British Sign Language Interpreter

The Job and What's Involved

British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters help deaf and hearing people to communicate with one another.

As a BSL interpreter your work would include:

  • Making preparations before an assignment – searching for specialist vocabulary and finding out about the subject and the people involved.
  • Listening carefully to, or watching, what is said or signed.
  • Interpreting everything that is said or signed.
  • Finding an appropriate way to express what has been said or signed in English or BSL.

You would need to maintain confidentiality and impartiality, and only give advice if it improves the communication process.

You would usually work irregular hours, which may include evenings and weekends.

Fees and salaries for BSL interpreters vary widely depending on experience, employer and location.

As a guide, full-time interpreters can earn between £20,000 and £35,000 a year.

Freelance interpreters can earn between £20 and £30 an hour.

Interpreters may also claim for expenses, unsocial hours, preparation time and other reasonable costs.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

You would find most jobs in schools, colleges or universities, health centres, residential homes, local government offices, hospitals, law courts and prisons.

Education and Training

To become a qualified and registered BSL interpreter, you will need interpreter and BSL qualifications recognised by the Registration Department of Signature (formerly CACDP). You can qualify in either of the following ways:

Completing a university course leading to a degree or postgraduate qualification

Completing the Signature Level 6 NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting and an approved qualification in BSL – you usually need to be working with deaf people on a paid or voluntary basis for this option.

For both routes you are likely to need qualifications in BSL up to level 2. You can complete these at many colleges and at centres for the deaf. It is advisable to contact providers of interpreter qualifications to check that your BSL qualifications are acceptable.

Getting involved in deaf clubs or centres for the deaf is a good way of making contact with deaf people, and gaining an understanding of deaf culture and the deaf community. Details of deaf clubs and centres for the deaf are available from the British Deaf Association.

You can get information and training on deaf awareness and all aspects of working with the deaf through organisations such as RNID and the Royal Association for Deaf People.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

You can complete interpreter training programmes or be assessed for the Signature Level 6 NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting through a number of organisations. The level at which you can register as an interpreter will depend on which qualification you have completed.

There are three registration categories:

- Junior Trainee Interpreter (JTI)
- Trainee Interpreter (TI)
- Member of the Register of Sign Language Interpreters

As an MRSLI you will have full professional status. As a JTI or TI you could be more restricted in the type of assignment you can accept, depending on how much experience you have.

You can register as an MRSLI if you complete one of the following qualifications:

  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) Postgraduate Diploma in BSL/English Interpreting.
  • Leeds University MA in Interpreting: BSL/English
  • Leeds University Postgraduate Diploma in Interpreting: BSL/English
  • Signature NVQ Level 6 NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting) and an approved BSL assessment.

You can do programmes leading to registration as a JTI or TI at the following universities:

  • University of Bristol
  • University of Wolverhampton
  • University of Durham
  • University of Central Lancashire
  • University of Leeds
  • Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education
  • City Lit (validated by Middlesex University)

Visit the National Registers of Communications Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People website for full details of higher education qualifications for each level. Check the Signature website for details of the NVQ/NVQ Diploma.

You should check with the individual providers for the qualifications and/or experience you will need for entry.

The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) is the professional body for interpreters in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a member, you would have access to professional development and networking opportunities. Visit the ASL website for details.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A british sign language interpreter needs:

  • A good knowledge of the deaf community.
  • Team working skills.
  • Excellent spoken communication skills.
  • Excellent BSL skills.
  • Confidence when speaking in public.
  • The ability to keep up intense concentration and think rapidly.
  • Integrity and a sense of responsibility.

Your Long Term Prospects

You can work as an interpreter in organisations for deaf people or within social services departments.

Alternatively you could be self-employed or work through an agency.

Some interpreters move into research.

Get Further Information


Royal Association for Deaf People

Mersey House, Mandale Business Park, Belmont, Durham DH1 1TH
Tel: 0191 383 1155
Textphone: 0191 383 7915

Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI),
Fortuna House, South Fifth Street, Milton Keynes MK9 2EU
Tel: 0871 474 0522

British Deaf Association

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