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Distance Education for ASL Interpreters (01)

By Lynda Park
(Your Interpreting Maven)

In a message dated 2/17/2007 10:27:23 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, dawn_marie1977@___ writes:
My name is Dawn Otto and I live in Savannah, Georgia.  I would like to learn American Sign Language, and become an Interpreter.  None of the colleges here offer ASL as a language though.  Unfortunately, I can not move to go to college.  Also, what do you recommend I use to teach my 7 year old son sign language, he is interested in learning and I don't want to give him something too difficult?
I look forward to hearing from you. 
Dawn M.B.


Hi Dawn,

Sign language interpreting is an exciting and growing profession.  There is a current shortage of qualified ASL-English interpreters needed to meet the growing demand.  As with most professions, years of experience are required to become proficient.  The first step is to become fluent in sign language.  Be aware that ASL-English interpreting is a separate skill which utilizes signing ability, but is much more than simply knowing how to converse in sign language.  Special training is needed to develop techniques and ethics required to facilitate communication between two parties.
So, the first step is to learn sign language.  Without your local colleges offering classes, you have some challenges, but it can be done in other ways.  Recently I responded to a similar inquiry from someone wanting to become more adept at sign language:
The best method to acquire fluency in ASL is to associate with members of the Deaf community.  Seems you are in an area where there is little opportunity to do so.  Have you checked into community colleges or continuing education in your area that might offer sign classes?  If that is not an option, consider computer aided programs such as CD-ROMs and DVDs.  Look up websites offering basic ASL.  Many are free. is one such site.  ASL dictionaries can help too, just keep in mind learning ASL by book alone is (like trying to learn a spoken foreign language by book) very challenging, but a great tool in addition to other methods.  Check to see what your local library offers.
Will your children join you in your efforts?  Depending on their ages, they (and you too) may benefit from the many DVDs currently popular which teach sign language to infants and children.  It would be great to include your family in your efforts, and set aside time to practice every day. Practicing every day will help you retain the skills learned better than doing a marathon cram session every now and then.  Label items around your home with sign pictures.  There are sign language games available too.  By doing an Internet search, you'll find several companies selling products to help you learn ASL.   
Do you have a web cam?  Could you find an Internet buddy to practice with?  Turn off the volume and have all your buddy conversations using sign language. Maybe check into an immersion program where you can get away for a week or so in a "no voice" atmosphere with others also wanting to learn ASL.
An excellent educational website using ASL with text and spoken English interpretation is The target audience is Deaf children ages 8-12, but the interactive environment makes it fun for just about everyone.  This may be an excellent tool for you to use as a homeschooling mother.  Ideally you should have at least intermediate signing skills to best understand the signing, but hey, if you want to teach your children science and other curricula, give it a try.  The sign language would be an added dimension in addition to the excellent learning objectives.
Perhaps some of the above ideas could start you thinking of ways to begin learning sign language.  If you feel you want to pursue professional ASL-English interpreting, you will most likely need formal training.  A college degree will soon be required of interpreters wanting to become certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (  If professional interpreting is truly your goal, you will need to keep that in mind.
I've recently learned of an online program through the University of Northern Colorado:
Baccalaureate Degree in ASL-English Interpretation
The American Sign Language-English Interpretation program is an online (with summer onsite requirements) Baccalaureate Degree program that prepares majors to provide competent interpreting services between individuals who are d/Deaf and use ASL as their primary means of communication, and individuals who are not deaf and do not know sign language. Graduates of this program will be prepared to interpret in a range of low-risk settings with professional autonomy and be work and/or RID certification-ready.
There may be similar programs closer to your area. An online search may provide information for you.
These are just a few of the many different ways to begin learning ASL with the goal of becoming a sign language interpreter.   Good luck to you.  Hope you can give some a try.   
~Lynda Park

Sent: Monday, January 7, 2008 6:36:27 AM

I read your reply to Dawn about online ASL/Interpreter courses. 
Here are some more. 
Hope this helps you, her and anyone else that finds your page.

2.  ASS degree completely online -

- Nathanael Davis

In a message dated 1/7/2008 5:28:22 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, lyndapark@ writes:

Thanks Nathanael.  Your knowledge on this is very much appreciated and helpful.
~Lynda Park



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