Language Service Professional

The Job and What's Involved

Language service professionals (LSP's) act as interpreters between people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who can hear.

They may work with people who use British Sign Language (BSL) or other communication systems. Some specialise in working with people who have both a hearing and a visual impairment.

LSP's work in a variety of different ways.

The main roles are:

BSL/English interpreter, enabling sign language users to communicate with hearing people and vice versa. Most BSL/English interpreters work from spoken English and have normal hearing. Deaf BSL users are employed as deaf interpreters, e.g. in-vision presenters, translating television programme information into BSL, or interpreting between BSL and sign language from another country.

Electronic notetaker, providing a summary service in English of what is said. The notetaker uses a laptop computer and specialist software. The deaf person reads the notes on screen and can interact, and take away a copy of the notes.

Manual notetaker, taking handwritten notes and providing the deaf person with a summary of what is said. The summary can be read straight away or used later for revision and reference.

Speech-to-text reporter, using a special keyboard to type what is said, word-for-word, at a minimum speed of 180 words per minute or more. The deaf person reads the resulting text on screen.

Lipspeaker, making it easier for deaf people who communicate using lipreading to follow what other people are saying. Lipspeakers face the deaf person and use clear lip patterns to repeat what is being said by another person.

Cued speech transliterator, using clear lip patterns, together with eight different hand shapes, called cues, to report what is said. This technique is used mainly in schools.

Deafblind communicator guide, helping people who are both deaf and blind to take part in everyday activities, using a range of communication skills.

Deafblind manual interpreter, using the deafblind manual alphabet to form letters on a deafblind person's hand, spelling out what another person is saying. They also relay visual and other non-verbal information, such as reactions to what has been said.

Hours vary according to the assignment and may include evenings and weekends. Most LSP's are self-employed and have some choice over their hours of work.

They can work in a variety of settings depending on the job role:

  • BSL/English interpreters and lipspeakers work in settings of all kinds, ranging from one-to-one situations to large meetings.
  • Electronic and manual notetakers work mainly in education and work settings.
  • Speech-to-text reporters generally work at meetings and conferences.
  • Deafblind communicator guides work in domestic settings and in the local community helping with daily tasks, such as shopping.
  • Deafblind manual interpreters work in more formal situations, such as hospital appointments.

The work often involves travel to different locations, so a driving licence is useful.

Most LSP's are self-employed, charging by the day or half-day. Rates vary from around £15 to £35 an hour.

Typical starting salary could be around £20,000 a year. With more experience, around £25,000 to £35,000 is possible. The most experienced BSL/English interpreters can earn over £45,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The number of people working in this field is small, and there is a shortage of qualified staff in all the specialist roles described. There are around 690 registered BSL/English interpreters in the UK and probably fewer than 500 other LSP's

Self-employment is very common, particularly for BSL/English interpreters, speech-to-text reporters and lipspeakers. Notetakers may be self-employed or may be directly employed by educational institutions. Deafblind communicator guides and interpreters may be employed by deafblind organisations or local authorities.

Jobs may be advertised in magazines, such as One in Seven and on the websites of organisations such as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

Education and Training

Many people start by learning BSL part time. Courses are available around the UK. The Signature (previously known as the Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People or CACDP) website has details.

There are two different ways to train as a BSL/English interpreter:

Completing NVQ's in BSL at Levels 3 and 4 and NVQ Level 4 in interpreting (BSL/English), usually while working with deaf people on a paid or voluntary basis.

Taking a university course meeting approved standards; courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level in BSL/English interpreting or deaf studies are offered at a small number of universities.

The minimum academic entry requirements for degree courses are five GCSE's (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent. For postgraduate courses, entry is with a first degree. As entry requirements to courses are likely to vary, candidates are advised to check with individual institutions.

For entry to training as a BSL/English interpreter, some institutions require Signature BSL qualifications.

The Association of Sign Language Interpreters (ASLI) website gives details of courses. Applicants should contact the university or college direct to find out the exact entry requirements. Those without the usual academic qualifications can take an Access course.

Electronic and manual notetakers train through courses, usually part time, at colleges and universities. The Signature website has details of courses.

Speech-to-text reporters often start as verbatim reporters covering court, parliamentary and formal proceedings. They take further Signature-approved training to work as speech-to-text reporters.

Lipspeakers' training involves part-time courses and practical experience. Further information is available from Signature and the Association of Lipspeakers.

The Cued Speech Association UK offers a range of courses for cued speech transliterators. Details are on its website.

Deafblind communicator guides are trained through deafblind organisations, such as Sense or Deafblind UK. Deafblind manual interpreters take a training course covering the deafblind manual alphabet and professional standards. Information on courses is on the Deafblind UK website.

For all types of language service roles, an understanding of the deaf community is important. This can be through social contact with deaf people or through voluntary work.

The Diploma in society, health and development may be relevant for this area of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Signature holds professional registers for BSL/English interpreters, speech-to-text reporters, lipspeakers, deafblind manual interpreters and electronic notetakers. Information on the qualifications required for registration is on its website.

ASLI offers courses to its members so that they can develop their professional skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Language service professionals's need:

  • An understanding of the needs of deaf people.
  • Excellent spoken and written English and/or BSL.
  • Tact and discretion.
  • Respect for confidentiality.
  • Punctuality and reliability.
  • For lipspeakers and cued speech transliterators, exceptionally clear lip movements and good hearing.
  • For speech-to-text reporters, word-for-word reporting skills.
  • For electronic notetakers and speech-to-text reporters, keyboard skills.
  • For manual notetakers, neat handwriting.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are opportunities to move into training or managing LSP's

Some may also work with hearing-impaired people, or teaching lipspeaking or BSL.

Get Further Information

Association of Lipspeakers (ALS),
5 Furlong Close, Upper Tean,
Stoke-on-Trent ST10 4LB
Tel: 01538 722482

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

Association of Verbatim Speech-to-Text Reporters

Cued Speech Association UK,
9 Jawbone Hill, Dartmouth TQ6 9RW
Tel: 01803 832784

Deaf 24/7

Deaf Club

Deafblind UK, National Centre for Deafblindness,
John and Lucille van Geest Place, Cygnet Road,
Hampton, Peterborough PE7 8FD
Tel: 01733 358100

Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID)
19-23 Featherstone Street, London EC1Y 8SL
Tel: 020 7296 8000

101 Pentonville Road,
London N1 9LG
Tel: 0845 127 0060

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

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