you. You also need to consider what kind of interpreting you might want to do. Do you want to be an educational interpreter, a freelance interpreter, or some sort of specialist? It is okay if you don't know. Our program will give you some exposure to a variety of fields within interpreting, but if you do know, you may want to focus your electives in that area.

2. How many ASL classes are needed before you can enter the interpreting program?

You must complete ASL IV before you can begin the core interpreting curriculum. You may take Introduction to the Profession and Deaf Culture before completing ASL IV, but no other courses in the INT program. In addition, you should complete ASL V & VI during your first year in the interpreting program.

3. How many years/semesters will it take to complete the Interpreting program?

You MUST complete (or place out of) ASL IV before you can begin the interpreting program. Students beginning with no ASL experience can complete ASL IV in one year if they take two six-week summer sessions, in addition to two regular semesters. This is an intensive course schedule, and many students choose to add an additional semester or even two in order to complete ASL I-IV at a slower pace, but that is up to you. If you have prior knowledge of ASL, it may take less time.

Once you have completed ASL IV, completion of the Interpreting program takes an additional two years (including both summers), if you achieve a satisfactory grade in each course. In addition, the Interpreting courses MUST be taken in a specific order, and are only offered once a year, so you must begin them during a Fall semester and you will have to take summer classes. Most semesters you will be required to take two interpreting courses concurrently. The second semester in the program requires three, and the first summer requires only one. In addition, one elective is required, which may be taken any time during your interpreting program. There are also a few courses that may be taken at any time during the program (including during the ASL Certificate). You MAY NOT take the required courses from two different semesters at the same time, regardless of whether you have time to do so. The courses build on each other and MUST be taken in a specific order. If you are studying part-time, it may take longer, depending upon how much prior coursework you have completed to satisfy the college's degree requirements. It will not take less time unless you are able to transfer coursework from another interpreting program.

If you have any questions regarding your specific course of study, or timetable, please see Paula Debes.

Course Plan

4. What should I expect in my INT classes?

In the INT courses, you should expect to do a lot of practicing. There is, of course, theory to learn, too, but these are skill building courses and the vast majority of the time is spent practicing components of your craft. This becomes increasingly true as you advance through the program. Here is an overview of what you will study and the sequence in which you will study them:

Year I

While this is a demanding course of study, it is also a stair-step process, and we do not expect you to handle advanced interpreting situations during your first semester. In fact, during your entire first year, you will work primarily within one language, beginning in English. In Translation, you will work between the two languages, but it will be done with time to think about and refine and rework your translations.

Semester I (Fall): You will practice many of the skills you will need using a language in which you are already fluent (and for most of our students, a native user) and you will strengthen your ability to think quickly of alternative ways to express things in English. This may sound easy, but it is not, and it is a vital skill for success as an interpreter. Even if you are already strong in this area, it is impossible to have too good a command of these skills. We also generally expect that you will take ASL V during this semester, if you have not done so already.

Semester II (Spring): During your second semester, you will focus on ASL, and increasing those same skills in ASL (a second language for most students). You will also begin to work on translating things (with time to think about and refine those translations) from English into ASL and ASL into English, to help you increase your ability to find equivalent meanings between the two languages. We also generally expect you to take ASL VI during this semester, if you have not done so already.

Semester III (Summer): Your first summer, we take it up another notch when you take Transliteration. This course works from spoken English into PSE (a form of signed English using ASL signs). This serves two purposes: first, Transliteration is a skill that is tested on every certification/screening exam, and second, it gives you the opportunity to practice something very similar to interpreting, while still using two forms of the same language (English, a language in which you are already fluent).

Year Two

It is not until your second year that you are required to practice actual interpreting (which involves using two different languages). Even then, we continue to take it in steps.

Semester IV (Fall): The first semester of your second year, you will take courses in “consecutive” interpreting, which means that the speaker/signer gives you one block of information and then stops while you interpret. When you are done, they give you the next portion of their message, and so on. The duration and complexity you will be expected to handle will increase throughout the semester.

Semester V (Spring): During spring of your second year, you will begin “simultaneous” interpreting. This is what most people think of when they think of interpreting. It occurs when you render your interpretation while the speaker/signer continues without stopping. Semester VI (Summer): Your final summer is spent on a course in interpreting back and forth between a hearing speaker and a deaf signer, or a mixed group of both signing and non-signing people, and on the required internship of 100 hours (which many students carry over into the following fall).

For all courses, especially during your second year: While there are frequently opportunities to get experience using live speakers and signers during your interpreting courses, most performance-based, graded assignments are done from pre-recorded material. It is in your best interest to practice with videotapes/DVDs outside of class, whether a lot of in-class time is spent on these kinds of materials or not.

5. For my interpreting classes, will I be required to attend events outside of class? If so, what kind?

For interpreting students, it is vital for you to observe skilled interpreters at work and see how they do what they do. Most Interpreting courses require you to attend interpreted events; the number varies, but is typically one or two. Most classes also require you to interview a working interpreter. The specific requirements for each course should be discussed with the professor for that course.

6. Can I place out of an Interpreting course?

If you wish to place out of an interpreting course, you will need to speak to Paula Debes, but please understand that we do not typically allow students to place out of interpreting courses, unless they have taken a comparable course somewhere else. Language fluency in ASL, alone, no matter how strong, will not be sufficient to place out of an interpreting course.

7. When I graduate, will I be certified as an interpreter?

When you graduate, you will be ready to work as an interpreter in low-risk situations. Most of our students are successful in achieving a level on the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS), though which level depends on the individual student and is influenced by a variety of factors. While many people use the term ‘certification’ to refer to the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS), it actually refers to the national certification offered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Neither of these tests is required by our program. You will have to take them on your own. You can take either test once you meet the requirements set forth by the administering agency. Most of our graduates take the written portion VQAS during their final year and the performance portion during their final summer in the program. We recommend that our students take the written portion of the NIC close to the end of their studies because our curriculum is designed to incorporate most of the materials on which it is based. Most interpreters wait a few years after finishing their ITP to take the performance sections of the RID test.

8. How do I become an interpreter?

People become interpreters primarily in one of two ways: 1.) they grow up doing it or grow up using ASL and learn to interpret “on the job,” or 2.) they train for it. Typically, the first group is hearing Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), or people who grew up interacting heavily with the deaf community for one reason or another. The second group, which makes up the majority of interpreters, is primarily made up of people who come to sign language and interpreting as an interest later in life. Please understand that the ability to sign fluently does not automatically make someone a good interpreter. Interpreting is a skill all on its own. Language fluency is required to be a good interpreter, but it does not guarantee that one will be a good interpreter. For this reason, many CODAs, and other fluent users of the language still study interpreting formally, which is the other reason the second option is far more common. The following is a general outline of the training process to become an interpreter:

1) For most people, the first step is to learn ASL. Typically this is done through courses, but that should be augmented by extensive interaction with the deaf community. You cannot truly master ANY language from coursework alone, and ASL is no exception. NOVA offers courses in ASL I-VI in addition to electives at more advanced levels.

2) The next step is to go through an Interpreter Training Program (ITP). Most ITPs are offered at community colleges and are designed to take two years. There are a handful of ITPs at four-year colleges around the country. The only college near Northern Virginia to offer a four-year program is Gallaudet. NOVA is the only two-year ITP program in northern Virginia. The next- closest is in Richmond.

3) After completion of your ITP, you will most likely want to take either your state screening test [in Virginia it is the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS)] or another certification test. We generally recommend that you take the VQAS toward the end of your ITP. You may also wish to take the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA), if you are interested in becoming an educational interpreter. Most interpreters wait a few years to take the national certification offered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). If you wish to go into a specialized field, such as legal interpreting, RID generally recommends that you have at least five years of experience after your ITP before you take a specialist exam.

9. Do you also need a degree to become an interpreter? If, yes, what kind of degree?

It is an extremely good idea to have the breadth of education that comes with most degrees, if you wish to be an effective interpreter. Whether or not a degree is required depends in part upon your goals and in part upon who your employer turns out to be. Some require a degree, some do not.

As of June 30, 2009, you need an Associate’s degree in order to take the national certification exam offered by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Beginning June 30, 2012, the same test will require a Bachelor’s Degree. The degrees do NOT need to be in interpreting. RID has also established an alternative route if you have substantial education and/or experience, but no degree. Please see RID’s website for more information: http://rid.org/

The Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS) does not require a degree.

10. What are the various certification tests for interpreters?

You will learn a lot more about these if you take our course, ‘Introduction to the Interpreting Profession,’ but here are the most common certifications/screenings for interpreters in Virginia, and links to the websites of the organizations that administer them:

1) The Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS): Administered by the Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, this screening is comprised of a written and performance test. The written test is pass/fail, and you must pass the written portion to take the performance screening, so allowing time to re-take it if necessary is a good idea. You have only three years to take the performance assessment from the time you pass the written. If you do not, you will have to take and pass the written test, again. Many students take the written portion during the fall of their second year. For the performance portion, we generally recommend students take during their final semester or summer. That is a suggestion, not a requirement. The level you achieve will depend upon your skills, and the level required for the type of job you want may vary. For more information: https://www.vddhh.org/vqas.htm.

2) The Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA): This assessment is ONLY for educational interpreters and is generally not recognized or accepted by agencies or other entities outside of education. Not all states accept this test, though Virginia does. For more information:http://www.classroominterpreting.org/EIPA/performance/index.asp.

3.) National Interpreter Certification (NIC): The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf has offered several different national certification tests over the years, all of which are still valid. The only generalist certification that you can still earn, however, is the National Interpreter Certification (NIC) test. You can earn one of three levels (NIC, NIC-Advanced and NIC-Master), or no level at all. While it is recognized nationally, this test is generally considered to be more difficult than either the EIPA or VQAS, and it is also the most expensive, so most interpreters wait several years before taking the performance portions of the NIC. You can take this test at any time as long as you meet their requirements, however, we generally recommend that you take the written portion of the test towards the end of your studies here, or shortly thereafter, and then wait several years after graduation to take the performance test. You must pass the written test to take the performance test. From the time you pass the written exam, you have five years to take the performance test. If you do not, you will have to pass the written test again. The curriculum of our program is designed to cover most of the recommended preparation materials for the written test, so it is a good idea to take it while that information is fresh in your mind. Most interpreters benefit greatly from gaining experience before taking the performance test, however. Three years is fairly typical, though that decision is up to you. In addition, RID has several specialist tests, the only one currently being offered is the SC:L, for legal interpreters. For more information: http://rid.org/.

11. What kind of pay do interpreters earn?

This varies widely depending upon the type of work you are doing and what credentials you have. Nationally Certified Interpreters are generally paid more than uncertified interpreters. Higher levels on the VQAS will typically earn you more money, though how much more depends upon your employer. Specialists, such as legal interpreters, typically earn more money than generalists. Agencies and government jobs tend to pay more than schools; colleges tend to pay more than public schools, and freelance interpreters tend to earn more per hour than contract interpreters (though they don’t get benefits). Video relay services are typically the highest paying jobs for generalists. There can also be significant variation by geographic location. In the Washington D.C. area, the hourly wage for interpreters can range from around $15/hour to $70+/hour, but most interpreters earn somewhere between $30 and $50/hour.


A.S. Social Science/Deaf Studies FAQ

1. What should I consider before I enter the ASL/Deaf Studies program?

Before you enter the ASL program, you should consider a few things. First, you need to consider your desire to learn a new language and your willingness and enthusiasm for learning a visual language. Second, you should consider your educational goals. Are you going to want to use these courses for foreign language credit? If you do, are you planning to transfer to another college or university down the road? If you are, do they accept ASL as a foreign language? But, really, if you are thinking of taking ASL I just because it interests you, GO FOR IT! That's as good a reason as any to learn something new! Whether or not you go beyond that is entirely up to you (and your skill level).

If you plan to earn the Deaf Studies degree, you should also think about what your goals are. ASL IS a really cool language, but if you don't want to work in one of the fields that make use of it, a Deaf Studies degree might not be in your best interest. On the other hand, if you are interested in working with the rich and varied tapestry that is the Deaf community, it might just be perfect for you.

2. How long does it take to finish the ASL/Deaf Studies program?

The ASL Certificate can be completed in one year, taking one course each semester and two during one summer, if you achieve a satisfactory grade at each level. Some students choose to slow this timetable down in order to tackle learning a new language at a slower pace, and that decision is up to the individual student. The ASL program may begin with any semester during the school year. ASL I is offered every semester, including both summer sessions, assuming there is sufficient enrollment in the class.

The Deaf Studies degree is a transfer degree that is designed to take two years, full-time, once you have completed ASL IV. Transfer information is available here.

If you have any questions regarding your specific course of study, or timetable, please see Paula Debes.

3. What should I expect in my ASL/Fingerspelling/Deaf Culture classes?

In the ASL courses, you should expect to study in an immersion environment. What this means is that from the beginning, you should not use your voice during class. Many of our ASL teachers are Deaf, so you will not have a choice, but even our hearing teachers use a "voice-off" policy during class. Don't panic about this, our teachers are very good at conveying information without using spoken language. You will build on and expand skills learned in previous courses, and you will also expand your knowledge and awareness of deaf culture. Fingerspelling & Numbers is a course designed to help you understand and express fingerspelled words and numbers more clearly. This is an area of ASL that is difficult for many students, and this course is intended to focus on these specific areas because they are often a struggle.

Deaf Culture is a course designed to give you an intensive overview of what Deaf culture looks like and present a picture of what deaf people face in our society. It is an eye-opening course for many students, and is designed to provide both sides of many of the "hot-button" issues in the Deaf community

4. For my ASL classes, will I be required to attend events outside of class? If so, what kind?

In order to learn ASL and understand its culture, it is crucial for you to interact with the Deaf Community and attend Deaf Events. This will help you tremendously in your language learning, and is the only way you will ever truly become fluent. You will also be gaining exposure to another culture, one you will need to be comfortable with in order to work in this field. Interaction is the best way to pick up new information and learn the language in a way that cannot be taught in a classroom. The specific requirements for each course should be discussed with the professor for that course.

5. Is there a placement test for ASL/Can I test out of lower levels of ASL?

There is no placement test at NOVA’s testing Center. You will need to contact the department and set up a meeting to determine your skill level and the appropriate ASL course for you. If you have little to no prior knowledge of ASL, you need to sign up for ASL I. Please note that knowing some signs, even 100 different signs, is not enough to move you out of ASL I, however, if you have taken a course somewhere else, or have other substantial experience with the language, please see Paula Debes or Brian Leffler. One of them will administer a placement interview and tell you in which level you belong.

6. Would I need/can I get an interpreter for ASL I?

No, interpreters are not provided for our ASL language courses. Regardless of whether your professor is deaf or hearing, you will be in the same boat as all of your classmates in being expected to work in a non-speaking environment.

7. What campuses offer ASL?

At this time, credit courses in ASL are only offered at the Annandale campus. Other campuses sometimes offer continuing education courses in ASL, which may allow you to place out of ASL I or II. The availability of these courses varies widely, so you will need to check with the Continuing Education Department for each campus.