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Become a Court Interpreter

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is a court interpreter?
    Spoken language court interpreters interpret in civil or criminal court proceedings (e.g., arraignments, motions, pretrial conferences, preliminary hearings, depositions, trials) for witnesses or defendants who speak or understand little or no English. American Sign Language interpreters interpret for all parties who are deaf or hard of hearing in all proceedings. Court interpreters must accurately interpret for individuals with a high level of education and an extensive vocabulary, as well as for persons with very limited language skills without changing the language register of the speaker. Interpreters are also sometimes responsible for translating written documents, often of a legal nature, from English into the target language and from the target language into English.

  2. What do court interpreters do?
    California court interpreters have an important job in the courtroom: they interpret court proceedings for witnesses and defendants with limited English skills or for parties who are deaf or hard of hearing. The position requires strong memory and communication skills. Court interpreters shift between two different languages, in real time, accounting for different types of speech and grammar. They also know legal terms and commonly used courtroom forms and reports.

  3. Are court interpreters in demand?
    Very much so. According to a recent study, more than 200 languages are spoken in California. Of the state's 36 million people, about 20 percent speak English less than "very well." That's almost 7 million Californians who would need help from an interpreter if they found themselves in court.

  4. What does it take to become a court interpreter?
    First, interpreters need to be fluent in both English and a second language. Right now, court interpreters can be certified in the following 13 languages:
    • American Sign Language Arabic
    • Armenian (Eastern)
    • Armenian (Western)
    • Cantonese
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • Mandarin
    • Portuguese
    • Russian
    • Spanish
    • Tagalog
    • Vietnamese

    People who master other languages can become registered interpreters with the same full-time pay and benefits that certified interpreters receive.
    Court interpreters:

    • Interpret speech and text from English into a second language and back again in real time. The interpretation must be accurate without any editing, summarizing, omissions, or change in meaning
    • Maintain good working relationships with judges, attorneys, other court personnel, supervisors, and coworkers
    • Understand a variety of court procedures and practices

  5. Is special training recommended to become a court interpreter?
    Yes. Court interpreting is a very demanding job. Spoken language court interpreters must be completely fluent in both English and the second language, while court interpreters of American Sign Language must be completely fluent in both English and American Sign Language. The level of expertise required for this profession is far greater than that required for everyday bilingual conversation. The interpreter must be able to handle the widest range of language terms that may be presented in the courts—from specialized legal and technical terminology to street slang. Most people do not have a full command of all registers of both English and the foreign language and, therefore, require special training to acquire it.

    Although there are no minimum requirements that must be met in order to apply to take the state certification test, applicants are encouraged to complete formal, college-level course work and training in both languages and modes of interpreting before applying for the examination. At present there are colleges and universities throughout the State of California that offer introductory courses and certificate programs in interpretation or translation. However, most of these are for English/Spanish. We encourage you to contact the schools and request information about their programs. For the other languages, the following self-study techniques are suggested: (1) expand your vocabulary, (2) develop your own glossaries, and (3) develop interpreting techniques. Suggested skills-enhancing exercises are available to help you develop three interpreting techniques: (1) consecutive interpretation, (2) simultaneous interpretation, and (3) sight translation.

  6. What is the difference between a certified and a registered interpreter?
    Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination or the required exam for American Sign Language and fulfill the corresponding Judicial Council requirements are referred to as certified interpreters. Currently, there are certification examinations for 13 designated languages: American Sign Language, Arabic, Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

    Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state-certifying examination are required to pass the English Fluency Examination and fulfill the corresponding Judicial Council requirements in order to become a registered interpreter of a nondesignated language.

  7. What happens when a previously nondesignated language is designated for certification?
    Certifications may change periodically, depending on the results of studies of language use in the courts. When a language is designated for certification, there is a transitional period in which a new certification exam is developed and registered interpreters are given time to meet the requirements for certification.

  8. What has the Judicial Council determined to be the requirements for becoming a certified court interpreter?
    As approved by the Judicial Council on July 7, 1994, court interpreters must meet the following requirements for certification:
    • Pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination or the "Specialist Certificate: Legal" exam for American Sign Language offered by an approved testing entity;
    • File for certification with the Judicial Council;
    • Pay the annual $100 fee;
    • Attend a Judicial Council Code of Ethics Workshop; and
    • Submit proof of 30 hours of continuing education and 40 assignments of recent professional interpreting experience every two years.

  9. What are the requirements for registered interpreters of nondesignated languages?
    Registered interpreters of nondesignated languages must satisfy the following requirements:

    • Pass an English Fluency Examination, offered by an approved testing entity;
    • File for registration with the Judicial Council;
    • Pay an annual fee of $100;
    • Attend a Judicial Council Code of Ethics Workshop;
    • Attend a Judicial Council Orientation Workshop; and
    • Meet the requirements developed for court interpreters regarding continuing education and professional experience.

  10. What entity administers the Court Interpreter Certification Exams?
    The AOC has contracted with Prometric to administer the Certified Court Interpreter and Registered Interpreter examinations. See the Exam Information page for more information.

  11. Is certification required to become an American Sign Language Interpreter?
    The Judicial Council also has the authority under California Evidence Code section 754(f) to designate testing entities for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. The council has determined that a qualified ASL interpreter is one who holds the following certificate:
    "Specialist Certificate: Legal" issued by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) (see www.rid.org)

  12. What is the job market like for court interpreters?
    There is a great demand for certified court interpreters in areas with large immigrant populations. Most court interpreters work as freelance or per diem interpreters, meaning that they are hired by the day or the half day, rather than being permanent employees of the trial courts. Some trial courts, however, have permanent positions for court interpreters. A freelance interpreter must be willing to travel from one trial court to another, perhaps even from one county trial court system to another, to be assured of full-time work. Court interpreters are generally paid by the whole or half day. Currently, court interpreters are paid $282.23 a day and $156.56 for a half day. Trial court systems that have permanent positions for court interpreters pay a minimum full time starting salary of $68,000 per year.
  13. How do I contact the Court Interpreters Program?
    Please direct further questions to our toll-free number (866) 310-0689, or send an email to courtinterpreters@jud.ca.gov or visit our website at: http://www.courts.ca.gov/programs-interpreters.htm
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