Court interpreters need to be fluent in English and at least one other language, and may need to be able to speak and read/write both languages as well. To become a certified court interpreter, exams are required for state, federal and municipal courts. Additional certification options are available, though not required.
Certified court interpreters assist in the interchange of testimony and translation of legal documents in a variety of legal settings. Court interpreters must demonstrate fluency in a foreign language or sign language and facility with legal terminology. Federal, state and municipal courts offer certification to candidates who pass written and oral examinations.
|Required Certification||Administrative Office certification exam (federal courts)
State-specific certification exam (state and municipal courts)
|Other Requirements||Fluent in at least two languages|
|Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024)||29% (all interpreters and translators)|
|Median Salary* (2015)*||$44,190 (all interpreters and translators)|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Court Interpreter Certification
Federal, state and municipal courts use interpreters to meet their unique requirements to serve all participants in the justice system. To work in federal courts, interpreters may be required to pass the Administrative Office certification exam, which is offered for Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole interpreters. The exam contains written and oral sections that measure interpretation and language skills (www.uscourts.gov). Certifications for state and municipal courts have different qualification standards and testing requirements determined by each state, which are reported by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts.
The mosaic of certification and credential programs for court interpreters can be confusing. On a national level, a few other possibilities are worth noting. The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators offers certification in Spanish that is accepted by many states. Sign language interpreters will want to be aware of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which offers legal interpretation specialist certification as well as generalist certification. Finally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. Department of State offers a test in simultaneous interpreting which, although it doesn't result in a credential, demonstrates a high skill level that can lead to job opportunities (www.bls.gov).
Some states offer training courses to prepare for certification exams. Certification exams for individual states typically include sight reading, as well as written sections that test sight, consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, all aimed at determining fluency and interpretation skills. The various forms of interpretation are described in the following section.
Career Information for Court Interpreters
Court interpreters help provide fair and equal access to the justice system. In addition to possessing thorough knowledge of the U.S. legal system, court interpreters must be able to effectively translate legal terminology as well as everyday language. They cover multiple foreign languages, including Arabic, French, Cantonese and Russian, to name a few.
Court interpreters use three main interpretation methods. Sight translation is orally reading documents to listeners who speak a language different from that in which the documents are written. In consecutive interpretation, the interpreter communicates to the listener in segments what was said by the speaker. Simultaneous interpretation is oral interpretation that takes place as the speaker speaks.
Specialized training for skill development can be found through national, state or local preparatory courses and seminar workshops, as well as online. Interpreter training classes can also be found through state interpreter organizations and associations, universities and community colleges.
Career Outlook and Salary Info
Demand for court interpreters is high, particularly in urban areas. The increase within the U.S. of non-English speaking people and those with limited English proficiency, as well as expanding international relationships, make the employment outlook particularly favorable for interpreters of principal Western, Middle Eastern and East Asian languages. The BLS predicts 29% job growth for interpreters in general during the 2014-2024 decade, and it also states that the national median annual wage for all interpreters and translators was $44,190 in May 2015.
Court interpreters are considered certified after passing a required exam based on the type of court where they work, though optional certifications are also available. Demand for certified court interpreters who are fluent in English and another language is high, and opportunities can be increased by establishing proficiency in multiple languages and interpreting methods.