Be a Court Interpreter: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a court interpreter. Research the job description and the education and certification requirements, and find out how to start a career interpreting in the courtroom. View article »

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  • 0:00 Court Interpreter Career Info
  • 0:49 Become Bilingual
  • 1:51 Get Postsecondary Education
  • 3:02 Get Specialized Training
  • 3:24 Earn Certification

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Court Interpreter Career Info

Court interpreters assist individuals who can't effectively communicate orally in English, translating back and forth within the courtroom in spoken or signed language. They may also be requested to translate legal documents and materials of evidence. Travel might be required, and this profession may sometimes become stressful when communicators continue to speak rapidly during interpretation.

Degree Level Varies; postsecondary certificate at minimum; some employers require an associate's or bachelor's degree
Degree Field No specific degree; could be a court reporting program or foreign language degree
Licensure and Certification Several states offer licensure or certification to interpret certain languages in federal courts; voluntary certifications available
Training and Experience On-the-job training and industry-specific experience often required
Key Skills Speaking and articulation skills in at least two languages; listening, concentrating, writing, and interpersonal skills; and the ability to demonstrate cultural sensitivity
Salary $44,190 per year (2015 median salary for interpreters and translators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, Online Job Postings (July to August 2015)

Step 1: Become Bilingual

Court interpreters must be fluent in at least two languages. After choosing a second language, students interested in becoming a court interpreter should take classes, expose themselves to the relevant culture, and become fluent in that language. This can be done using a variety of means, such as a training program or through self-study.

Aspiring court reporters might also volunteer as an interpreter. Community organizations like hospitals, clinics, and competitions that involve international participants are likely to require interpreters and may accept volunteers. This can provide the opportunity for aspiring interpreters not only to continue to improve language and communication skills, but also to decide if this is the correct career choice prior to enrolling into a degree program.

Students should master their second language in written form as well as verbal cognition abilities. Reading books in both languages will familiarize students with how vernacular and industry specific terminology may transfer between the two languages and how they relate to each other.

Step 2: Get Postsecondary Education

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that educational requirements for interpreters in general vary greatly. Prospective interpreters looking to only work in courtrooms can complete a court reporting program, which generally results in a certificate. These programs are available in many language combinations, such as English and Spanish, and usually can be completed within two years. It's also common for court reporters to have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Students enrolling in a degree program may choose to major in the language they intend to interpret in, a specific field or industry for which they want to obtain specialized knowledge, or in a program specifically designed for interpreters.

Students can also study abroad in a country that speaks their chosen second language. Speaking the language on a daily basis with native speakers will increase the student's abilities and also familiarize them with slang and vernacular that may not be covered in a traditional classroom setting.

Internship programs may be found either through a student's university or local job boards. Work experience is generally a prerequisite to being hired as a court interpreter, thus these opportunities can provide the necessary experience to begin working sooner after graduation.

Step 3: Get Specialized Training

Court interpreters must often gain specialized training and knowledge in legal interpretations and translations. This education can be obtained through a minor in judicial or law interpretation and translation or with formal certificate programs in judiciary interpretation and translation. Some employers may provide job training for a newly hired court interpreter.

Step 4: Earn Certification

There are many different types of certification available to court reporters. For example, court reporters can work for federal courts by completing the Spanish-English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination or becoming language-skilled ad hoc interpreters, which could mean higher salaries. The National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators also offers credentials for court reporting in Spanish. Certifications such as these can help to demonstrate proficiency and mastery of the various aspects of interpreting.

Some states have specific processes and requirements for certification that must be completed in order to perform court interpreting. These can include classes and exams. Depending on the language, the potential interpreter will need to either become certified or registered to perform interpreting services for the court.

Once again, the requirements for court interpreters varies by employer, but those aspiring to work in this profession may want to complete a postsecondary program, become bilingual, study abroad, gain on-the-job training, and consider earning certification.

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