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Court Interpreter Certification

Do you want to become a certified court interpreter or learn about this credential? Then this post is for you!


If you want to skip the read, watch this short video instead.


A couple of years ago I earned my court interpreter certification at a master level in the state of Hawaii. Before I embarked on that journey, the whole process seemed daunting. I had heard so many stories from other colleagues that I didn't even feel I had what it took.


But one day I shook out those fears and decided to go for it. I will explain what the process is like step-by-step hoping this will inspire you and bring you some clarity.


STEP 1 - THE CONSORTIUM


Most states are part of the National Center for State Courts also known as The Consortium. That's the organization that oversees the certification process but the process varies among states.


Check out their Language Access Program by State map, then click on the state where you want to certify to get the information about their language access program. Then, contact them to find out how to complete the initial application.


STEP 2 - THE APPLICATION


In the application, they’ll ask for details about your education and experience, as well as personal information for them to run a background check. All candidates have to be eligible to work in the US.


STEP 3 - THE WORKSHOP


After you apply, the next step is attending a workshop. Make sure you don’t miss the deadline to register for that because they have limited seating and only take place on specific dates each year.


In most states, this is a mandatory step. These are usually 2-day events that are mandatory to get certified, no matter your background.


In these workshops they’ll give you an overview of your state’s court system, where courts are located, they’ll teach you the basics about court proceedings, interpreting techniques, and how to prepare for the next steps in the process.


STEP 4 - THE WRITTEN TEST


Part 1 is to test your general language proficiency in English and there are 135 multiple-choice questions.


The questions range from idioms, legal terms, finding the right synonym or antonym to finding the correct meaning of high register words like those you’d find in a GRE exam.


Part 2 is to test your knowledge of courtroom ethics and protocol and in my case, it was a multiple-choice test with 40 questions.


The test I took was a paper test. I found that to be very helpful because I could scribble all over the paper and I made notes to myself that helped me choose the right answers.


Many candidates that tested with me passed, so I’m assuming the passing rate for this exam tends to be high but don’t underestimate it. The passing score is usually 80%


Once you pass the written test in some states they will add you to their public roster as a qualified or registered interpreter but you cannot call yourself a certified interpreter just yet.


STEP 5 - THE ORAL TEST


The next and usually final step would be to take the oral exam. Depending on your language, you may have to take a full examination or an abbreviated one. Some states may require a language proficiency interview if there’s no test available for your language.


If you have to take the full examination, these are the components of the test:


Sight translation of a 225-word text, from/into English. It could be something like a letter to a judge, a police report, or a contract. You have six minutes total to complete each part.

I asked my proctor to count two minutes to let me know when to start interpreting and it worked out perfectly.


This part can be easily underestimated but please do not. These sections are short but have 25 scoring units each, which means your chances to make mistakes are minimum.


You have to pass with an average score of 70% and an individual score per section of no less than 65%


Consecutive interpretation. This is the longest part of the test and it takes 22 - 30 minutes. There are between 75 - 90 scoring units so they seem to be spread around nicely. In my case, the scenario was a witness examination. The utterances were manageable except for two or three. You only get two repetitions, so use them wisely.


Simultaneous interpretation. It takes about 10 minutes and there are 75 scoring units. It’s a scenario where an attorney is delivering either opening or closing arguments at a speed of 120 words per minute and it’s only about 850 words long. With proper practice, this speed is actually very manageable.


Most of it is just the attorney speaking, but one thing that threw me for a loop was an exchange that took place at the end where other voices representing a judge and I think another attorney, and I was not expecting that at all.


THE SCORING PROCESS


The test is scored by two raters, so it takes time to get your grades. It took exactly three months for me to get my scores. The passing score is 70% per section. Once you pass the oral test you can officially call yourself a court-certified interpreter.


In some states, they have a tier system based on your scores and they give you priority the higher you score which means more money in your pocket and a great incentive to do great in your test.


Here's the timeline of my entire process, just to give you an idea:


December, 2018 - Completed my application and registered for the workshop.

February, 2019 - Attended the workshop.

April, 2019 - Took the written test.

December, 2019 - Took the oral test.

March, 2020 - Received my scores.


If this is one of your goals, rest assured that you can do it If you work smart and hard. I wish you great success in your journey!





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Apr 11, 2023

Hi Rosa, great info thanks so much! Did you take a course to prepare for the oral portion of the court interpreter test? I just took the written test and I am waiting for the results but I am trying to think ahead to see how I am going to study for the oral test. Here in PA, there are 2 oral tests. The first one is the simultaneous one and if you pass that one then you take the consecutive + sight translation. Any info on how to prepare for the oral tests is greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!

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