Interpreting CareerWhat exactly do interpreters do?

Interpreters express the meaning of a message in another language, using either spoken words or sign-language.

Sign-language interpreters bridge the linguistic gap between hearing and deaf people, or between deaf people who don’t share a language. Spoken-language interpreters bridge the linguistic gap between hearing people who don’t share a language.

Interpretation should not be confused with translation, because translators express the meaning of a message through WRITTEN WORDS. In a nutshell, translators write; while interpreters either speak or sign.

There are five basic methods to deliver an interpretation, known as the "modes of interpretation." The first three listed below are the most commonly used:

1. Consecutive: The person expressing the message and the interpreter take turns. After a message is expressed, the interpreter renders its meaning.  

To excel in consecutive interpretation, a spoken-language interpreter must be able to: listen intently, achieve a detailed comprehension, take clear notes, memorize the full content of the speech, and deliver the meaning of the message intact.

Our consecutive interpretation training package helps you develop those skills. Click here for more information.

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. When the simultaneous mode is used to serve hearing people, it is best 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 is proficient in 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 in some fields of interpretation, but it is not advisable for court interpretation.

To work as a professional court interpreter, you must pass a test that assesses your proficiency in:

  • Consecutive interpretation
  • Simultaneous interpretation
  • Sight translation

We can help you master those 3 modes, no matter what your current level is.

Click here for information on our beginners’ package.

Click here for information on our state court oral exam training package.

Click here for information on our federal court oral exam training package.

What do court interpreters do on the job?

Court interpreters in the U.S. bridge the linguistic gap between Limited English Proficient (LEP) court users and everyone else who speaks English. This entails expressing the LEP court users’ messages into English (for example witness testimony, questions, comments to an attorney), as well as interpreting any English message into the LEP court users’ language.

Additionally, if there is any document written in a foreign language (such as a letter, a text message, an email, a contract), interpreters render the meaning of that text into English. Finally, documents written in English (such as court forms, instructions, questionnaires) are interpreted into the LEP court users’ language.  

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.

Go online 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.

To prepare for the oral portion of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam, click here.

How do I become a state court interpreter?

Click here to see videos (created by the California State Courts) which are very informative for prospective interpreters in any state. To view our State Court Interpreter Oral Certification Training Program, click here.

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 languages, since exams are not always available in all languages.

Do an online search for: Court Interpreter Certification in [type your state here].

To view our training program to help you prepare for the State Court Interpreter Oral Exam, click here.

How do I become a court interpreter in my state?

We’ve compiled links with the necessary information to serve in ANY state court in the U.S. 

Are there mock exams available to prepare for the real court written exams?

Yes, click below to access free Court Interpreter Practice Exams that will be similar to the exam you take in your state:

Written Mock Exam from New York 

Written Mock Exam from Washington

What do written exams for court interpreters usually consist of?

Click here to learn more about the exam.

Once I pass the written exam for state court interpreters, how do I pass the oral exam?

Click here for materials to prepare for your state court oral exam.

What does the state oral exam for court interpreters consist of?

Click here for an overview of the "Oral Exam".

If I want to work in legal cases, do I have to work in court? Will agencies help me find work?

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 interpreting agencies in your area, do an online search for, “interpreter agency in” (add the name of the area you are interested in applying). For example, “interpreting agencies in Scottland, CA.” 

This list of agencies can help you start making contacts:

How are court interpreters supposed to behave in court? Are there certain rules I have to learn?

Yes, to learn more click here.

Outside of court, are there other fields of work for interpreters?

Other common fields of interpretation are: community services, conferences, and educational events.

Interpreters can serve in any professional field where a language barrier must be overcome, as long as they are qualified to work in that area. 

Are there opportunities to work from home?

If you are interested in offering interpreting services over the phone, click here.

What are the main professional organizations for court interpreters?

To see a list of professional organizations for court interpreters, click here.

What are some useful free online glossaries?

Word Reference is an excellent search tool.

To use Word Reference, follow these steps:

A. Click on the link above.

B. Choose the language combination you desire (i.e. English-Japanese).

C. Type in your your search term(s).

D. If you need further information, scroll down to Forum discussions that contain the word(s) you are searching in the title. 

For faster access to this site, download the Word Reference App. 

Other online glossary resources are:

Is there a sample contract I may use as a model if I decide to work as an independent contractor?

Below is sample contract to use as models if you decide to work as an independent contractor:

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 an online 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!