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What are the requirements to be a legal or a court interpreter?

The requirements for legal and for court interpreters

Legal and Court Interpreter

The requirements for legal and for court interpreters are not the same. Court interpreters must have a college degree, complete a legal interpreter training program, and pass a court interpreter certification exam.

There are different exams that meet the state or national requirement. In Massachusetts, State Court Interpreters must pass the exam provided by the Office of Court Interpreter Services (OCIS).

The requirements to work in a State Court vary by state. To work as a court interpreter requires additional certification exams after the successful completion of a legal interpreter training program. Currently, U.S. courts have three categories to classify interpreters:

Certified Interpreters

Certified Interpreters: As of today, the United States Courts only provide a Spanish-English Court Interpreter Certification exam known as the FCICE (Federal Court Interpreting Exam).

The exam consists of two parts- oral and written. Once the interpreter has passed the written part, he or she may take the oral portion, which will test the ability of the interpreter to perform consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, as well as sight translation. This portion of the exam is given every two years.

Professionally Qualified Interpreters

Professionally Qualified Interpreters:  The local and federal court will consider those who present significant authentication and documentation for language combinations such as Haitian Creole, Mandarin, and Portuguese, among others.

Additionally, these individuals must have passed one of the following examinations with English and their target language:

  1. A test for seminar or conference interpreters in a language pair that includes English and their target language.
  2. Must presently be an active member of the AIIC (International Association of Conference Interpreters)
  3. An interpreter test in English for a language given by the United Nations

Language Skilled Interpreters

Language skilled interpreters: A legal interpreter certification can lead to many job opportunities in the legal field, although the interpreters training is not recognized as professionally qualified and cannot apply for court interpreter jobs. As long as he or she can satisfy the needs of the court, the interpreter may be hired as an ad hoc or a language skilled interpreter.

At this level, a legal interpreter is hired to conduct interpretation for interviews, witness preparation sessions, depositions and meetings between attorney and client. The minimum requirements for legal interpreter training, is 45-hours.  After this training, the person is qualified to work in depositions, and must take the State Court Exam.

In order to apply for most legal interpreter training program, a college degree is not required. On the other hand, if the goal is to work as a court interpreter, a degree in foreign languages, translation studies or legal studies is necessary. Later on, passing a certification exam (Federal, State or NAJIT certified) are basic requirements in order to work in any Federal or State Courts.

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