While they may seem similar to an unpracticed eye, American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English are completely different in their word order. ASL is a conceptual language and often is a Deaf person’s native language. This is why using a pen and paper to write notes back and forth is often frustrating and confusing.
There is a lot more to sign language interpreting than just signing; success is determined by the overall experiential value that is provided to the hearing impaired person. Preparation, therefore, is the key to a successful interpreting experience.
Here is a quick ASL interpreting preparation guide we’ve developed after many years of providing interpreting services to the hearing impaired:


  • Are you confident that the hearing impaired-client needs an American Sign Language interpreter? Perhaps they communicate in another signed language? (ASL is not universal). A Deaf person from another country who is just learning ASL is a perfect example as to when a CDI might be used.
  • Any questions you have for the interpreter should be asked prior to the session. It is best not to engage the interpreter in conversation while they are actively interpreting.
  • Ask for the interpreter’s input as to the best location for the interpreter in relation to the other parties involved in the communication.
  • The ASL interpreter is there solely to interpret. They are not there to assist in any other way.
  • Interpreting assignments one hour or longer in length may require the use of a team of two interpreters. Teaming will prevent mental fatigue which can cause affect the quality of the interpreting. In certain instances, teaming might consist of one hearing interpreter and one Deaf interpreter. Deaf interpreters (also known as CDI’s) are sometimes used to achieve a level of cultural and linguistic bridging that is often not possible when hearing ASL interpreters work alone.


  • RELAX. Speak in a natural speed and tone of voice. This process works best if you speak directly to the Deaf client; maintain eye contact as much as possible.
  • BE PATIENT. There is a time lag between a speaker and the interpretation. As a result, questions and responses from the Deaf client may be slightly delayed.


  • CONFIRMATION. Ask the Deaf client if they are satisfied with the session and if they have any additional questions that require clarification on any topic.

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