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What is American Sign Language?
American Sign Language is a system of communication taught in the United States to allow hearing impaired and mute individuals to communicate. The language has its own grammatical rules and vocabulary, and shares little in common with the English language.
As such, courses are necessary to properly understand, learn and utilize the language. American Sign Language uses a large number of gestures and movements to communicate words and ideas, requiring an excellent memory and good motor skill.
What Colleges offer ASL Interpreting Degrees?
There are a number of accredited colleges and universities across the country that offer sign language degrees and certificates of completion. From community colleges near you to state universities, ASL interpreting degrees are available from a variety of higher education institutions.
To find the best ASL program for you, start with creating a priority list of your career objectives and educational goals. Our nationally acclaimed reference guide, The Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process, contains a number of resources to help you better understand what is best for you. After you determine what your priorities and objectives are, you will then create a short-list of quality colleges and universities to research further.
As a portal for nearly 8,000 colleges and universities, MatchCollege makes this process easier than ever to simply request information from top schools given your goals and personal priorities. Simply research the schools below or utilize our proprietary matching system here to get matched to the best college for you in sign language.
Educational Requirements in ASL
The study of American Sign Language can be accomplished through short certificate programs, or longer associate and bachelor degree programs. Graduate degrees are also available with more intensive study in language development and culture.
Individuals studying American Sign Language will learn the various rules, structures, grammar and syntax necessary to convey ideas and communicate with others. Individuals pursuing higher level degrees may obtain research or teaching positions.
As American Sign Language is used by a community of individuals who are unable to hear, individuals of normal hearing will be immersed in the culture and environment that has allowed for the development of the language.
Classes in a Sign Language Degree Program
The scope of classes involved in earning a college degree in sign language will depend greatly on the program selected. For example, a bachelor’s degree in sign language will require students to take a number of general education courses such as philosophy, math, English, and psychology often not found in certificate programs.
The core curriculum of a sign language degree will typically include the following types of classes:
- Introduction to American Sign Language
- Sign Language Practicum
- Sign Language: Fingerspelling
- ASL Linguistics
- Communication Disorders
- Perspectives on Deaf Culture
- Math in Deaf Culture
- ASL Literature
- Deaf People and Community Resources
- Case Studies in ASL
- Deaf Literature
- Basics of Interpreting
- Psychology of Deafness
- Language Structure of ASL
- Comparative Linguistics
- Sign to Voice Interpretation
Top Sign Language Degrees
The length of time it takes to earn an academic credential from an accredited college or university depends on the path you decide to take. In other words, your choice of program will dictate how long you are in school working on your degree or certificate of specialization.
For example, an online certificate in ASL may last 8-12 weeks whereas an associate degree will take 2-years to complete and a bachelor degree in sign language will be a four-year program. Each degree type will have pros and cons that need to be weighed against your priority list in order to make the best decision possible for your career after school.
Online Sign Language Degree
Online learning or distance learning is the fastest growing segment within higher education today. With the benefits of learning independently plus schedule flexibility not found in college programs a generation ago, online college degree programs are expected to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming decade.
An online sign language degree can be obtained from an accredited college or university. Simply locate the best college for you by using our online degree matching tool and get information from schools with a few clicks. Online learning programs can either be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous programs require all students in a class to be online at the same time covering the same material concurrently.
On the other hand, asynchronous learning modalities do not require students to be present at the same time in a more self-directed learning ecosystem. Make sure you ask which type of program is available so you can make the best decision for your schedule and learning style.
Certificate in Sign Language
A certificate in sign language is designed to provide students with the essentials of ASL. This means a hyper-focus on sign language with little to no time spent on interpreting or related programs in the field of sign language.
Certificate programs can be 8-12 week programs allowing students to gain proficiency in ASL while working. Whether you are looking to upskill in sign language or enhance your learning in sign language, a certificate of specialization may be worth researching further.
Associate Degree in Sign Language
The associate degree in sign language is a more complete program than a certificate as they require students to take liberal arts classes along with core curriculum courses in sign language. Liberal arts courses like psychology, math, and sociology require students to think differently about the world around them shown to help enhance overall student learning.
Students in an associate program will be exposed to ASL hand-gestures and finger spelling coupled with deaf culture and linguistics. Associate degree programs are typically two-year programs for full-time students. Certificates of specialization in interpreting are available in some degree tracks which can help improve your resume and ability to assist others in the workplace.
Bachelor Degree in Sign Language
Students looking for a well-rounded education in sign language and interpreting may consider a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Sign Language or Sign Language Interpreting. The mix of classroom lectures, seminars, case studies, and practicum courses provide students with a blend of theoretical and practical knowledge.
Many students elect to add a foreign language as a minor degree to this bachelor degree track to help interpret ASL to English or a native language for the benefit of those in the home or in the workplace. The BA or BS programs in Sign Language are 4-year programs replete with general education classes and rigorous core curriculum in sign language studies.
Employment Opportunities in Sign Language
Careers with a degree in American Sign Language typically involve either educational opportunities or translation. Educational opportunities include establishing local classes to assist in the teaching of basic American Sign Language to collegiate level instruction. The growing interest in the development and usage of American Sign Language has lead to an increased desire for individuals to learn the language, thus teaching opportunities are available.
The more common career in translation may involve additional education or certification as a translator. The necessity for translators in American Sign Language has increased as technology has made it easier for translation across long distances to become possible. Individuals interested in a career as a translator should complete courses relating to the practice of translation due to the need of professionalism when conducting such translations.
Where Do ASL Graduates Work?
Students specializing in sign language, as a major or minor degree in college, will find a variety of employment opportunities in different sectors across the workplace. Examples of common work settings for a sign language specialist include:
- Referral Agencies
- School Districts
- Private Counseling Offices
- Public Corporations
- State-based Social Work Agencies
- Mental Health Care Facilities
- Video-Relay Providers
- Private Corporations
- Non-Profit Organizations
Sign Language Career Outlook
An American Sign Language Educator will receive between $53,000 and $77,000 per year, depending on location, position and experience. Educators will work with the hearing impaired and individuals of normal hearing as part of their regular courses.
Alternatively, an American Sign Language Translator will receive between $41,000 and $52,000 per year, based on qualifications and experience. Translators are typically in high demand, particularly those individuals who may translate from and to American Sign Language as there are not many professionals in the field.
Resources for Sign Language Students
Individuals interested in American Sign Language may also be interested linguistics of American Sign Language, American Sign Language translation, or linguistics. The NAD and the ASLTA provide members unique resources and tools to advance their respective careers in the industry.