sign language

Understanding the qualifications required for BSL interpreting

With the recent interest in making British Sign Language part of the national curriculum, eSense Translations reviews the paths that can be taken to become a fully-qualified British Sign Language interpreter and what the professional development expectations are.


Unless one actively seeks to learn British Sign Language, maybe to assist with communication with a friend or family member, or for one’s own interest or personal career developments,  most people in the U.K. will have little to no experience with signing.


Last week it was announced that an appeal had been launched to make British Sign Language part of the national curriculum, after a petition reached over 35,000 signatures. It is unlikely that changes to the National Curriculum will be made in the near future, as the Education Minister, Nick Gibb, commented that he is looking for a period of stability within the system, however making sign language education more widespread would remove many barriers for the deaf community and make integration and progression a much easier process.


You can study sign language currently through the Institute of British Sign Language (IBSL), which offers courses from entry level progressing through to level 6. To work as a BSL interpreter, with eSense Translations or for any other language agency, you would need to obtain level 6. This is a nationally-recognised qualification that is the equivalent to a modern foreign languages degree and can be taken specifically in Sign Language Interpreting Studies.


The other alternative to become a qualified British Sign Language interpreter is to obtain a recognised degree in sign language interpreting. However, many of the approved courses are at post graduate masters level.


Once the necessary qualifications are achieved, to work as a British Sign Language interpreter, you need to register with the National Registers of Communications Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind people (NRCPD).  This regulatory body holds a register of interpreters for deafblind people, lipspeakers, notetakers, sign language interpreters, sign language translators and speech to text reporters to ensure the standards for communication in this sector remain consistent and of a high quality. Although a voluntary body, the NRCPD is widely-recognised in the industry and thus registering as an interpreter there would be highly recommended.

Not only is a high level of qualification required to be a member of the NRCPD, it is also expected that you work to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date through a range of professional development activities. Renewing your membership therefore requires evidence of such activity.


Those on the register of the NRCPD are known as RSLI (Registered Sign Language Interpreters), however whilst working towards the required qualifications, it is possible to register as a Trainee Sign Language Interpreter (TSLI). This recognition would allow you to undertake some work as a sign language interpreter, but not in sectors such as the criminal justice system or mental health settings.


As you can see from the above, working as a fully qualified sign language interpreter is a professional vocation that requires high levels of study and experience. Once this level of competence is achieved you can expect a salary in the range of £20,000 p.a. to start up to £35,000 (highly experienced). Alternatively, you could work as a freelance interpreter, for language agencies such as eSense Translations, and charge an equivalent hourly rate for your time.


Sign Language interpreting is a valued profession and one which offers a lot of different opportunities and scope for development. Gaining the qualifications does take time and dedication, but the rewards in being able to help others overcome their difficulties makes it very worthwhile.


If you are interested in registering as a British Sign Language Interpreter with eSense Translations, either email us directly at or apply online.


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