Sign Language Interpreter

Sign language interpreters facilitate communication among deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing and hearing people, using both English and American Sign Language (ASL) or French and Langue des Signes Quebecois (LSQ).

Also Known As:Interpreter, Language Specialist, Visual Language Interpreter
NOC Number(s):5125.3
Minimum Education:2 years post-secondary education/training
Employment Outlook:Job openings generated due to employment turnover. Occupational outlook currently unavailable.
Interests:M I s

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study


The process of interpreting is the same regardless of the languages involved. A message from one language and cultural context must be expressed accurately in another language and cultural context. An interpreter's goal is to facilitate communication and ensure a message equivalent interpretation while refraining from counselling, advising or interjecting personal opinions. All spoken or signed utterances are interpreted.

Prior to appointments, sign language interpreters review relevant background information. Individuals requiring interpretation services are expected to provide this information in advance. For example, they may provide information about terminology or copies of working documents, meeting handouts, agendas or minutes. In educational settings, institutions must provide texts, handouts, audio-visual materials and any other course materials so interpreters can become familiar with course theory and terminology.

In school settings, sign language interpreters may interpret:

  • for hearing or deaf teachers and with hearing or deaf students in classrooms and labs
  • during parent-teacher interviews
  • at tutorial sessions
  • in other situations (for example, when deaf students or deaf parents wish to use support services, participate in extra-curricular activities or attend school meetings).

Working Conditions

Sign language interpreters provide interpretation services wherever communication is required. For example, they may work in settings such as:

  • business, legal, medical or social service offices
  • educational institutions
  • religious settings
  • musical and theatrical performances
  • conferences and workshops.

Depending on their qualifications to practice, interpreters may be employed by interpreter referral services or agencies, or as independent contractors to interpret in medical, lega, conference, education, corporate or theatrical performance settings. Depending on the length and complexity of the assignment, interpreters may work in teams to facilitate communication, ensure message equivalency and reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries.

Interpreters who work as independent contractors may choose to work irregular hours in addition to the standard two hour call out.

Personal Characteristics

Sign language interpreters need the following characteristics:

  • impartiality
  • the ability to maintain client confidentiality
  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • flexibility
  • objectivity
  • physical stamina .

Interpreters should enjoy the process of interpreting and facilitating communication.

Educational Requirements

Sign language interpreters must have excellent spoken English or French skills and be fluent in American Sign language (ASL) or Langue des Signes Quebecois (LSQ). Certification is not required but employers generally prefer to hire interpreters who:

For information about interpreter training programs in Canada, please see the AVLIC website.

Admission to an interpreter training program generally requires a high level of skill in American Sign Language. ASL classes are offered  through Continuing Education at high schools and post-secondary institutions. For more information, please contact or visit the websites of local school authorities and post-secondary institutions.

Section revised April 2013

Employment and Advancement

Sign language interpreters may be employed by institutions or interpreter referral agencies or work as independent contractors. Interpreters in educational settings may work in public or private elementary or secondary schools, post-secondary institutions or schools for the deaf. Interpreters who have business or administrative skills may be hired to co-ordinate interpreting services for agencies, schools (especially post-secondary institutions), or conventions and other short-term assignments.

Sign language interpreters are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 5125: Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters. In Alberta, 85 per cent of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2011


Incomes and benefits vary considerably in this occupation. Interpreters may be paid by the hour, half day or full day. Typically, they charge a two hour or half day minimum and require at least 48 hours notice of cancellation. Often unless two business days cancellation notice is provided, interpreters will charge the full amount of the original booking.

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters occupational group earned on average from $21.27 to $26.61 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $23.44 an hour.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website:

Association of Sign Language Interpreters of Alberta (ASLIA) formerly known as the Alberta Chapter of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (ACRID) website:

Association of Visual Language Interpreters of Canada (AVLIC) website:

Related Occupational Profiles
Language Interpreter

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; and Languages (other than English)

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Humanities and Languages

Produced September 2011
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.

Government of Alberta, Human Services