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American Sign Language

American Sign Language Studies &

Interpreter Education

Frequently Asked Questions




How do I know if ASL is for me?

Where do I begin to learn ASL?

How long does it take to learn ASL?

Who are ASL teachers?

How do I get started?


How does one become an interpreter?

What DOES it take to become an interpreter?

What certifications or screenings will this program help prepare me for?

How do I know which ASL classes to take?

I've taken classes at another college/university. Will my credits from there be accepted at TCC??

How long will it take to learn American Sign Language?

How long does it usually take to complete the Interpreting Degree?

How long does it usually take to become a Certified Interpreter?

What kind of salary can I expect as a Certified Interpreter?

What other career options are there for ASL grads?

What courses do I take when?

How time-consuming are the studies?

What if I just want to do this "on the side?"

How much will the program cost?

Can I afford college?

How do I get started?

When do I get started?

How do I get into the Degree Program?

How do I know which Books/Materials to buy?

What can I do to understand all this "college stuff" better?

Is there a phone number I can call someone?

I have an unrelated question - not about taking ASL classes or the Interpreter Degree Program - but related to Deaf Education, Deaf Community or finding ASL-English Interpreters. Who can I contact?


I have an unrelated question - not about taking ASL classes or the Interpreter Degree Program - but related to Deaf Education, Deaf Community or finding ASL-English Interpreters. Who can I contact?


First, check out our "Other FAQs" page and if you still have any questions, don't hesitate to contact Star Grieser and ask!


Where do I begin to learn ASL?


The Career Studies Certificate in American Sign Language prepares you to have one-on-one dialogs with Deaf friends, families, students, collegues, etc. You will learn ASL, culture of Deaf people, and,,,,,,

If you have learned some ASL from other schools or from using it with Deaf family and friends, email the program chair to discuss the best place for you to begin.

If you plan to purse becoming an sign language interpreter, this is the place for you to start.


How long does it take to learn ASL?


The TCC program is designed to at least make you comfortable over the course of four ASL courses, but research shows that becoming truly fluent takes five to seven years of intense commitment.Of course, that varies for different individuals.


How does one become an sign language interpreter?


Simply knowing conversational ASL is not enough. Interpreting is different than simply conversing with a Deaf person. Interpreting means working between two very different languages, in two different modalities, mediating two very different cultures, and then in a variety of possible (and sometimes unpredictable) settings. If you are interpreting, you cannot control the direction of the conversation, as you can if you are simply having the conversation yourself. You cannot control the rate; you cannot control what people are talking about; you cannot control the vocabulary and grammer; etc. Interpreting is a highly cognitive demanding task! See the attached for a list of qualities of an interpreter.

As stated above, interpreting means working between two different languages. Thus, along with being ready for the fifth semester of ASL (ASL261), you must also be fluent in English to be admitted to the AAS Degree in ASL-English Interpretation. You will be asked to prove you are ready for placement into at least ENG 111 (College Composition).


What does it take to become an interpreter?


Once you are proficient in both English and ASL, you may be admitted into the AAS Degree in ASL-English Interpretation program. The program prepares you for entry-level positions, and to take the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening (VQAS) and the written portion of some national certifying exams.  Employability and wages are determined, in part, by the results of your state and national exams.


What certifications or screenings will this program help prepare me for?


There are several screenings and certifications for which this program will help prepare you.

First, the Virginia Quality Assurance Screening, offered by the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, has both a written and performance test that anyone can sign up for and take. Our program offers courses such as INT 130 - Introduction to Interpreting as a Profession, which is focused on the Interpreter Code of Professional Conduct that will help prepare you for the written portion of the test, and face-to-face such as INT 133, 134, 233 and 234, ASL-to-English and English-to-ASL Interpretation that will help prepare you for the performance exam.

The Educational Interpreter's Proficiency Assessment, developed and administered by the Boys Town National Research Hospital, is certication that is geared more towards K-12, Educational Interpreter. Several of our classes, including ASL 125 - History and Cultural of the American Deaf Community, ASL 220 - Comparatived Linguistics of ASL and English, for which INT 235 - Interpreting in the Educational Setting, will help you.

The Registry of Intepreters for the Deaf offers a National Interpreter Certification examination. Beginning in 2012, all test-takers must have a bachelor's degree or equivalent to register for the written portion of this test. While the 2-year AAS degree in ASL-English Interpretation, per se, will not qualify you to register for the RID NIC written exam, the information and skills taught in our courses will help you for the written and performance test when you do receive your bachelor's degree (or equivalent).

Of course, while we will help prepare you for both entry level interpreting and help prepare you to take these tests but it is entirely on you as to whether you pass or not. Factors affecting test scores include: time devoted to studying both in class and studying testing materials; time devoted to practicing for the performance portion; test anxiety levels; physical/emotional state on day of exam; and so on. To put this in perspective, one can also go through law school and graduate with a J.D. degree, but then not pass the Bar Exam to legally practice law in a given state.


How do I know if ASL is for me?


Take first course : ASL 101 stay on the course throughout the semester, you will find out if you enjoy taking the class.

  • Keep in mind that language learning is primarily an interactive and social process. If you enjoy meeting and chatting with new people, chances are you'll enjoy ASL 101.
  • Also, learning language is not just about learning vocabulary. You will also be learning grammatical structures in ASL that are very different from English, and you will be learning about the culture of Deaf people whose native language is ASL, as well.
  • While most students who take ASL 101 and 102 report enjoying it and learning tremendously from our courses, there are those rare students who are staunch “auditory learners” – those who have a very difficult time processing visual information. ASL, is a visual - and never an auditory - language. ASL classes will teach you an entirely different way of perceiving languages, communication, culture and the world around you!


Who are ASL teachers?


Our American Sign Language teachers are Native ASL Users, Deaf adults and highly fluent instructors who are trained and certified in teaching American Sign Language as a second language. All ASL courses are taught using ASL and in an ASL-only immersion format.

Our Interpreter Education instructors are nationally certified experts who work full-time in the field, keeping up to date with current standards and practices. Each teaches one or two classes at TCC per semester.


How do I get started?


You get started by working towards higher education, self-improvement, career enhancement, or broadening one’s worldly knowledge and then go and take some classes here at Tidewater Community College. Be it ASL or Interpreter Education or other classes, the technical process is pretty straight forward:

Apply for admission to TCC.

  • You may want to see a general counselor for advice on your degree program or what your general education courses are needed. For information or advice on ASL or INT, Star Grieser, the program chair for the ASL studies and Interpreter Education programs at TCC can help you.
  • You will invited to take a freshman orientation (FOCUS – Freshman Orientation Centered Upon Success) and will be required to take placement testing if this is the first time you’re taking any college classes.
  • You will need to do well in your courses so you can continue taking more courses! For first time students, we strongly urge you to take College Success Skills (SDV 100) in your first semester.


How do I know which ASL classes to take?


Take ASL 101 if:

  • You’re starting at square one – you have no prior experience with ASL or no knowledge of any sign language.
  • You know a little fingerspelling and a few signs.
    • Maybe you learned from a friend or a family member. Often, in more casual environments without any academic structure, grammatical and culture aspects of learning ASL are overlooked.
    • Our ASL classes teach vocabulary as well as grammar and emphasize cultural knowledge of the American Deaf Community whose primary language is ASL.
  • You took ASL I or II before, but you took classes several years ago and have forgotten most or all of what you’ve learned.
    • Second language learning  – any language – is a “use it or lose it” deal. If you haven’t used ASL for a while, you probably have forgotten most of it. It would be good to take a refresher.
  • You learned and have used other systems of signing such as Signed English, the Rochester Method, Cued Speech, homemade signs and now want to learn ASL.
    • ASL is a linguistically complex language that has a grammatical structure entirely independent from English and is vastly different than any English based sign system or code that relies on the English grammatical structure. Take ASL 101 and let’s get you started off right!

Take a more advanced ASL class if:

  • You’ve taken ASL classes recently at the high school level and you wish to continue. You may sign up for the same level as the last level you completed in high school.
    • For example, if you finished ASL II in high school, you may take ASL II here at TCC.
  • You use ASL often with friends or family members and have picked up some vocabulary and grammar. You feel you’re too advanced for ASL I but you want some formal instruction.
  • You’ve had ASL classes in the past with any community college in Virginia and have maintained your signing skills and feel confident about taking the next level.
  • You’ve had ASL classes in a different state and the credits have successfully transferred to TCC.
    • Make an appointment with the program chair for program advisement. Contact Star Grieser at or call 757-214-6157.


I've taken classes at another college/university.
Will my credits from there be accepted at TCC?


  • For the most part, yes, if your other school was accredited.
  • If you have a bachelor's degree, you will probably only have to take Major-Related courses here. You have probably completed all your general education requirements. Bring your unofficial transcript to a counselor to make sure.


How long will it take to learn American Sign Language?


First of all, learning a language requires life-long learning - it never ends!


Attaining relative proficiency depends on several factors:

  • Your knowledge, understanding, and proficiency in your native language. For most students, English is their native langauge. Your commitment to your own language shows your capacity for learning a second language. this is why is important that you are proficient in English before entering the Interpreter Education Program.
  • Your commitment to getting out and interacting with the Deaf Community and meeting ASL users to naturally acquire the language as opposed to learning it in a classroom only. It's how the adult brain works. Your classroom experiences can only lay a foundation, but they cannot replace true acquisition.
  • The time and energy devoted to learning ASL. You undoubtedly have a busy life: job, family, etc. How much of a priority will you make toward learning your new language?
  • Your cognitive capacity for learning a language.
  • Your coordination or dexterity for learning a manual language.
  • Your flexibility! ASL and English are so vastly different linguistically. The in grammatical structure and modality are the two biggest differences, but there are many characteristics of ASL that do not exist in English, and many characteristics of English that do not exist in ASL. Those who find it difficult "let go" of what they've learned about English and understand that any new language will have a very different word order and grammatical system than English would find it most difficult to learn ANY second language.

At TCC, we expect you to gain relative proficiency in four ASL courses before you enter the Interpreter Education Program, where you will continue to take more ASL courses before learning to interpret between the two languages.


How long does it usually take to complete the Interpreting Degree?


  • The A.A.S. degree program is set-up for working adult, parttime learners. Face-to-face classes are offered in the evenings and some of the courses are offered online for ease and convenience.
  • General Education classes can be taken during the summer time. Provided that all general education classes are taken and passed in a timely manner and you able to take each face-to-face and online ASL and INT course as they are avialable and pass each one with a C or better, you can finish the AAS degree program within 2 and half years.
  • However, IF you are starting from square one at ASL I with no prior knowledge or experience of ASL, then factor in an extra year to a year-and-a-half of ASL I through IV courses  for basic second langauge acquistion and then beginning ASL V in the first sememster of the INT degree program.
  • If you are taking ASL courses for the CSC and know that you want to pursue the Interpreter Education degree, then go ahead and take the following courses as you can:
    • INT 130 - Introduction to Interpreting as a Profession (no prerequisite for this). Then after INT 130 has been successfully completed, take INT 235 - Interpreting in the Educational Setting and INT 236 - Interpreting in Special Settings, as they become available.
    • ASL 220 - Comparative Linquistics of ASL and English - Prerequisite: ASL 201 (ASL III).
    • Take as many general education courses as you can, especially during summer semesters.


How long will it take to become a Certified Interpreter?


  • We hope you will have the skills to pass the national certifying exam when you graduate with the AAS Degree in ASL-English Interpretation.  HOWEVER, we cannot make any guarantees. Think of this analogy: You could graduate from Harvard Law School and not pass the Bar Exam.
  • People used to say 'between 5 and 7 years' - but that was before we had such great opportunities to acquire skills in an academic setting like TCC. We are hoping you'll be certified much sooner!
  • In the meantime, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a diagnostic exam which will help you determine your skill level and tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are (it's called the VQAS, for short).
  • You can earn a living prior to becoming nationally certified by earning a 'level' on the VQAS screening.


Can I earn a living by interpreting?


YES! And then some!

  • Gaining the skills to do the job takes time and commitment. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's not easy. Therefore, the few people who DO get good at it are in HIGH demand, and can charge comfortable living wages.
  • Pay is typically contingent upon your level of skill.
    • Local school districts pay approximately $19,000 for VQAS 0
    • Nationally Certified interpreters can earn up to
      • $37,000 annually in K-12 (with full benefits)
      • 50,000+ in private practice (with no benefits)

For further information, take INT130 online. It will provide you with the opportunity to explore the field of interpreting. It has no prerequisites, so you can take it any time it is offered.

You can also try this website - it has GREAT information regarding careers and the field of Interpretation: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf:


What courses do I take to become an ASL interpreter?


An academic advisor can provide you with official 'Curriculum Guide Sheets' which lay out the sequence of courses for both the Career Studies Certificate and the AAS Degree.  Attached is an UNOFFICIAL course sequence.  Here are some general guidelines:

  • Career Studies Certificate in American Sign Language - CS: ASL (096)
    • College Success Skills: Oonly 1 semester hour which can be taken on any campus at varying times - many meet only once or twice. Some are designed especially for women returning to college after being out of school for many years. See your college counselor for details.)
    • One to two courses per semester
    • Optional: If you plan on continuiing on for the degree, you can start taking your general education requirements, which would give you a third course each semester while you are working on the Career Studies in ASL)
  • Associate of Applied Science Degree in ASL-English Interpretation - AAS Degree (640)
    • 18 semester hours of general education courses (6 classes)
      • Take them whenever you can squeeze them in. Priorities:
        • English - to make you a better student interpreter
        • Math - to make sure you can graduate
      • You ought to start taking general education courses BEFORE being admitted to the AAS Degree program.
      • Completing ENG111 BEFORE you apply to the program increases your chances of getting in!
    • 47 semester hours in major-related courses
      • 3 courses per semester each fall and spring (on campus two nights per week for 3 to 4 1/2 hours, depending upon when online courses are offered)
      • 2 courses each summer
      • Finish major-related coursework in 2 1/2 years
      • Your major-related courses are your priority! If 'something has to give,' then let go of a general education course - you can take it any time, any place. On the other hand, your major-courses are only offered once a year and are in a strict sequence! Falling out of sequence can put you back an entire year, so stick with it.


How much time is this going to take me?


  • The rule of thumb is: for every 1 hour IN class, you need 2 hours OUTSIDE of class to do homework, attend Deaf Community events, observe professional interpreters, and complete projects. That's 12 hours, for a total of 18 hours per week. We are talking about ACTIVE learning!
  • The Career Studies Certificate in ASL can be done in an aggressive, 1-year format; or a not-so-aggressive, 2-year format.
  • The AAS: ASL-English Interpretation




    • The fastest you can complete the degree is two-and-a-half years, regardless of whether you are fulltime or partime:
      • You will take 3 major-related courses each fall and spring;
      • Successful completion of each is required before continuiing on to the next.  Courses are carefully sequenced, and only offered once a year, so falling out of the sequence can cause you to wait another year before you can get the courses you need.  So plan to work hard and stay in sequence!
    • Fulltime students can finish general education requirements during the regular fall and spring semesters as well.
    • Part-time students:  ASL and INT courses are not offered over the summer, so this is your opportunity to take your general education courses - 2 per summer.
    • All students can get a head start by taking these courses before they begin the degree program
      • Any or all of their six (6) general education courses (especially ENG111)
      • ASL220 (if you have already finished ASL3, you can take this indepth comparison of English and ASL course; online)
      • INT130 (there is no prerequisite, so you can take this any time - it is a description of the profession and ethics of interpreting; online).
What other requirements (e.g. outside of class) are there for ASL and INT classes?


ASL and INT Program-Specific Grade Requirements:

  • As you progress through your ASL I through VI classes and your INT classes, keep in mind you must have a grade of “C” or better in all program classes (ASL and INT) to advance to the next course in the succession.
  • Graduation from the program requires successful completion of all ASL and INT credits (“C” or better) as well as successful completion of all general education requirements. These hours are expected to be completed on one’s own time, outside of class.

American Sign Language Classes:

  • As a matter of program policy, as well best practices in learning American Sign Language as a second language, all ASL classes require observation and interaction at local events hosted by and involving the Deaf community throughout the semester.
  • This means having to socialize with the native users of ASL on some evenings and weekends. The requirements could be as few as 6 hours or as many as 12 hours. The requirements vary by instructor. These hours are expected to be completed on one’s own time, outside of class.

Interpreting Classes:

  • Also, some interpreting classes require observation and mentor with local professional interpreters as part of their individual course requirements.
  • Some interpreter observations may take place in public settings, in professional arenas or possibly in private meetings. Students are expected to conduct themselves maturely and professionally and adhere to the Interpreter Professional Code of Conduct in all instances.
  • The hours will vary according to each instructor and may be as few as ten hours (observation) or 150 hours (internship). These hours are expected to be completed on one’s own time, outside of class.


I just want to do this 'on the side.' What are my options?


This is a VERY consuming field. Some say interpreting is a 'lifestyle choice'. It is typically not done 'on the side.'

Learning to interpret is even more consuming than doing interpreting. Most professional interpreter educators believe that learning to interpret cannot be done on a part-time basis at all. TCC's program is aggressive, but it is still considered part-time.

  • You MUST adhere to the sequence of courses due to their skill-building nature.


Can I afford college?


Of course you can!

  • Check with the Financial Aid Office on any of the four campuses to explore federal and state grants and loans.
  • Check with the Women's Center on any campus to see if they have any assistance for those in financial need, such as single parents or women returning to college.
  • Ask your employer!
    • Corporations and government entities often support education for their employees.
    • If you are already interpreting in the schools, your district can most likely reimburse your tuition. Just ask your interpreter specialist!
  • The ASL Studies and Interpreter Education Program is constantly searching for grant opportunities to give students assistance. If you are taking upper level ASL courses (ASL III and IV) with the intention of entering the INT program, or are in the INT program, contact the program chair and ask if any grant money is available for tuition assistance or textbooks.

Remember, a community college offers the most reasonably-priced education you can get anywhere!

See the Tuition and Fees chart at . Most of our ASL and INT courses are 3 credits each, with some being two credits, and the internship being 5 credits. This chart should help you plan for the costs related to taking our classes.

Also, don’t forget to factor in books and supplies. You can visit to see our bookstore’s textbook prices.


When do I get started?


  • Any semester - for the Career Studies Certificate in American Sign Language.
  • Fall semester - for the AAS Degree in ASL-English Interpretation.


How do I get into the Degree Program?


You may enter the ASL-English Interpreter Education Program, you must have successful completion of the ASL Career Studies Certificate AND have placed into English 111.

If you are already proficient in American Sign Language, then you may take the ASL-English Interpreter Education Placement Test. Contact the program chair to make arrangements for the that test.


How do I purchase textbooks?


There are several options for purchasing or renting your textbooks.

  • You may go to the TCC Bookstore located at the Barnes and Noble in the MacArthur Mall in downtown Norfolk and purchase your textbooks directly from there.
  • If you prefer alternatives to purchasing your textbooks at Barnes and Noble, you may figure out what textbooks are needed for the class (either through the website provided or by emailing your instructor) and ordering it directly from the publishers or check out websites such as for textbook rental, craigslist or eBay for cheaper prices. (I’m not endorsing any one site; I’m just giving you some ideas for alternatives to TCC’s bookstore).



Is there a phone number I can call?


Yes you may reach this number, 757-214-6157.

The program chair is Deaf. When you dial the number, expect to be connected to a video relay operator, a specially trained ASL-English interpreter who will interpret our call between your telephone and my videophone.


What technology will I need or use?


Before making any major purchases, it’s best to ask the instructor what specific technology you’ll need for your ASL or INT courses, as each class and each instructor is different.

However, generally:

  • The textbooks that you use for the ASL and INT courses often have a DVD or CD that go along with them, thus you’ll need a computer or access to a computer with a DVD or CD drive.
  • Some classes will require you to videotape or audiotape yourself for homework, thus you may need either a computer with a webcam or a videocamera/digital voice recorder for some of your classes. Many stores still inexpensive digital videocameras (we love our FlipCams!) or many students are successfully able to use their smartphones to videorecord homework assignments.
  • At the beginning of the semester, your insturctor may require you to sign up for a video hosting website, such as YouTube, to submit your video homework assignments. Of course, you will have control over all privacy options and your instructors will to everything they can to insure your privacy.
  • If you need to use the ASL Lab for the videocamera’s or ASL homework, the ASL Lab is located at the Chesapeake campus, in building CT-1, room 315A. Contact Star Grieser for more information about the lab.

I have an unrelated question - not about taking ASL classes or the Interpreter Degree Program - but related to Deaf Education, Deaf Community or finding ASL-English Interpreters. Who can I contact?