Working as a British Sign Language Interpreter

Untitled design (36)If you have great communication skills and an ability to concentrate and understand quickly, along with an interest in working with people with special needs, you might like to consider a career as a British Sign Language Interpreter.

Interpreters are needed for a whole range of community settings but in this interview, Fee tells us how her work as a British Sigh Language Interpreter has focused on the education sector.

So, briefly, what is your job?

“I am a British Sign Language Interpreter. I work for a small team at the council and we have contracts to support students in a numbers of local colleges, universities and training centres. I interpret for students on a very wide range of courses, I also note take for students and occasionally deliver training.”

How did you get into it?

“I started a stage one sign language evening course while I was doing my A-levels.   I then ended up doing a degree in Deaf Studies at Wolverhampton University. I started working as a Learning Support Assistant in a primary school with deaf children, I got a job working in colleges as a Communication Support Worker and two years ago completed a Masters Degree in Interpreting.”

Describe a typical day.

“There are no typical days in my job.  Some sessions I can be working in a workshop supporting a student doing a practical course like plumbing or joinery, and the next session I could be in an A level or degree classroom or interpreting for my manager in a meeting. It’s very varied.”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“The fact that it is so varied and that we work with such a diverse range of students. It’s the best feeling in the world when a student you have been interpreting for achieves something or passes an exam 

And the least?

“Sometimes it can be quite boring, especially spending 3 hours watching a student plastering a wall or drying someone’s hair. I can also be a bit chilly if you end up outside in the winter.”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“Most people think that you don’t need to be a fully qualified interpreter to work in education but it is really important that the students get an interpreter with the best possible skills. Also British Sign Language isn’t a word for word translation of English which does make interpreting quite difficult sometimes.”

What are the main skills you need to be a Sign Language Interpreter?

“A high level of English skills as well as at least a level 4 qualification in British Sign Language and an Interpreting qualification.”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“Financially the pay isn’t great especially working for the council but there are some perks. I’ve been on several trips and overnights with students that have been fun and every now and then I get a free lunch. There is much more money to be made as a freelancer in community work”.

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“A good basic education will help enormously as well as a proficient level of Sign Language. The best way to do this is to meet people in the deaf community and practise using the language.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“Hopefully still working in education but maybe also doing a little freelancing in community work to vary things a little.”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“Last, definitely”

Tea or coffee?

“Decaff tea”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“Packed lunch”

The lift or the stairs?

“Stairs”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Home to bed”


Momentum Careers Advice is based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, but can provide careers advice, guidance and support via Skype, across the UK and beyond.

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