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Interpreting in California:

The following articles were reviewed 03/2008 by interpreting maven Lynda Park. See her comments in yellow. For more of Lynda's comments regarding interpreting visit: Your Interpreting Maven.

Crystal Salaiz
May 06, 2007

Becoming an Interpreter: 
What it takes to become a certified interpreter for the DHH in California

If you want to become a certified interpreter for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) in California, you’ll need formal education and experience in American Sign Language (ASL).

A beginner can get an initial certificate as an interpreter with a two year program, such as the Interpreter Training Certificate Program offered by American River College. ARC’s American Sign Language Program consists of sixty one units, and prepares an interpreter to communicate with deaf and hard-of- hearing people at a basic level. This certificate program “provides sequential course work to students who wish to be trained for positions such as a teacher’s aide, counseling aide, or management aide” (ARC). [
Reviewer's note:  I spoke with two interpreters who had been through the ARC Interpreting program within the last 2-4 years.  They both felt there was little or no emphasis on positions other than interpreting.]  Often, interpreters go on to more advanced interpreter training.

After a two year certificate program, an interpreter can continue their training at a university in a DHH Education Specialist B.A. Program. There are eight universities in California that offer DHH Education Specialist programs, including: San Francisco, San Jose, Northridge, and San Diego. The four year programs at these universities are approved by the California Commission on Teaching Credentials (CCTC) and lead to a B.A. in special education. One such program, the Deaf Studies & Communication Services Program at CSU Northridge is an “interdisciplinary major composed of courses in sign language, linguistics, and a variety of other disciplines designed to convey basic knowledge and understanding of the language and culture of Deaf people, including their history and social experiences” (CSUN). This type of bachelor’s degree is essential
[Reviewer's note: Not at this time.  Currently, no degree is required to take any RID-NAD tests, or to be certified in the field.  However, beginning June 30, 2008, hearing candidates for certification must have a minimum of an associate’s degree to take a performance exam. Deaf candidates must have a minimum of an associate’s degree after June 30, 2012. ( It is also proposed that hearing candidates posses a Baccalaureate degree to take the performance test by 2012.    The type of degree can be in any field of study, not specifically related to Deaf studies.  This may change in the future, but not in the immediate future. There are some exceptions to degrees which are defined by RID.| or higher level credentials and professional level interpreting.

Once an interpreter has completed their bachelor’s degree,
[Reviewer's note: As stated above, a bachelor's degree is not mandatory for taking NIC tests at this time (March 2008)] they can obtain National Interpreter Certification (NIC) through the National Council on Interpreting (NCI). NCI is composed of the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the National Association for the Deaf (NAD). RID recommends a bachelor’s degree in ASL and 3 years of experience in order to pass [Reviewer's note: I preferred the term "in preparation" or "in order to successfully prepare for the NIC" rather than "in order to pass".  Some individuals are able to meet certification without a BA and 3 years of experience.] the NIC tests. RID also suggests, “Continued practice, participation in workshops and training experiences, and work with mentors will help prepare you for certification tests” (NCI).

The NIC tests include: knowledge of “the field of interpreting through the NIC Knowledge written exam, ethical decision making through the Interview portion of the NIC Performance test and, interpreting and transliterating skills through the Performance portion of the test” (NCI). NIC testing locations in California include Santa Rosa Jr. College 
[Reviewer's note: Santa Rosa no longer offers testing. (March 2008)  The current California test sites are CSUN and Sac-Oak (Sacramento-Oakland).  HOVRS in Rocklin provides the site for Sac-Oak testing.]  and California State University Northridge. Interpreters that have been certified by NCI can work as freelance interpreters in California, as well as other states. However, NCI certified interpreters must complete eighty hours of additional studies every four years through the Certification Maintenance Program to maintain certification.

NAD and RID have other certifications for advanced interpreters
[Reviewer's note: An advanced certification is not necessarily needed to stand for Legal Specialist testing. Ex:Category #3 - Possess valid RID certified membership and documentation of at least 100 hours of legal interpreting/mentoring experience and 70 hours of legal training. In addition, five years of general interpreting experience (post RID certification) is strongly recommended.  NAD 3 and other certifications (along with the additional training mentioned) could fulfill this requirement.  Master level interpreting skills are not required.]
and other and deaf interpreters, such as Legal Specialist Certificate for interpreters in a legal setting, Certified Deaf Interpreter for interpreters who are DHH, and NAD 5 certificate for master interpreters.


Deaf Studies Department (CSUN). California State University Northridge. Deaf Studies Homepage. Online. 3/26/2007.

Humanities Department (ARC). American River College. Sign Language Studies Homepage. Online. 3/19/2007.

National Council on Interpreting (NCI). Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. NAD-RID National Interpreter Certification. NIC (National Interpreter Certification) document. Online. 3/26/2007.

Submitted by Ryan Huft
May 5, 2007

So you have passed your first year or two of American Sign Language and you loved it! A new career path has opened before your eyes and you are ready to take the challenge. A few hurdles need to be overcome though before you can become a certified interpreter in California. First you must decide where you want to use your interpreting skills. The education system and the legal system in California have slightly different standards for certification in interpreting for the deaf and hard of hearing. (Parker) Another issue that you must face is the question, “Are you ready enough to speak for someone else?” (NAD) These are some issues that up and coming interpreters must think about before jumping into the field.
“Deaf and hard of hearing people deserve to have qualified, skilled interpreters who know what they are doing.” (NAD) This statement is true no matter what language an interpreter is interpreting for. It is very important that the interpreter is competent enough to get the right message across so that everyone is satisfied with the exchange of information. “Interpreting jobs are not meant to take the place of sign language classes.” (NAD) If a young interpreter [Reviewer's note: I prefer the term "novice interpreter"] messes up a sign in class, it is one thing that can be corrected. In the real world, a slight misunderstanding can cause major problems later. Thus it is very important that the interpreter knows exactly what to say and how to say it.
If a young Reviewer's note: "novice"] interpreter wants to get into the educational field and work as an instructor of ASL then that person must become certified by the National Association of the Deaf or Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. [Reviewer's note: Not true.  I know of several interpreters who work as educational interpreters without RID certification (uncertified, ESSE certified, para-educators, etc.)  spending part of their time teaching sign language in elementary school classes.  They are asked to do so by elementary school teachers wanting their hearing students to have some tools for communicating with the mainstream Deaf students.  Or the classroom teacher just wants someone to help teach for part of their workday.  Sometimes these interpreters/para-educators teach after school sign language enrichment classes on campus, or lunchtime sign language clubs.  I also know of ASL teachers at the local community college who are not certified by RID.  Whether or not these are good ideas is subjective. Nonetheless, there are many teachers of ASL in the educational field who are not certified by RID.]
  These two associations have come together to create a National Interpreter Certification Examination. This exam tests the interpreter’s knowledge and ability to handle and react to any situation that the person may be faced with, the competence of the person to understand and relay the correct information, apply a certain code of ethics to the job, and seven more qualities. (RID) An interpreter must pass this test before that person can teach.  [Reviewer's note: ...Really?  Hmmm.]  In the field of law, it is only a little different. An interpreter must be, “determined & approved by Judicial Council” before that person can be allowed to work in the field of law. (Parker)
“Since 1996, the California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCASDHH) and the Registry for Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) have been the two programs that certify interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing on behalf of the Judicial Council.” (Judicial Council of California)
So in a way people who work in the field of law can also follow in the footsteps of educators and take the NIC as well to become certified in their field as well.
Certification in California is a process that everyone has to [Reviewer's note:
"has to???" There are other ways.  Religious interpreting, and some other volunteer interpreting have no such requirements.]  follow if they want to become an interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing. This helps to guard against incorrect translating due to lack of experience. This is a very good thing to have in place because the deaf and hard of hearing community deserve to have the best people available to them. Interpreting is speaking for another person [Reviewer's note: I prefer: facilitating communication between hearing individuals and the Deaf or hard-of-hearing, conveying the intended message.] and this is a huge responsibility that must not be taken lightly.

Works Cited

National Association of the Deaf (NAD). (2002, November 21), How do I become a sign language interpreter?. National Association of the Deaf. Retrieved 5 May 2007. <>

Registry for Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). NAD-RID National Interpreter Certification (NIC) Examination Test Outline Tasks and Knowledge and Skill Statements. Retrieved 5 May 2007. <>

Parker, Lisa. (2001, April). Table of State Laws and Regulations on Requirements of Interpreters. Retrieved 5 May 2007. <>

Judicial Council of California. (2004 December). A Report to the California Legislature on the Use of Interpreters in the California Courts. Retrieved 5 May 2007.



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