How to Become a Legal Interpreter: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a legal interpreter. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in legal interpreting. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Be a Legal Interpreter?

A legal interpreter translates spoken words from one language to another in legal settings, such as courtrooms and law offices. The work can be stressful, as interpreters need to keep pace with speakers, and their interpretations can have legal ramifications. Some interpreters have variable work hours, particularly those who are self-employed.

Job Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Foreign language, translation studies, or legal studies
Certification Available through several agencies and required by most courts
Key Skills Knowledge of at least two languages; excellent communication skills; cultural sensitivity; good concentration
Median Salary (2015) $44,190 (for all interpreters and translators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings

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Steps To Be a Legal Interpreter

Step 1: Study a Foreign Language in High School

Although it's ideal to be raised multilingual, prospective legal interpreters can also develop the necessary language skills by learning at least one foreign language in high school, such as Chinese or Spanish. Consider learning a language that might be most in demand. Aspiring legal interpreters should also focus on English classes in high school, since their career relies on precision in this language as well.

Step 2: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Many courts and other employers require that legal interpreters have a bachelor's degree. Students don't have to major in a foreign language, but it can be helpful. They can also benefit from choosing legal studies as a major or minor in order to learn the legal terminology required by the profession.

Step 3: Receive Formal Training and Gain Experience

Individuals interested in becoming legal interpreters can develop their skills through training programs and workshops offered through state courts and local or national interpreter associations. Some colleges also have training programs that teach legal interpreting skills. Most programs are certificate or associate degree programs, offering courses such as legal procedure and language, linguistics, and interpersonal communication. Some of these classes may be taken as part of or in conjunction with a bachelor's degree program. Aspiring interpreters may also benefit from internships or volunteering to gain hands-on experience in their field.

Step 4: Fulfill Court Requirements and Find Employment

Most state courts mandate that legal interpreters pass a certification exam given by the court, a professional organization, or other agency. Many states recognize certification administered by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts. Certification is also offered by the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators. Within the federal court system aspiring legal interpreters may find work as either certified interpreters, professionally qualified interpreters, or language skilled interpreters, depending on their professional credentials.

Step 5: Seek Career Advancement Opportunities

Experienced interpreters may consider pursuing supervisory positions or even starting their own firms.

Individuals interested in becoming legal interpreters should have a bachelor's degree in a foreign language, translation studies, or legal studies, and certification is typically required by the court system.


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