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Court Interpreter Training and Education Program Info

Court interpreters provide services in a legal setting for people with limited proficiency in English. Certificate programs in court interpreting, also called legal interpreting, are available at various colleges and universities.

Essential Information

Court interpreting certificate programs require proficiency in English and at least one other language. Applicants must pass a bilingual screening test that covers oral competency; the test may also include reading comprehension, writing, spelling, and grammar. Some programs may require the equivalent of two or more years of college coursework before enrolling.

Certificate programs are available at both beginning and intermediate levels of study. Program lengths vary, but they often consist of 4-7 courses with 120-150 hours of instructional time.

Many states require certification for legal interpreters, which requires passing a test and maintaining proficiency through continuing education classes. Spanish/English programs are common.


Certificate Programs in Legal Interpreting

The availability of certain courses will vary depending on the school, with some classes typical in most certificate programs, but aspiring court interpreters can generally expect to become familiar with the functions and vocabulary of the U.S. legal system, as well as the systems of some foreign countries. Students develop the skills needed to perform both simultaneous and consecutive interpreting up to a rate of 200 words a minute. Simultaneous interpreting involves translating what individuals are saying at virtually the same time as they are speaking. Consecutive interpreting involves the speaker and translator speaking in turn throughout the process. Students also learn to translate written legal documents aloud, upon first sight. Courses covered in programs might include:

  • Bilingual legal and medical terminology
  • Consecutive interpreting
  • Sight translation
  • Simultaneous interpreting
  • Cultural legal environments
  • Interpreter ethics

Employment Outlook

Graduates of a court interpreter certificate program can find work in settings such as juvenile mediation intake and services, immigration, and family counseling. Some go on to be freelance translators and interpreters.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov) has forecast a 29% job increase for all interpreters and translators from 2014-2024. This rate is much faster than the average and reflects an increasingly diverse population. The average yearly salary for interpreters and translators in May 2015 was $48,360.

Continuing Education

Most states require successful completion of both written and oral examinations in order for interpreters to be certified. Oral testing usually is administered by the National Center for Interpretation (NCI), and many states now are part of a consortium called the National Center for State Courts (NCSC).

Those who wish to interpret in federal courts must pass the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE). This exam is administered by the NCSC and consists of both oral and written testing. The written exam must be passed before applicants are permitted to take the oral exam.

The American Translators Association (ATA) offers a Certified Translator (CT) credential. Applicants with an advanced degree in any area plus a degree or certificate from an approved translation and interpretation program can take the CT exam. The association will also accept applicants with a bachelor's degree plus two years' experience as a translator or interpreter and those with five years of experience in the field.

Each of these certifications requires periodic renewal, with continuing education courses taken during the interim. Continuing education courses are available at many colleges and through the ATA, NCI and NCSC.

For students who want to become court interpreters, certificate programs integrate legal studies with courses that build students' translation skills. Graduates can seek professional certification and start working when they finish.


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