British Sign Language/English interpreter
Literary & Communicators

British Sign Language (BSL)/English Interpreters help users of BSL to communicate with users of spoken English. They use British Sign Language (BSL) which is an officially recognised language using hand movement, shapes and facial expressions to convey meaning between people. They work in a wide range of situations where sign language is required.

Work Activities

British Sign Language (BSL)/English Interpreters are required to prepare thoroughly before a meeting where they will be interpreting between a deaf and a hearing person. This could involve reading up on material in preparation for a meeting. They may need to pay special attention and familiarise themselves with any specialist vocabulary which may be used during the meeting. They will also need to ensure that the venue in which they will be working will be suitable for good communication. This will need to take into account the sound and lighting within that particular space. They also need to consider the best position to situate themselves.

Typical job responsibilities include:

  • Advanced reading of documentation to ensure that you are prepared for any specialist vocabulary which you may need to interpret
  • Preparing thoroughly in advance of meetings and assignments
  • Ensuring that the room or space is appropriate for the task of effective signing
  • Listening carefully to or watching what is said or signed
  • Interpreting what is being said or signed
  • Finding the best way to express everything that is said or signed

BSL interpreters work in a variety of settings which could include colleges, universities, offices, companies, hospitals or doctors' surgeries. This could be determined by the nature of the meeting or appointment which is taking place.

BSL/English Interpreters normally work a standard 37 hour week. Hours can be flexible and there could be some early starts, late finishes and weekends depending on the requirements of the job. Most work on a self- employed or freelance basis and they find work through contacts or agencies.

Career progression can be somewhat limited although you could move into teaching and assessing other trainee BSL/English Interpreter Signers. You could also sign at Theatre or Television performances or carry out research into new and different ways of working.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for British Sign Language/English Interpreters

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Accurate and fast BSL skills
  • An understanding of the needs of a deaf person
  • To be tactful and discreet
  • To respect confidentiality as you may be interpreting on personal and sensitive matters
  • Good teamworking skills
  • Confident when speaking in public
  • The ability to remain neutral and objective
  • The ability to concentrate intently and to think quickly
  • Excellent spoken and written English
  • The ability to develop strong relationships

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of British Sign Language/English Interpreters

BSL/English Interpreters work in a variety of settings including:

  • Legal - including meetings with solicitors and court sessions
  • Education – including working in classrooms and lecture theatres in colleges etc.
  • Health and Social Services e.g. doctors' surgeries and hospitals
  • Theatre, Arts and Television
  • Employment and business – including meetings, job interviews and training sessions
  • Leisure and cultural events


Qualifications and training required

The training of BSL/English Interpreters is regulated by the National Registers of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People (NRCPD). There are two ways of becoming qualified. You may register as a Trainee Sign Language Interpreter (TSLI) or a Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI).

To qualify as a TSLI you must be undertaking an approved development plan or an approved interpreting training course that leads to registered status. This route requires supervision and mentoring by a RSLI and you will also be required to meet other standards which you can find on the NRCPD website.

To qualify and register as a RSLI, you will need to demonstrate a high level of ability in BSL and English. You can find details of the qualifications approved on the NRCPD website. You will be required to achieve qualifications in interpreting and BSL that are approved by this organisation.

To become a Registered Sign Language Interpreter, you must meet the National Occupational Standards in Interpreting, which include professional conduct. You will need to achieve a postgraduate qualification in interpreting that is recognised by the NRCPD. Recognised qualifications include the Signature Level 6 NVQ Diploma in Sign Language Interpreting. You will also need a recognised qualification in British Sign Language, at level 6 or honours degree level. For a full list of qualifications please see the NRCPD website.

In Scotland Heriot-Watt University currently offers a degree in British Sign Language. Entry to this requires 4 Highers. For those interested in combining signing with performance the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland offers a degree course which is unique within Europe.

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