Frequently Asked Questions About Court Interpretation
What is interpretation? What exactly do interpreters do?
Interpreters express the meaning of a message in another language using either spoken words or sign language.
Interpretation should not be confused with translation, because translators express the meaning of a message through written words.
There are five basic methods to deliver the interpretation, known as "modes of interpretation." The first three listed below are the most commonly practiced in most professional fields:
1. Consecutive: The person expressing the message and the interpreter take turns. After a message is expressed, the interpreter is provided the time to interpret it. This mode is the most frequently used in many fields.
2. Simultaneous: The person expressing the message and the interpreter do not take turns. While the message is being expressed, the interpreter renders its meaning on the spot. This mode offers the best results when practiced with interpreting equipment (which includes a microphone and headphones).
3. Sight: The interpreter: 1) reads a written text (preferably several times to become familiar with it), 2) researches any term necessary, 3) expresses the meaning through either spoken words or sign language.
4. Relay: This mode is implemented when there is no interpreter available who speaks both required languages. In this mode two (or more) interpreters work together to create a "language chain," of sorts. The first interpreter receives a message in language A, and interprets it into language B. The second interpreter receives the message in language B, and expresses in language C. This mode is only used when it is strictly necessary, because the greater the amount of interpreters involved in the relay, the higher the risk of compromising accuracy.
5. Summary: The interpreter summarizes the message, without interpreting every detail of it. This mode is used for some fields of interpretation, but it is not advisable for court interpretation.
To work as a professional interpreter, you must apply the 3 most common modes of interpretation. Interpreting is mentally challenging for anyone, especially for a beginner. Click here for information on our comprehensive training package, which takes you step by step through the process of acquiring and honing basic interpreting skills.
What do court interpreters do on the job?
The best way to find out about the court interpreting profession (and to determine if you want to become a court interpreter) is by visiting a courthouse near you.
Use Google to find courthouses in your area: Type in the name of your city followed by the word "courts" (i.e. "New York City Courts").
Once you arrive to the courthouse, go observe a court hearing or a trial. To do so, ask the security guards to help you locate the cases that are open to the general public (most criminal court proceedings are).
Visit (or contact) the interpreters unit at your nearest courthouse to get information about exams, pay rates, work duties, job and training opportunities (some courts even have internships for court interpreters).
How much do court interpreters make in state courts?
The rates vary across the U.S. and also according to qualifications. For more information, click here.
How much do court interpreters make in the federal courts?
Federal court interpreters make much more money than most state court interpreters. Of course, the federal court exams are significantly more difficult to pass than the state court exams. For more information on the pay rates for federal court interpreters, click here and scroll down to "Fees for Court Interpreters"
Because the federal exams are so challenging, the best way to become a federal court interpreter is to first work as a state court interpreter for a few years. For information on the how to become a federal court interpreter, click here.
For more info on how to become a federal court interpreter, click here.
How do I become a state court interpreter?
The videos contained in the link below (created by the California State Courts) are very informative for prospective interpreters in any state.
Do I have to take a test to work as a state court interpreter?
Most state courts administer written and oral exams, but each court system has its own procedures for testing and recruiting. Testing can also vary according to the interpreter's language(s), since exams are not always available in all languages.
Click below to research the policies (or to find the contact info) for your state:
Once I pass the written exam for state court interpreters, how do I pass the oral exam?
To pass the oral exam you will need to develop interpreting skills in the 3 most common modes of interpretation: consecutive, simultaneous, and sight. You will also need to develop your legal vocabulary.
Click here to get more information about our consecutive training package, which is ideal for true beginners and contains the following educational tools:
5 educational videos to develop your consecutive interpretation
76 audio exercises (for the 3 most common modes of interpretation)
A day-by-day lesson plan for up to 20 lessons
The "Note-Taking Manual" to develop skills for consecutive interpretation (the most commonly used mode)
Self-evaluation tests with answer keys
To devolop your legal vocabulary, flashcards are very useful. If your language combination is English/Spanish then this product is perfect for you. Click here to access our English/Spanish Court Vocabulary Flashcards.
What does the oral exam for court interpreters consists of?
Click on the link below and scroll down to "Oral Exam"
If I want to work in legal cases, do I have to work for the court?
Court Interpreters who work in legal cases don't necessarily have to work for the courts. Some court interpreters work with interpreter agencies instead. These agencies hire court interpreters to provide services for their clients, who may be lawyers, doctors, schools, etc.
Each interpreting agency has its own hiring requirements. Some agencies test applicants by administering their own exams. Not all agencies demand having passed a state exam for court interpreters.
To find an interpreting agency in your area (and/or for your language combination), click here, scroll down to Interpreting Services Companies, and fill out the required fields:
What if the links provided here did not answer my question?
If the information you need is not contained any of the links provided, do a Google search by typing in the question you need answered and adding the location where you are interested in working. For example, for the first question, type in "How do I become a court interpreter in Florida?"
Interpretrain wishes you great success in your quest to become the best interpreter you can be!