ASL Common Questions

students using sign language

Common Questions on NOVA ASL Degree Programs

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

  • American Sign Language to 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 skills and knowledge of the deaf culture and community. Students can then go on to pursue a variety of careers working with deaf people.

What should I consider before I enter the Interpreting Program?

  • Evaluate Your Language Skills: Strong skills in both ASL and English make interpreting easier.
  • Determine Your Interpreting Preference: Choose between educational, freelance, or specialized fields.
  • Uncertain? No Problem: Our program introduces you to various interpreting fields. Focus on electives later.

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

  • Requirement: You must complete ASL IV before you can begin the core interpreting curriculum.
  • Exception: You can take Introduction to the Profession and Deaf Culture before ASL IV but no other INT program courses.
  • Recommendation: Complete ASL V & VI during your first year in the interpreting program.

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

  • ASL IV Requirement: Complete (or place out of) ASL IV to start the interpreting program.
  • Accelerated Option: New ASL learners can finish ASL I-IV in a year with two summer sessions and two regular semesters.
  • Pacing Flexibility: Many students opt for a more extended schedule; your pace is your choice.
  • Program Duration: After ASL IV, the interpreting program takes two additional years, including summers, with a satisfactory grade in each course.
  • Course Order: Interpreting courses must be taken in a specific order, beginning in the Fall semester, with some offered in the summer.
  • Concurrent Study: Typically, two interpreting courses are required per semester, increasing to three in the second semester and one in the first summer.
  • Elective Requirement: One elective can be taken at any time during the program.
  • Course Flexibility: Some courses are flexible and can be taken at any time during the program.
  • Part-Time Study: Part-time study duration may vary based on prior coursework and transfer credits.
  • Contact: For specific questions, contact ASL Program Head Paula Reece at
  • Degree Requirements: Review ASL-English Interpretation A.A.S. Degree Requirements.

What should I expect in my INT classes?

Year I

Semester I (Fall):

  • Focus: Strengthen skills in your fluent language (usually English).
  • Objective: Quick thinking and expressing alternative ideas in English.
  • ASL V: Generally recommended during this semester.

Semester II (Spring):

  • Focus: Emphasis on ASL, enhancing skills in a second language.
  • Objective: Translate between English and ASL, refining translations.
  • ASL VI: Generally recommended during this semester.

Semester III (Summer):

  • Course: Transliteration (spoken English to PSE, a form of signed English using ASL signs).
  • Purpose: Practice a skill crucial for certification exams, resembling interpreting.
  • Language: Still within the same language (English).

Year Two

Semester IV (Fall):

  • Courses: Introduction to "consecutive" interpreting.
  • Method: Interpreter receives one block of information at a time.
  • Complexity: Increases gradually throughout the semester.

Semester V (Spring):

  • Course: Introduction to "simultaneous" interpreting.
  • Process: Rendering interpretation while the speaker/signer continues without stopping.

Semester VI (Summer):

  • Courses: Interpreting between hearing speakers and deaf signers, and a required 100-hour internship.
  • Focus: Practice in mixed group settings and gain practical experience.

General Notes:

  • Throughout your second year, graded assignments often use pre-recorded material.
  • Practice outside class with videos is highly recommended for optimal performance.

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.

  • Course Requirements:
    • Attendance at interpreted events is mandatory, usually one or two per course.
    • Interviewing a working interpreter is often a class requirement.
  • Clarity: Discuss specific course requirements with the respective professor for guidance.

Can I place out of an Interpreting course?

  • Contact Information: Reach out to ASL Program Head Paula Reece at if you wish to place out.
  • Policy Note: Generally, placing out of interpreting courses is not allowed unless a comparable course has been taken elsewhere.
  • Criteria: Fluency in ASL alone, no matter how strong, is insufficient for placing out of an interpreting course.

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

  • Proficiency: Graduates are prepared for low-risk interpreting situations.
  • Certification Levels: Successful achievement on the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS) is common, with levels varying based on individual factors.
  • Clarification on Certification: The term 'certification' often refers to VQAS, but true certification is through the national Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).
  • Program Requirement: Neither VQAS nor RID certification is required by the program.
  • Test Responsibility: Graduates must independently take these tests once meeting the administering agency's requirements.
  • Recommended Timing: Many graduates take the written portion of VQAS in their final year and the performance portion in their final summer.
  • NIC Test Consideration: It is advisable to take the written portion of the NIC close to the end of studies as the curriculum covers its materials.
  • Post-Program Timing: Many interpreters wait a few years after completing the ITP to take the performance sections of the RID test.

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. 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. Learning ASL:
    • Typically through courses and supplemented by interaction with the deaf community.
    • NOVA offers ASL I-VI courses and advanced electives.
  2. Interpreter Training Program (ITP):
    • Usually a two-year program, commonly offered at community colleges.
    • Four-year programs, like at Gallaudet, are also available but less common.
    • NOVA is a two-year ITP program, with the closest four-year program in Richmond.
  3. Certification Steps:
    • After completing the ITP, consider taking state screening or certification tests.
    • In Virginia, it's the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS).
    • VQAS is recommended toward the end of the ITP.
    • Educational interpreters may also take the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA).
    • Many interpreters wait a few years before taking the national RID certification.
    • For specialized fields like legal interpreting, RID suggests at least five years of post-ITP experience before taking a specialist exam.

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

  • Broad Education Benefit:
    • Recommendation: Having a well-rounded education enhances effectiveness as an interpreter.
    • Degree Value: Many degrees offer valuable breadth, aiding interpreters in diverse situations.
    • Requirement Variability: The necessity of a degree depends on individual goals and employer preferences.
  • National Certification Exam (RID):
    • As of June 30, 2009: An Associate’s degree is required for the RID national certification exam.
    • Beginning June 30, 2012: The exam will mandate a Bachelor’s Degree.
    • Non-Interpreting Degrees: Degrees do not need to be in interpreting.
    • Alternative Route: RID provides an alternative route for substantial education/experience without a degree. RID’s website offers more details.
  • Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS):
    • Degree Requirement: VQAS does not necessitate a degree for eligibility.

What are the various certification tests for interpreters?

  1. Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS):
    • Administered by: Virginia Department of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
    • Components: Written and performance tests.
    • Pass/Fail: Written test is pass/fail; passing is necessary to attempt the performance screening.
    • Timeline: Three years to take the performance assessment from passing the written.
    • Suggested Timing: Many students take the written portion during the fall of their second year. Performance portion recommended during the final semester or summer.More Information: VQAS.
  2. Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA):
    • For: Exclusively for educational interpreters.
    • Recognition: Generally accepted in education, not widely recognized outside of education.
    • Acceptance: Not universally accepted; Virginia is among the states recognizing this test.
    • More Information: EIPA.
  3. National Interpreter Certification (NIC):
    • Administered by: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).
    • Levels: NIC, NIC-Advanced, NIC-Master, or no level.
    • Difficulty: Generally considered more challenging than EIPA or VQAS.
    • Timing Recommendations: Written portion towards the end of studies, wait several years after graduation for the performance test.
    • Timeline: Five years to take the performance test from passing the written; must pass the written again if not taken within this timeframe.
    • Specialist Tests: RID offers specialist tests; currently, SC:L for legal interpreters is available.
    • More Information: RID.

What kind of pay do interpreters earn?

  • Factors Influencing Pay:
    • Certification: Nationally Certified Interpreters usually earn more than uncertified interpreters.
    • VQAS Levels: Higher levels on the VQAS often result in higher pay, varying by employer.
    • Specialization: Specialists, like legal interpreters, typically command higher pay.
    • Job Type: Agencies, government jobs, and freelance work offer different pay structures.
    • Education Sector: Colleges may pay more than public schools; video relay services often pay well.
  • Salary Range (Washington D.C. Area):
    • Minimum: Around $15/hour.
    • Maximum: $70+/hour.
    • Common Range: Most interpreters earn between $30 and $50/hour.
  • Note:
    • Freelance vs. Contract: Freelance interpreters earn more per hour but lack benefits.
    • Geographic Variation: Pay can significantly vary by location.
  • Overall: National certification, specialization, and geographic considerations play crucial roles in an interpreter's earning potential.

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

  • Language Enthusiasm:
    • Evaluate your desire and enthusiasm for learning a visual language like ASL.
  • Educational Goals:
    • Consider your educational goals:
      • Are you seeking foreign language credit?
      • Do you plan to transfer to another institution that accepts ASL as a foreign language?
  • Personal Interest:
    • If you're interested in ASL, go for it!
      • Your interest is a valid reason to explore and learn something new.
  • Deaf Studies Degree:
    • For those pursuing a Deaf Studies degree:
      • Assess your career goals.
      • Determine if working with the Deaf community aligns with your interests.
  • Note: The decision to go beyond ASL I is entirely yours and depends on your comfort and skill level.

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

ASL Certificate Completion:

  • Duration:
    • Complete the ASL Certificate in one year:
      • One course each semester.
      • Two courses during one summer.
  • Individual Pace:
    • Some students may opt for a slower pace to ease into learning a new language.
  • Program Start:
    • ASL program begins any semester.
      • ASL I offered every semester, including both summer sessions with sufficient enrollment.

Deaf Studies Degree:

  • Duration:
    • Designed as a two-year, full-time program post ASL IV completion.
  • Contact:
    • Questions about your course of study or timetable?

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

  • Immersive Learning:
    • Expect an immersive environment from the beginning.
    • No use of voice during class, aligning with a "voice-off" policy.
    • Both Deaf and hearing teachers enforce this policy effectively.
  • Communication Skills:
    • Develop and expand on skills learned in previous courses.
    • Emphasis on non-verbal communication, fostering a strong foundation in ASL.

Fingerspelling & Numbers Course:

  • Objective:
    • Enhance understanding and expression of fingerspelled words and numbers.
    • Special focus due to common challenges in these areas.

Deaf Culture Course:

  • Overview:
    • Intensive exploration of Deaf culture.
    • Gain insights into the challenges faced by the Deaf community.
    • Provides a balanced perspective on key issues within the Deaf community.

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. 

  • Crucial for Fluency:
    • Essential to attend Deaf events for true fluency.
    • Enhances language learning beyond classroom instruction.
  • Cultural Exposure:
    • Gain exposure to Deaf culture.
    • Develop comfort essential for professional work.
  • Interaction Importance:
    • Interacting with the Deaf community is invaluable.
    • Offers insights unattainable through classroom teaching.
  • Language Learning Impact:
    • Maximize language learning through practical interaction.
    • Real-world exposure enhances language acquisition.
  • Tailored Course Requirements:
    • Discuss specific event requirements with each course's professor.
    • Customize interactions based on course expectations.

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

  • No Placement Test at Testing Center:
    • NOVA’s Testing Center does not offer a placement test for ASL.
  • Placement Determination Meeting:
    • Contact the department to arrange a meeting for skill level evaluation.
    • Determine the suitable ASL course based on your proficiency.
  • Starting with ASL I:
    • If little to no prior ASL knowledge, enroll in ASL I.
    • Previous exposure to signs may not bypass ASL I.
  • Placement Interview for Experience:
    • For external courses or significant language experience, schedule a placement interview.
    • Contact the division admin assistant for interview appointments.

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

  • No Interpreters Provided:
    • ASL language courses do not offer interpreters for students.
    • Whether your professor is deaf or hearing, all students engage in a non-speaking environment.
  • Equal Expectations:
    • All students, regardless of their hearing status, are expected to participate equally without verbal communication.

What campuses offer ASL?

  • Location:
    • Credit courses in ASL are exclusively available at the Annandale campus.
  • Continuing Education Courses:
    • Some other campuses may provide continuing education courses in ASL.
    • These courses might offer opportunities to place out of ASL I or II.
  • Check with Continuing Education:
    • Availability of continuing education courses may vary by campus.
    • It is recommended to check with the Continuing Education Department at each campus for specific information.