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How to Become a Court Interpreter in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a court interpreter. Learn about degree requirements, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Does a Court Interpreter Do?

Court interpreters are called upon for special judicial cases that require translating oral speech into another language. This way, if any witnesses have been called to the stand who don't speak English, they have a reliable way of expressing themselves. The job may also require interpreters to read aloud documents in a language other than that in which they were written. To obtain a position as a court interpreter, graduates are required to earn a bachelor's degree in translation studies or court interpreting and must demonstrate an exceptional understanding of English and another language. They must also have a strong grasp of legal terminology and the legal process. On-the-job training will occur after graduation.

Discover the qualifications for this career, and review the typical salary for court interpreters using the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; postsecondary certificate programs in the field may be helpful to those with a bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Translation studies, court interpreting
Key Skills Speaking, writing, listening, interpersonal, fluency in English and a second language
Certification Certification is optional
Job Growth (2018-2028) 19% increase (for all interpreters and translators)*
Median Salary (2018) $49,930 (for all interpreters and translators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Court Interpreter?

As a court interpreter, you are responsible for helping non-English speaking individuals communicate in a judicial environment. You must be fluent in a foreign language, and should also be well versed in both U.S. and international legal systems. You might be responsible for interpreting in depositions, arraignments, trials, legal meetings or preliminary hearings. No specific degree is required; however, most court interpreters have a bachelor's degree.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

Several different educational paths can set you on your goal towards becoming a court interpreter. However, most employers will require you to have at least a high school diploma. High school courses that can prepare you for the career include those relating to English, communication and reading comprehension skills. If you were not raised in a bilingual household, you should also consider taking foreign language courses in high school.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most court interpreters hold at least a bachelor's degree. One undergraduate program you can enroll in is a bachelor's degree in translation studies. Such a program should allow you to concentrate on one foreign language, such as Spanish, French or German. Additional courses might cover diction, phonetics, composition and translation processes.

Step 3: Complete a Certificate Program

If you are already fluent in a foreign language, or have already completed a bachelor's degree program in translation studies, you may want to consider enrolling in a professional court interpreter certificate program. Such programs are designed to provide you with an understanding of U.S. law and the judicial system. They are often offered through 4-year universities, community colleges and professional organizations. Courses covered include simultaneous translating skills, court procedures, court interpreting and the penal code.

Step 4: Work as a Translator or Interpreter

Many employers only hire those translators who have a degree, 3-5 years of experience or both, according to the BLS. You can gain the requisite experience by working for a translation company. You might also complete an internship or do volunteer interpreter work for a community organization.

Step 5: Become a Court interpreter

Although it is not a requirement, you can become certified as a translator or interpreter through the American Translators Association or the Translators and Interpreters Guild. According to the BLS, translators and interpreters held roughly 76,100 jobs in 2018. The median wage in the field during that year was about $49,930.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you don't think becoming a court interpreter is right for you but are interested in pursuing a similar career, you may want to consider becoming a court reporter or a general interpreter. Court reporters are only required to earn a postsecondary non-degree award prior to employment and work to create accurate transcriptions of each trial. General interpreters specialize in converting one language to another and can work in a multitude of industries. They're required to earn a bachelor's degree in translation studies before seeking employment.