Federal Court Interpreter Training Programs and Careers

Learn how to prepare for a career as a federal court interpreter, including kinds of interpreters and types of qualifications. Keep reading for information about the training requirements and career outlook for federal court interpreters. Schools offering Legal Transcriptionist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

A federal court interpreter translates speech between lawyers, judges and lay people involved in court cases. This means being able to translate both technical legal language and colloquial speech from people of all walks of life. Federal court interpreters can enter the occupation through a variety of routes, though many complete some postsecondary education in interpreting or translating. Many federal court interpreters are either certified or professionally qualified, both of which entail passing language-specific exams.

Training Certificate programs; bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in translation and interpretation available
Careers Certified interpreter, professionally qualified interpreter or language-skilled interpreter
Salary (2017)* $47,190 (Median for all interpreters and translators)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Association of Judiciary Interpreters & Translators

What Does the Job Entail?

There are two types of oral interpretation that you may perform: simultaneous and consecutive. Simultaneous interpretation is when you speak at the same time as two other people, translating a conversation as it is happening in real time. Consecutive interpretation is when you take notes during one person's speech and then translate several lines, or paragraphs, after the person stops speaking.

How Can I Train?

There are three categories of federal court interpreter qualification. Certified Interpreters work between English and either Navajo, Haitian Creole or Spanish. Federal court interpreter certification examinations have been developed for these languages only. If you wish to translate another language, you may become a Professionally Qualified Interpreter or a Language Skilled Interpreter.

To become a Professionally Qualified Interpreter, you must pass interpreter examinations from both the U.S. State Department and the United Nations and be in good standing with a major language association. To become an Ad Hoc Interpreter, you must demonstrate advanced interpreting ability to the specific court in which you plan to work; in this role, you may be paid less than others, according to the U.S. Courts website.

In order to become qualified as a federal court interpreter between Spanish and English, you must pass a two-part examination, first a written exam and then an oral one. The process takes a minimum of two years because the written and oral examinations are offered in alternating years. The written exam has two sections, one in English and the other in Spanish. You must receive a score of at least 75 percent on both parts to pass.

In order to do well on these exams, you must have a thorough understanding of both the legal systems of the United States and the country of your second language, in addition to excellent oral and written language skills. The website of the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE) offers self-assessment tools to help determine how prepared you are to enter this profession.

Continuing education training programs are offered by:

  • American Translators Association
  • National Association of Judiciary Interpreters Training Academy
  • SCSI Media
  • University of Arizona National Center for Interpretation
  • Tennessee Language Center Institute for Public Service

What Are My Employment Options?

As a federal court interpreter, you may work freelance or full-time for a specific court. Your pay depends on your qualification level, but the median salary for all interpreters and translators was $47,190 as of 2017. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, due to increasing globalization and more population diversity in the U.S., employment for court language interpreters is expected to be in demand from 2016 to 2026.

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