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Home > Campuses & Centers > Annandale > Academic Divisions > Languages and Literature > American Sign Language and English Interpretation > FAQ: The Interpreting Program (INT)

Frequently Asked Questions: The Interpreting Program (INT)

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.