How to Become a Certified Court Interpreter
Updated: Jan 26
Lately, a number of friends and colleagues have asked me how to get into court interpreting. So that seemed like the perfect topic for this blog post.
If you've done any research, you've probably come across articles that explain that simple bilingualism is not sufficient to meet the demands of court interpreting. A comparison that is often cited is that having two hands doesn't necessarily make you a concert pianist. There are specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to meet the demands of court interpreting. These must be acquired through deliberate study and practice in much the same way a pianist has to acquire their skills through training and practice.
According to the National Center for State Courts, "professional court interpreters are individuals who possess an educated, native-like mastery of both English and another language; display wide general knowledge, characteristic of what a minimum of two years of general education at a college or university would provide; and perform the three major types of court interpreting: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting." The US Courts website in its Federal Court Interpreters section adds this: "The professional knowledge, skills and abilities required of a federal court interpreter are highly complex. Communication in courtroom proceedings may be more complex than that in other settings or in every day life. For example, the parties involved may use specialized and legal terminology, formal and informal registers, dialects and jargon, varieties of language and nuances of meaning."
From the foregoing, it should be clear that becoming a certified court interpreter in the United States, whether at the state or federal level, is not for the faint of heart. The typical pass rate for the written and oral portions of the state exam is around 15-20%, depending on which state you're in and which source you cite. For the federal exam, the pass rate percentage for both the written and oral portions of the exam has traditionally been in the mid single digits. I don't say that to discourage anyone who's considering getting into the field, but rather to encourage you to count the cost and be prepared for the rigorous training that will be required to succeed.
From looking at the above-mentioned qualifications, bilingual fluency is clearly the foundation on which any interpreter builds their professional practice. If you're not sure of just how proficient you are in your non-native language, there are a number of resources that provide testing and assessment. And what about your native language? Well, just because someone grew up speaking a language doesn't necessarily mean that that individual knows the rules of syntax, grammar, and usage; speaks it well; or possesses the lexical depth and breadth to handle the wide range of terminology and expressions that are used in judiciary settings.
So... if I haven't scared you off by now, and you're still reading, here are my recommendations for how to become a certified court interpreter:
Take a language assessment to find out if you have the necessary ability.
Review the self-assessment tools provided by the National Center for State Courts to see if you have the necessary interpreting skills.
If you're highly self motivated and self disciplined, use the self-study resources below to start preparing for the written and then oral portions of the exam.
If you do better with an instructor, follow the links below to find the instructor-led program that best suits your needs and your budget. If you prefer one-on-one instruction, you can always contact me directly and we can try to work out a training program tailored to you.
Judiciary interpreting is a field badly in need of qualified practitioners. And while you may start your career in the court room, you might end up interpreting in depositions, mediation, business meetings, or any number of other settings that require the unique skill set of the professional court interpreter.
To get you started, here are links to a number of resources that may help you in your journey. Happy travels!
Language Proficiency Assessment
Legal Instructor Led