Sign Language Interpreter students at Mott Community College do more than just learn American Sign Language (ASL).
Gaining fluency in another language is never easy, but fluency in ASL means mastering both a foreign language and a visual language at the same time.
“A common misconception about American Sign Language is that is it merely signed English, i.e. the interpreter takes the exact words spoken and signs them as they are,” said Nick Chizmadia, Sign Language Interpreter student at MCC, “but that’s not true. ASL is an entirely different language with its own word roots and rules of grammar—linguistically it’s closer to, say, Spanish or the other romantic languages, than it is to English.”
More than that, Sign Language interpreters work in real time—they sign the spoken word as it happens without a break to translate. “Which means that classes in interpreting teach you how to process two languages at once and flip back and forth because you are working on taking in information in one language and passing it on in another language at the same time,” Chizmadia said.
Sound hard? It is, but MCC’s curriculum is specifically designed to address the difficulties unique to careers in Sign Language interpreting. “The best way to learn a language is by working with a native speaker, and we have a full immersion program,” said Jennifer Doerr, program coordinator. “Our students spend several semesters learning ASL, followed by interpreting skills classes, and then put everything together in an Internship Program.”
“Internship placements allow students to participate in a wide range of activities including job-shadowing, volunteerism, mock interpreting, translation and language analysis work, and observing certified interpreters,” said Doerr. “We work with community partners such as Communication Access Center, Deaf C.A.N., Hurley Medical Center, the Michigan School for the Deaf, and varying churches with Deaf ministries. This past season, we had two students intern with the performance interpreters from The Whiting. During Level II of the Internship program, students may have opportunities, in very controlled settings, to jump in and actively interpret for an actual client.”
Because of the combination of language training and practical application, graduates of MCC’s Sign Language Interpreter program are prepared to take the state interpreter certification test to become licensed for careers in this fast-paced and demanding field. They will be employed in a variety of settings including, education, social services, medicine, government, business, performing arts and the legal professions.
The job outlook is good due to changes in public health legislation that now require all organizations providing essential services to also provide access to a Sign Language interpreter thus ensuring equal access to communication to all clients.
This legislation, coupled with the increasing use of video calls and conferences that allow the deaf community to communicate over a distance more easily, has created a shortage of Sign Language interpreters. Individuals with education and experience in interpreting, along with a state certification, are in high demand.
For more information on the American Sign Language Interpreter Program visit our website at
Student Profile: Nick Chizmadia
A Career for a Lifetime
Mostly, it was a happy accident–I was a pre-med student at UM-Flint and needed a language credit. I had taken Spanish since I was really young and didn’t want to pursue that any further, and I ended up meeting someone in the program who suggested I try ASL (American Sign Language) for my language, so I ended up here.
What made you interested in staying in the Interpreter program?
I had a mentor at the beginning of my ASL courses who talked to me about career paths in interpreting. With their help and the support of other influential people in my life, I realized that interpreting would be a good fit for me; that I COULD switch from pre-med and still have a very respectable profession – one where I get to provide a valuable service; that I could have a career for a lifetime as opposed to just a job.
What helped you succeed in this program?
The approachability of the staff–the ability to sit down with someone and say, I’m having trouble with this and could use some support.
What advice would you give to an incoming student?
Don’t expect it to be easy, you get out of it what you put into it. ASL is not an easy language requirement and interpreting is like ASL to the tenth power. It is challenging and rewarding; pay close attention, ask questions, and do a serious personal evaluation to see if this is what you want to do.