Sign Language Interpreter Training, Testing, and Accreditation: An International Comparison

By Napier, Jemina | American Annals of the Deaf, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Sign Language Interpreter Training, Testing, and Accreditation: An International Comparison


Napier, Jemina, American Annals of the Deaf


THE ARTICLE EXPLORES sign language interpreter training, testing, and accreditation in three major English-speaking countries, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, by providing an overview of the training and assessment of sign language interpreters in each country. The article highlights the reasons these countries can be considered leaders in the profession and compares similarities and differences among them. Key similarities include the provision of university interpreter training, approval for training courses, license "maintenance" systems, and educational interpreting guidelines. Differences are noted in relation to training pre-requisites, types and levels of accreditation, administration of the testing system, and accreditation of deaf interpreters. The article concludes with predictions about future developments related to the establishment of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters and the development of sign language interpreting research as a research discipline.

The present article provides a discussion of sign language interpreter training and accreditation, and reviews the past and present situations in interpreter preparation by comparing three major English-speaking countries: Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Specifically, the Australian system is contrasted with the procedure for training and assessing sign language interpreters in the United Kingdom and the United States. Doing so makes it possible to place the development of the sign language interpreting profession within a historical context, and to make predictions for the future of the profession. I also discuss the establishment of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) and the burgeoning of sign language interpreting as a research discipline, and how these two developments have an international impact on training and accreditation and the status of sign language interpreting.

The present article is an updated version of a 1999 presentation in which I outlined the training and testing system for Australian Sign Language (Auslan) / English interpreters, compared it with the British and American systems, and identified significant gaps in the training of Auslan interpreters.

At the time of the presentation, the United Kingdom and the United States were regarded as leaders in the training and assessment of sign language interpreters, although strengths and weaknesses were present in both countries, as well as in Australia. I made recommendations that more training should be made available to Auslan interpreters, a university course should be established in Australia, and a continuing "license refresher" system should be implemented (Napier, 1999). Since that presentation, changes have occurred in all three countries, particularly in relation to training provision in Australia, and in relation to accreditation in the United Kingdom and the United States. Therefore, it seems timely to present an overview and comparison of the current situation in each country.

Throughout the present article, the convention is used of referring to interpreters by the signed language they use, with the understanding that Auslan, British Sign Language (BSL), and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters all work between a signed language and spoken English.

The Australian Context

The sign language interpreting profession in Australia is relatively young when compared with its counterparts in the United Kingdom and the United States. The Association of New South Wales Interpreters for the Deaf (ANID) was established in 1989 at the state level (Australia has six states and two territories), and was soon followed by the Australian Sign Language Interpreters' Association, or ASLIA (see http://www.aslia.com. au/), instituted as a national organization in 1991. ANID then changed its name to the Australian Sign Language Interpreters' Association (New South Wales), or ASIJA (NSW); see http://www.

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