best asl interpreters

Share this Post

What are the qualities of a good ASL interpreter?

What some people don’t realize is that American Sign Language (ASL) is its own language, not a visual representation of English. ASL has its own vocabulary, grammar and culture, like any language. And like other languages, those who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing deserve the same level of interpretation services as those of spoken languages. The American Disabilities Act requires employers, physicians and other businesses to provide an ASL interpreter when requested. Finding the best ASL interpreter is just as demanding as finding a qualified spoken language interpreter.

Contrary to popular belief, ASL interpreters are required to be fluent in two separate languages – English and sign language.  They must be able to communicate with the hearing person and understand the role in the conversation that the interpreter plays.  It is not uncommon for ASL speakers to have a grade school English competency level, so an interpreter must be prepared to navigate various levels of comprehension in an interpreted conversation.  Superior knowledge of the language’s culture, as well as fluency in the spoken, written and signed word are qualities that differentiate “good” interpreters from the “best” interpreters.

Just knowing how to sign does not qualify someone to be a professional ASL interpreter. They must go through vigorous study of the language, which typically includes a four-year degree as well as an examination to become certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID).  Additional competency testing from language service providers is a common practice, as well. This gives the language provider the confidence they need when contracting interpreters to perform services for their clients.

4 Characteristics of the Best ASL Interpreters


The best ASL interpreters are passionate about what they do. The interpretation business is a people business and to do the job well, an ASL interpreter must have a passion for helping people. Every day, ASL interpreters facilitate communication between one or more parties and to do this accurately, they must be comfortable in any situation.

Excellent Communicators

Communication is more than spoken, written or signed words. Body language and facial expressions communicate our thoughts and messages. Sign language interpreters must read and interpret these non-verbal forms of communication, and replicate them in form and meaning so the English speaker can understand the fullness of the message.

Being a “people person” also means that communication skills are perfected as a result of experiences. Interpreting is a highly stressful, think-on-your feet job because no two assignments are alike. The more experience an ASL interpreter has is a testament to how well they handle multiple environments. For example, in medical settings, interpreters need to understand how to communicate with the patient’s family members before and after appointments. They’re also trained to answer questions the medical professional (speaking person) may have  without confusing the Deaf person.


Like a spoken language interpreter, the ASL interpreter is a medium. This means they are not involved in the conversation but rather transmit what is said between speakers. The information discussed during appointments cannot be revealed outside of the appointment. Everything that is discussed must remain confidential.

The best ASL interpreters are cognizant of their role and that their actions should not interfere with the word-for-word, context or meaning of the interpretation.  In addition, professional ASL interpreters are educated in HIPAA regulations. This ensures that they are mindful of personal information sharing and the privacy laws that coincide with the healthcare industry. HIPAA and the Code of Ethics set forth by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf are put in place to protect the Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing person and the interpreter, should an issue arise.


Interpreters work in legal, medical, education and corporate settings. Although it can be beneficial to specialize in one area, the demand for an ASL interpreter is always present. Overall, well-rounded professional experience and training are what make an interpreter exceptional.


Making Connections Nationwide. For more information, please visit Interpreters Unlimited’s Sign Language Services Division website at, or call (800) 726-9891 to speak with a representative.