How Do I Become a Court Translator?

Research what it takes to become a court translator. Learn about education requirements, professional certification, the skills you may need to become a court translator and popular languages requiring translation to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Legal Transcriptionist degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does A Court Interpreter Do?

Court translating and court interpreting are similar and sometimes intertwined jobs; translators work with written court documents, converting them from one language to another, whereas interpreters deal with spoken language. They are responsible for ensuring people with limited English skills are fully aware of their part in any given court proceedings. Court interpreters need to have excellent communication skills, a native level of fluency in at least two languages, knowledge of legal terminology and an understanding of proper court processes. Interpreters may be required to translate documents on the spot, reading out documents in court in a language different to the one in which they are written.

The following chart provides more information about court translation and interpretation.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study English, Spanish, other applicable languages
Key Skills Fluency in at least two languages, strong knowledge of legal terms, impartiality, professionalism
Certification Certification is voluntary; however, federal courts prefer certification for Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole translating
Job Growth (2014-2024) 23% for government-employed interpreters and translators*
Median Salary (May 2015) $49,640 for government-employed interpreters and translators*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Education Do I Need?

If you want to become a court translator, some employers state that you must have a bachelor's degree in English, Spanish or related field. These programs may cover the specific language's grammar, speech, composition and slang. Some schools may also offer double majors in a foreign language and legal studies, which may help you understand the legal system. You may also need to take continuing education classes to maintain your certification status.

What Types of Court Translators Exist?

The United States Courts assigns three separate distinctions of court translators or interpreters, they are certified, professionally qualified or language skilled. Certified translators have successfully completed the Spanish-English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination, which includes a written and oral section. The minimum time to complete the certification is two years, because the written exam is offered once a year with the oral exam given the following year. Once you pass and become certified, you must register with the state where you want to gain employment.

Federal certification is available in Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole. Qualifications of other interpreters are determined by the State Department or United Nations. Additionally, if you are a member of the American Association of Language Specialists or Association Internationale des Interpretes de Conference, you qualify. If you use sign language, you must have a specialist certificate from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

If you are a language skilled or ad hoc interpreter you do not meet the criteria to become a professionally qualified translator; though you can successfully interpret courtroom proceedings. For instance, you can easily translate English to Spanish and Spanish to English.

What Skills Do I Need?

According to the United States Courts, to be a successful court translator, you must be impartial and able to conduct yourself in a manner acceptable for a courtroom setting. You must be highly fluent in English and another language, so you can effectively interpret speech and text on behalf of those who do not know English. Demand in the federal courts for Spanish-language interpreters is the highest, followed by Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian and Korean, according to the United States Courts. You may also be asked to maintain confidentiality and establish working relationships with all levels of courtroom personnel. The Judicial Council of California also states you may need strong memory and communication skills, and be fluent in legal terminology.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many different areas of society where interpreters and translators can find work. Virtually all government, medical and social institutions require interpreters in order to provide non-English speakers with effective services. You could work as an educational interpreter, helping students with limited English skills or those with hearing issues. You could also work in a hospital as a medical interpreter, requiring you to be familiar with medical terminology and practice good medical ethics. These positions ask for the same educational background as a legal interpreter and may require applicants to gain additional certification depending on the technical aspect of the job.

If you're interested in a related career field that typically requires a bachelor's degree, you might consider working as a teacher. Teachers in elementary, middle and high schools craft lesson plans, instruct students in a variety of subjects, grade homework and tests, and meet with the parents of students. In addition to a bachelor's degree, public school teachers need state licensure.

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