The state of California offers undergraduate certificate and degree programs that can prepare graduates for various certifications and careers in interpreting. In addition to developing language skills, these programs place an emphasis on understanding the cultures of foreign language speakers as a means to align with industry standards. Students also gain hands-on experience through fieldwork, labs and internships.
In California, certification is required to work as a court interpreter for 15 languages, including Spanish, which is the most common language taught in California interpreting education programs. Passing both a bilingual interpreting oral exam and a written exam is required to earn certification. Formal training is not required to take the exams, though it is encouraged. Graduates from general interpretation and legal interpretation programs may be prepared to take these exams.
Interpreters can find jobs that don't require certification, though optional national certifications are also available in specialty interpretation areas. Individuals who study American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting can pursue the National Interpreter Certification (NIC), offered through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). Candidates must pass two exams: a multiple-choice written test and hands-on performance test. A bachelor's degree in any field or an approved equivalent education (including a combination of college courses, professional work, and continuing education) is required.
There are two organizations that offer certification in medical interpreting: the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). Eligibility requirements for the CCHI's Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) include fluency in English and another language and at least 40 hours of medical interpreter training. Passing written and oral exams is required to earn certification. The NBCMI's Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) exams carry the same qualification requirements, though a year or more of experience in interpreting certain languages may waive those requirements.
The eleven schools below offer various types of interpretation programs, including healthcare and court interpretation in Spanish and other languages, as well as ASL interpretation. Continue reading to learn about the programs and tuition costs at these schools, which are located across the state.
American River College
American River College is located in Sacramento and offers a Certificate in Sign Language Studies: Interpreter, which requires 40 credit hours. Along with American Sign Language (ASL) courses, students also complete coursework in Deaf education, implications of deafness, deaf-blind interpreting, and oral transmission. Mock interpreting courses and a fieldwork course in interpretation provide students with further opportunity for growth and engagement. An Associate of Arts degree in this field is also offered. The curriculum includes the same courses as the certificate program, though ten credits of general education are also required. These programs provide students with the training and knowledge necessary for an entry-level career in sign language interpreting. They also teach students about the requirements for certification.
The college also offers a 1-year Certificate in Healthcare Interpreting. In addition to a fieldwork course, students complete coursework in medical language, anatomy and physiology, and basic and advanced interpreting.
Berkeley City College
Located in Berkeley, Berkeley City College offers Spanish healthcare interpretation and ASL interpretation programs. The Spanish Medical Interpreter Certificate of Achievement program requires 30 credit hours and features coursework in boundaries and ethics, cultural brokerage, Spanish medical terminology, and medical interpreting. As part of their degree requirement, students must also complete an interpreting internship at a local hospital or clinic. Alternately, students may choose to study ASL interpretation through an Associate in Arts degree program or a Certificate of Achievement program. In addition to studying sign language and finger spelling, students in these programs will learn about the culture of the American Deaf community.
City College of San Francisco
Located in San Francisco, City College of San Francisco offers a Health Care Interpreter Certificate, which combines lecture courses with fieldwork experience. As part of the degree program, students are assigned a language coach who helps advance their understanding of linguistic and cultural nuances. This program prepares students for two national certification exams offered through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters.
El Camino College
El Camino College is located in Torrance and has a Certificate of Achievement in Sign Language/Interpreter. This 36-credit-hour program includes several courses in American Sign Language as well as courses in applied interpreting and finger spelling. An interpreter practicum course is part of the curriculum. An Associate in Arts degree program is also offered. Students in these programs have access to an American Sign Language laboratory, which provides students with the chance to practice their skills with their peers. The laboratory also features a collection of language tapes that students may view to further their understanding of the learning material. Graduates typically need 2-5 years of experience, plus a bachelor's degree, to qualify for certification through the RID.
Mt. San Antonio College
Located in Walnut, Mt. San Antonio College offers a Certificate in Sign Language/Interpreting. Students should be fluent in both English and ASL before starting this program, which provides the skills necessary for interpreting careers across a variety of organizations and facilities, including school districts, hospitals, government agencies, and colleges. Students complete coursework in finger spelling, Deaf perspectives, American Deaf culture, principles of interpreting, and ethical decision making for interpreters. The college also offers an Associate in Science in Sign Language/Interpreting that has the same requirements as the certificate, though students must also complete the school's general degree graduation requirements. Students graduating from these programs may apply to earn the NIC through the RID, if they meet other eligibility requirements.
Palomar College is located in San Marcos and offers a Certificate of Achievement in American Sign Language/English Interpreter. In addition to a fieldwork course, this program features multiple interpreting courses that develop students' linguistic, cognitive and interpreting skills. Additional coursework includes awareness of Deaf culture, perspective on deafness, and interpreting as a profession. An Associate in Arts in American Sign Language/English Interpreter is also available, and it requires the additional completion of the school's associate degree general requirements. Graduates from these programs may be ready to pursue national certification from the RID after gaining about 3-5 years of professional experience.
Riverside City College
Riverside City College is located in Riverside and offers a Certificate of Achievement in Sign Language Interpreting. This 28.5-credit-hour program includes basic and advanced interpreting courses, with the last of these including a practicum portion. Additional coursework covers ethics and Deaf culture. Graduates may seek work as interpreters in courts (a job that requires certification through the California court system) and other settings. Completion of a number of general education classes results in an Associate in Science degree.
San Diego Mesa College
San Diego Mesa College is located in San Diego and offers a Certificate of Achievement in American Sign Language - English Interpretation. This program is composed of 32 credit hours and features coursework such as ASL linguistics, sign-to-voice interpreting, interpreting skills, and professionalism. In a required fieldwork course, students have the opportunity to gain professional interpreting experience as well as attend on-campus seminars. An Associate in Arts in American Sign Language - English Interpretation is also available, and it requires students to take 60 credits, including general education and electives.
Students graduating from these programs can be prepared to take the San Diego County Educational Interpreter Evaluation and/or pursue certification through the RID once they've met the other eligibility requirements.
San Francisco State University
Located in San Francisco, San Francisco State University offers a Certificate in Spanish/English Interpretation. Taught by faculty with professional court interpreting experience, this program is designed to provide students with the training and knowledge needed to pass the California court interpreter certification exams. Students complete courses in sight translation, consecutive interpretation, and simultaneous interpretation.
Southwestern College is located in Chula Vista and has two interpreter certificate programs. The first of these offerings is a Certificate of Achievement in Legal Interpretation that is designed to prepare students for careers in court systems, the government, and legal offices. Prospective court interpreters would need to become certified. Comprising 20 credit hours, this program features courses such as business English and Spanish for bilinguals. Students also take interpretation and translation courses that focus on the legal, business, immigration, and medical topics.
The college also offers a Certificate of Achievement in Legal Interpretation and Translation. This intermediate-level program requires 34 credit hours and includes advanced interpretation coursework in the same fields as the basic certificate program as well as a course in business communications.
University of California, Riverside Extension
Located in Riverside, the University of California, Riverside Extension offers a Certificate in Professional Interpretation and Translation - Spanish-English. This 17-credit-hour program is designed to train students for careers in interpretation and translation within various professional fields, including medicine, law, and immigration. Interpretation courses help to build students' memory techniques, while an ethics course provides students with a greater understanding of industry standards. The program also features an emphasis on the legal field with courses regarding the U.S. court system and interpretation within the courtroom. Students graduating from this degree program will possess the skills and training required to pass state and federal exams to become a court interpreter.
School Comparison: At a Glance
|School Name||School Type & Setting||Interpreter Programs Offered||Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2018-2019)|
|American River College||2-year, public; large suburb|| Certificate in Sign Language Studies: Interpreter,
Certificate in Healthcare Interpreting,
Associate in Arts in Sign Language Studies: Interpreting
| $1,104* (in-state),
|Berkeley City College||2-year, public; mid-size city|| Spanish Medical Interpreter Certificate of Achievement,
American Sign Language Certificate of Achievement,
Associate in Arts in American Sign Language
| $1,254* (in-state),
|City College of San Francisco||2-year, public; large city||Health Care Interpreter Certificate|| $1,696* (in-state),
|El Camino College||2-year, public; large suburb|| Certificate of Achievement in Sign Language/Interpreter,
Associate in Arts in Sign Language/Interpreter
| $1,144* (in-state),
|Mt. San Antonio College||2-year, public; large suburb|| Certificate in Sign Language/Interpreting,
Associate in Science in Sign Language/Interpreting
| $1,350* (in-state),
|Palomar College||2-year, public; small city|| Certificate in Achievement in Sign Language/English Interpreter,
Associate in Arts in Sign Language/English Interpreter
| $1,338* (in-state),
|Riverside City College||2-year, public; large city|| Certificate of Achievement in Sign Language Interpreting,
Associate in Science in Sign Language Interpreting
| $1,420* (in-state),
|San Diego Mesa College||2-year, public; large city|| Certificate of Achievement in American Sign Language - English Interpretation,
Associate in Arts in American Sign Language - English Interpretation
| $1,144* (in-state),
|San Francisco State University||4-year, public; large city||Certificate in Spanish/English Interpretation|| $7,260* (in-state),
|Southwestern College||2-year, public; large suburb|| Certificate of Achievement in Legal Interpretation,
Certificate of Achievement in Legal Interpretation and Translation
| $1,338* (in-state),
|University of California, Riverside Extension||Continuing education, public; large city||Certificate in Professional Interpretation and Translation - Spanish/English|| $13,827* (in-state),
Source: *NCES College Navigator