Online Degree in Sign Language: Program Options

Developed to help hearing-impaired individuals communicate, sign language is one of the most widely used languages in the United States. This article explores certificate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in sign language, looking at course requirements, licensing regulations and career possibilities.

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Essential Information

Although scarce, online degrees in sign language are available at the bachelor's and master's degree level; certificates in American Sign Language (ASL) are also offered online and are more common. Certificate programs can generally be completed entirely online and teach students the basics of sign language. These programs are a good option for someone who simply wants to become fluent in ASL.

Online bachelor's degree programs also provide sign language instruction to beginners. The majority of the program can be completed online, but students may be required to participate in summer residencies and internships. Many courses in master's degree programs can be taken online, but some on-campus work is required.

Individuals who want to teach the hearing impaired must obtain a teaching license or certification from the state where they wish to teach. This involves meeting education requirements and passing competency exams. Certification for sign language interpreters is available jointly through the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Additional certification may be required to work as an ASL-English interpreter for the U.S. government.


Online Certificate in ASL Program Overview

Online certificate programs in ASL teach students sign language, including the grammar, syntax and idioms that accompany it. Students practice communication skills that allow them to interact with members of the deaf community, including asking questions, describing people and places, discussing events and giving directions. The minimum educational prerequisite for an online certificate program in ASL is a high school diploma or the GED equivalent. Online ASL programs are available at many different colleges and universities across the nation.

Program Information and Requirements

An online certificate program in ASL can be completed in one year. Many ASL certificate programs are hybrid programs; coursework may be completed online, but students may be required to complete in-person requirements. Some programs require a 2-week on-campus residency, during which students are expected to communicate entirely in sign language. To access online courses, students log in to a Web-based application, such as Open University or BlackBoard, where they watch lectures, participate in virtual classrooms, read teacher's notes, communicate with other students and turn in assignments.

This online program requires reliable Internet access and a working computer. Software programs, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Adobe Flash and Acrobat Reader are also necessary. Other tools, such as a webcam or a media player, may also be required.

List of Common Sign Language Courses At the Certificate Level

An online American Sign Language certificate program has no general education requirements. Online ASL courses have regular meeting dates and times, with assignments that must be turned in by specific due dates.

Beginning American Sign Language Course

In this ASL course, students learn basic grammar and vocabulary. Topics include how to discuss people, their names and provide basic information about individuals they see or meet.

Advanced American Sign Language Course

This course is typically part of an on-campus residency; students learn advanced principles and techniques for communicating with members of the deaf community. They learn to describe places, events and tell simple stories.

Workshop in American Sign Language Course

Students taking this course gain practical experience speaking with members of the deaf community, including children. They learn common phrases used between friends and discover where they can acquire more information about the deaf community.

Career Information for Graduates

A certificate program in American Sign Language can lead to a career as a translator or interpreter for individuals who can communicate fluently. A bachelor's degree is typically required to work as an interpreter or translator, but a language major isn't always necessary; a certificate program can prepare bachelor's degree holders for working specifically with the deaf community. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for sign language interpreters will grow rapidly between 2008 and 2018, due to a continued shortage of qualified applicants and increasingly popular video relay services (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for sign language interpreters in 2008 was $38,850, also per the BLS.


Online Bachelor of Arts in American Sign Language-English Interpretation Program Overview

Through an online bachelor's degree program in American Sign Language, students learn to communicate with and interpret on behalf of the deaf community. They study the hand movements used to communicate, as well as grammar, vocabulary and common expressions used in sign language. A bachelor's degree program in ASL-English interpretation requires a high school diploma or GED for enrollment. Online bachelor's degree programs in ASL-English interpretation are not commonly available.

Program Information and Requirements

An online bachelor's degree program in sign language generally takes four years to complete. Such programs are generally asynchronous, and students can complete courses on their own time, although regular assignment due dates may still apply. Students are expected to interact with classmates and professors online to enhance the learning experience.

This program requires that students have a working computer and reliable, high-speed Internet access. Microsoft Office Suite, which includes Word, PowerPoint and Excel, is also required, as is a working DVD player, and a camcorder or webcam.

List of Common Sign Language Courses At the Bachelor's Level

An online bachelor's degree program in ASL-English interpretation includes general education classes, which are completed throughout the program, along with sign language courses.

Linguistics of American Sign Language Course

Students study the grammar, syntax, phonology and semantics of ASL. They also learn the differences between spoken and visual languages.

Advanced American Sign Language Course

Through this class, students become familiar with ASL grammar and the language's parameters. They also study finger spelling and numbers.

Consecutive Interpreting Course

This class introduces students to specific techniques used in interpreting American Sign Language. They develop listening, comprehension, visual and overall communication skills necessary for interpretation careers in this field.

Career Information for Graduates

Upon completion of an online bachelor's degree in ASL-English interpreting, students can pursue careers as translators or interpreters; positions are available at businesses, courts and schools. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roughly 26% of translators and interpreters are self-employed, potentially working part time and relying on supplementary income sources (www.bls.gov). The BLS also notes that most employers require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree for this position.


Online Master of Special Education with a Concentration in Sign Language Program Overview

This online master's degree program is designed for individuals who already know some sign language and want to become nationally certified interpreters. Through such programs, students learn to communicate with members of the deaf community on behalf of others in personal, legal and business situations. Such degree programs are intensive to the arts or to education and focus on developing the communication skills required for effective translation. Applicants must have at least an associate's degree in interpretation or a bachelor's degree in sign language, interpretation or a related program. There are not many online master's degree programs of this kind available.

Program Information and Requirements

An online master's degree program in special education with a sign language concentration takes about two years to complete. Although aspects of every course are available online, some courses are offered in hybrid format, requiring that students spend one weekend per semester on campus. Students may also be required to complete an in-person internship with a business or government system, although this can often be completed locally. Some courses require that students participate in a virtual classroom, where they demonstrate language competency by communicating with other students; other courses allow students to complete coursework at their own pace.

Students must have access to a webcam, as well as reliable high-speed Internet access and a computer. Microsoft Office, Adobe Flash and Acrobat Reader are common software requirements.

List of Common Sign Language Courses At the Master's Level

Students entering this program have already completed general education courses as part of a bachelor's or associate's degree program. Students are also expected to have a background in sign language or interpretation, as well as the ability to work on their own and adhere to assignment due dates.

Cross-Cultural Communication Course

In this course, students learn to communicate with people from other cultures, with specific emphasis on the deaf community. They explore potential miscommunication and discuss general communication problems.

Healthcare Interpreting Course

In this course, students learn specific signs for communicating with members of the deaf community within a health care setting, such as a hospital or doctor's office. Signs for various diseases, illnesses, infections and symptoms are studied.

Conversation in American Sign Language Course

Students taking this practical course have the opportunity to communicate with one another and with members of the deaf community using American Sign Language. They gain practical experience discussing world events, politics, health care news, literature and other topics.

Career Information for Graduates

A master's degree program in special education with a concentration in sign language helps prepare students for careers as sign language instructors or special education teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wages for special education teachers were $50,020 in 2008 (www.bls.gov). This field is expected to continue to experience above-average employment growth between 2008 and 2018, also per the BLS. Special education teachers must be licensed in the U.S., and additional licensing requirements may apply. A master's degree is generally not required to work as a sign language interpreter or translator, but it may potentially facilitate job opportunities or advancement.

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    • Masters degree applicants must have a Bachelors degree
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  • Areas of study you may find at Eastern Kentucky University include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Communications and Journalism
      • American Sign Language - ASL
        • Sign Language Interpretation
      • Communication Studies
      • Digital, Radio, and Television Communication
      • English Language and Literature
      • Foreign Language and Literature
      • Graphic Communications
      • Journalism
      • Public Relations and Advertising
  • Areas of study you may find at University of New Hampshire include:
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Communications and Journalism
      • American Sign Language - ASL
        • Sign Language Interpretation
      • Communication Studies
      • English Language and Literature
  • Areas of study you may find at Northeastern University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Coursework, Diploma
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate, Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Communications and Journalism
      • American Sign Language - ASL
      • Communication Studies
      • Comparative Language Studies and Services
      • English Composition
      • English Language and Literature
      • Foreign Language and Literature
      • Journalism
      • Public Relations and Advertising
  • Areas of study you may find at Indiana University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Communications and Journalism
      • American Sign Language - ASL
        • Sign Language Interpretation
      • Communication Studies
      • Digital, Radio, and Television Communication
      • English Language and Literature
      • Foreign Language and Literature
      • Journalism
  • Areas of study you may find at Rochester Institute of Technology include:
      • Graduate: Master
      • Non-Degree: Certificate, Coursework
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Communications and Journalism
      • American Sign Language - ASL
      • Communication Studies
      • Communication Technology
      • Foreign Language and Literature
      • Graphic Communications
      • Public Relations and Advertising
      • Publishing

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