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How to Become a Court Interpreter


What is the Court Interpreter's Role?

A Court Interpreter is a person who interprets orally from English to another language and vice versa in a court hearing. Interpreters also translate written documents.

To interpret means to provide the same meaning in the target language as the meaning in the source language. The interpreter's role is to render a complete and accurate interpretation or translation, without changing, omitting, or adding anything to what is said or written. In essence, the interpreter serves as a two-way bridge between those who speak English and those who do not.

It is not the interpreter's role to explain what is being said. It is not the interpreter's role to give advice or counsel or to provide services other than interpreting from one language to another.


What Skills Must a Court Interpreter Have?

Court interpreting requires extensive knowledge and skill in languages, and is a very demanding job. Being bilingual is not enough. Even people who are fluent in two languages often do not have a sufficient command of both languages, sufficient legal and technical vocabulary in both languages, and sufficient interpreting skill to interpret in a courtroom.

The level of expertise required for court interpreting is much greater than that required in everyday conversation. In addition to having a thorough command of English and the other language, a Court Interpreter must be able to deal with technical and specialized language. A Court Interpreter must be able to interpret accurately for individuals with a high level of education and a large vocabulary, as well as for people with very limited language skills, without changing the language register of the speaker. The interpreter must also possess excellent mental skills, including the ability to accurately convert the source language into the target language, and vice versa, often with only an instant to choose equivalent words and phrases.

A Court Interpreter must also have good public speaking and interpersonal skills. If the testimony to be interpreted is shocking or traumatic, the Court Interpreter must be able to interpret without reacting or becoming emotionally involved. The Court Interpreter must work well under pressure and react quickly to solve complex linguistic and ethical problems. A Court Interpreter must continually strive to improve his or her skills by reading from a wide variety of sources, researching new terms and concepts, and improving techniques.


Court Interpreter Credentials

From their highest to lowest qualifications, Utah Court Interpreters are credentialed as:

  • Certified: Our most highly qualified interpreters. In addition to the basic requirements of an English diagnostic test, a test on the Interpreter Code of Professional Responsibility, a one-day orientation workshop a background check and 10 hours of observation, a certified interpreter has completed a seven-day training course and passed a three-part examination offered by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts (www.ncsc.org). A certified interpreter must be used unless one is not reasonably available.
  • Approved: Our next most qualified interpreters. In addition to the basic requirements of an English diagnostic test, a test on the Interpreter Code of Professional Responsibility, a one-day orientation workshop a background check and 10 hours of observation, an approved interpreter has passed an Oral Proficiency Interview offered by Language Testing International (www.languagetesting.com).
  • Registered 1: Has completed the basic requirements of an English diagnostic test, a test on the Interpreter Code of Professional Responsibility, a one-day orientation workshop a background check and 10 hours of observation. There is no examination available in the language for certified or approved credentials.
  • Registered 2: Has completed the basic requirements of an English diagnostic test, a test on the Interpreter Code of Professional Responsibility, a one-day orientation workshop a background check and 10 hours of observation. Has not taken or has not passed the examination available for certified or approved credentials.
  • Conditionally Approved:Vetted by the appointing authority for suitability in the particular hearing.

Application Form

Most Court Interpreters are not court employees. They are appointed by the court to interpret hearings as needed. All people who want to qualify as a Court Interpreter must first complete and submit an Application to Become a Court Interpreter (utahcip.wufoo.com).


Basic Steps for All Candidates

After submitting an application form, all candidates must also:

Candidates who complete these steps are classified as Registered 1 if they interpret in a language for which an Oral Proficiency Interview or Certification Examination is not available. Interpreters who complete these steps are classified as Registered 2 if they interpret in a language for which an Oral Proficiency Interview or Certification Examination is available.


Background Check

The Administrative Office of the Courts conducts a background check, at no charge to the candidate, based on the identifying information provided by the candidate. If a candidate does not pass the background check, they may appeal the decision within 30 days to the Court Interpreter Committee.


English Diagnostic Test

All candidates must pass a written English Diagnostic Test offered by the National Center for State Courts (www.ncsc.org) before attending the workshops. The exam tests English skills in sentence completion and understanding of English synonyms, antonyms, and idioms. Spanish speaking candidates also take a translation test that consists of 10 English passages. The fee is $25.00 and is non-refundable. To register for the test, complete and submit the following form:

The registration deadline is 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before the test date. The test is administered at the dates and times on the registration form at the court in:

Please call 801-578-3800 to pay the test fee or mail a check/money order to:

Administrative Office of the Courts
P.O. Box 140241
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-0241


Basic Orientation Workshop (under reorganization)

The basic orientation is a language-neutral class that provides a general introduction to the profession of court interpreting and the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters. There is no fee, but enrollment is limited and pre-registration is required. The classes are offered from 8:30 AM - 4:40 PM on the dates, times, and locations on the registration form. To register for a class, complete and submit the following form:


Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters

All candidates must take and pass an examination on the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters. This exam is given at the Basic Orientation Workshop. There is no fee. It is approximately 20 multiple-choice questions on what is an appropriate action when confronted with an ethical situation. The candidate may schedule the exam with the interpreter coordinator in their district at any time. For contact information, see our webpage on List of Interpreter Coordinators.


In-court Observation

All candidates must complete 10 hours observing a Certified Court Interpreter. The candidate can complete this requirement with any Certified Court Interpreter. Most Certified Court Interpreters interpret in Spanish, but the candidate, regardless of language, is there to observe the participation of the interpreter in the court process, not to learn language or interpretation skills. The candidate should contact the interpreter coordinator in their district to schedule observation time and to receive a log sheet. For contact information, see our webpage on List of Interpreter Coordinators.


Advanced Orientation Workshop, Skill-building Workshop, and Advanced Skill-building for Candidates for Approved and Certified Credentials

To become an Approved Court Interpreter or a Certified Court Interpreter, a candidate must complete the Basic Steps described above and must also pass additional examinations. Each year, the court offers seven days of language-neutral training to help candidates pass those examinations. The training course is optional before taking the Oral Proficiency Interview to become an Approved Court Interpreter and is required before taking the Certification Examination to become a Certified Court Interpreter.

The course is held at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City and consists of three workshops:

  • two-day orientation workshop.
    • Improves understanding of the skills and appropriate conduct required of professional court interpreters, and offers a basic orientation to courts and the justice environment.
    • Overview of organization and roles of related justice system agencies such as law enforcement, prosecutor, defense attorney, probation, children's social services.
    • Information on court procedures and how they differ for different case types.
    • Interpreter's role including the code of professional responsibility.
    • Overview of related settings to which the interpreter may be called, such as jails, hospitals, probation department, juvenile courts, detention centers, and mediations, etc.
    • Glossary of court system and legal terminology, emphasizing the characteristics of legal language (e.g., common words with uncommon meanings) and how to research terminology.
    • Self-study materials and tips.
  • three-day skill-building workshop.
    - - and - -
  • two-day advanced skill-building workshop.
    • Valuable component in passing the OPI or Certification Examination.
    • Complete immersion in the modes of interpretation.
    • Instructors observe and listen to participants as they practice the modes of interpretation.
    • Voice recorders make review and feedback possible.

Enrollment is limited to candidates who have completed the Basic Steps described above. To advance to the next workshop, the candidate must complete the one before it. Pre-registration is required, and fees are due upon registration.

Workshop Registration Form

Date of Workshop

Fee

Register No Later Than

Advanced Orientation
(utahcip.wufoo.com)
March 6 & 7, 2014
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
$100 February 21, 2014
Skill-building
(utahcip.wufoo.com)
April 16 - 18, 2014
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
$150 April 4, 2013
Advanced Skill-building
(utahcip.wufoo.com)
May 8 & 9, 2014
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Included with Skill-building Included with Skill-building

The course alone is not enough to prepare most people to pass the examinations. The candidate should follow up with very intensive individual work. The National Center for State Courts (www.ncsc.org) website offers several training tools.


Examination to Become an Approved Court Interpreter

To become an Approved Court Interpreter, a candidate must complete the Basic Steps described above, and they must also take the Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) offered by Language Testing International (LTI - www.languagetesting.com) and score a Superior rating (www.languagetesting.com).

A Superior rating (www.languagetesting.com) means that the candidate must demonstrate the ability to:

  • Speak the standard form of the language without using English or slang.
  • Speak the language formally, as well as informally, from both concrete and abstract perspectives.
  • Speak the language with a high level of accuracy and no pattern of error.
  • State and support a point of view in extended discourse on topics of personal and general interest.
  • Speculate and hypothesize about possible causes, outcomes, and/or occurrences in extended discourse.

A list of languages in which an Oral Proficiency Interview is available is on the LTI website, but it may be out of date. For the most current information, contact LTI. The cost of the OPI (subject to change without notice) is $143, paid by the candidate to Language Testing International. Pre-registration is required, and payment is due upon registration. To register for the OPI:

    1. Go to www.languagetesting.com

    2. Click on the link in the upper right hand corner: "Are you a client, test candidate or proctor?"

    3. Click on the link "Apply for a test"

    4. Setup an account

    5. Follow the links to apply for a test

    6. Once on the applications page, enter "Utah" in the search field to access the application

Once registered with LTI, the candidate can take the OPI from any state courthouse. Contact the Court Interpreter Coordinator at least 7 days before the scheduled test to make arrangements.

Candidates must arrive at the testing room at least 15 minutes before their scheduled test time. Government-issued picture identification, such as a driver's license, driving privilege card, or passport is required. No writing utensils, recording devices, or other materials will be allowed in the testing room. There is a fee of $55.00 for a missed appointment.

The OPI is a 20-30 minute telephone interview between the candidate and an interviewer who is certified by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). The OPI assesses the candidate's ability to use the language effectively and appropriately in real-life situations. Interviews are recorded. The recordings are the property of ACTFL/LTI and will not be shared with any outside party for any reason.

The interview is interactive and continuously adapts to the candidate's experiences, interests and linguistic competence. There is no script or fixed set of questions. Through a series of personalized questions, the interviewer assesses the candidate's functional speaking ability. The OPI is not concerned with how, when, or where the candidate acquired the language, nor does it compare the candidate's performance with other candidates.

The recorded interview is rated by two ACTFL certified testers. If there is a difference in scores, the interview is rated by an arbitrator. The final rating will be reported to the Court Interpreter Program Manager about two weeks after the interview.

The raters compare the interview to the criteria described in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines – Speaking (www.actfl.org). The rating scale has four major levels of language performance: Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. To be an Approved Court Interpreter, the candidate must score a Superior rating (www.languagetesting.com).

LTI requires a minimum of 90 days between testing and retesting. There is no limit to the number of retests.


Examination to Become a Certified Court Interpreter

Certified Court Interpreters are the most highly trained and qualified interpreters. To become a Certified Court Interpreter, the candidate must complete the Basic Steps described above, they must attend the Advanced Training for Candidates for Approved and Certified Credentials described above, and they must also pass the Certification Examination of the National Center for State Courts (www.ncsc.org). For a current list of languages in which a Certification Examination is available, see the National Center for State Courts (www.ncsc.org) website. The website also has training tools and other information.

The Certification Examination is offered once per year on the dates, times and location on the registration form. The fee (subject to change without notice) is $200 for Utah residents and $400 for non-residents and is non-refundable. Pre-registration is required, and payment is due upon registration. To register for the Certification Examination, complete and submit the following form:

The exam consists of three parts—sight translation, simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation—and the candidate must pass all three parts (minimum score 70%) within two years after passing one part. The entire three-part exam requires one hour, and candidates are scheduled for the exam on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Certification Examination is scored by determining whether "scoring units" are interpreted correctly or incorrectly. Scoring units are words and phrases selected to represent features of language that interpreters encounter in their work, and that they must render accurately and completely, without altering the meaning or style of speech. The examiners will consider correct any rendering that would be acceptable in any appropriate spoken variety of the non-English language. The types of scoring units that are scattered throughout the test include:

  • Grammar—words or phrases that might be interpreted incorrectly due to an inadequate command of grammar;
  • False cognates—words that sound or look alike in both languages, but that have different meanings;
  • General vocabulary—a range of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.;
  • Technical vocabulary—special terminology frequently encountered in court contexts, such as common legal terms;
  • Idioms and expressions—words or phrases in the source language which will usually result in lost meaning or nonsense if they are interpreted word-for-word into the target language;
  • Numbers, names, dates—these must be accurately preserved during the interpretation;
  • Modifiers, emphasis—adjective, adverbs, exclamations, etc. in the source language that must be accurately preserved in the target language;
  • Register/style—words or phrases characteristic of a style of speech (formal, casual, informal) that must be preserved in the interpretation, for example, "yeah" and "yes" mean the same, but make a different impression on the listener;
  • Position and special function—words or phrases that might be overlooked or left out because of their position in the sentence, such as embedded phrases or tag‑ons, or because they are "fillers," such as false starts, stalls, etc.; and
  • Slang/Colloquialisms—words or phrases that are slang or colloquial language.

There are 75 scoring units in the simultaneous interpretation, 75 or 90 units in the consecutive interpretation (depending upon what version of a test is used), and a total of 50 units the sight translation. To pass, the candidate must score at least a 70% on each of the three parts.

Each candidate's test is reviewed by two raters. The raters independently score each scoring unit and then compare their scores. When a scoring unit is omitted or rendered incorrectly, that scoring unit is marked as incorrect. When the raters disagree about the interpretation of a scoring unit, the raters consult a scoring dictionary. The scoring dictionary includes a compilation of interpretations for that scoring unit that have been deemed "acceptable" or "unacceptable" by other teams of raters in the past. If the scoring dictionary does not adequately address the disagreement, the raters will turn to reputable bilingual dictionaries and other resources to see if the interpretation would be acceptable in any country where the language is spoken. If the disagreement cannot be resolved through discussion or by consulting the scoring dictionary or published resources, a third opinion may be sought.

In addition to the evaluation of a candidate's scoring unit assessment, each section of the exam is further evaluated in a general way by the test raters for consistency in interpreting and language skills. This is a structured assessment of interpreting and language skills that may not be captured within the framework of the scoring unit assessment. It will be used to evaluate any consistently repeated mistakes, difficulty understanding a candidate due to speech habits or accent, and significant changes in meaning in non-scoring unit phrases of the exam.

Test results are reported to the candidate and to the Court Interpreter Program Manager within thirty days.


Continuing Requirements for Court Interpreters

All Court Interpreters must pass a background check every two years. Certified Court Interpreters must complete at least 16 hours of continuing education every two years. For more information, see our webpage on Continuing Education Requirements.


Interpreters from Other States

Utah recognizes comparable credentials from other states. Subject to compliance with the requirements in the next paragraph, an interpreter who has been rated as Superior on the Oral Proficiency Interview administered in another state will be recognized as an Approved Court Interpreter in Utah. And an interpreter who has passed the Certification Examination administered in another state with a score of at least 70% on all three parts will be recognized as a Certified Court Interpreter in Utah.

The candidate must complete the Utah Application to Become a Court Interpreter (utahcip.wufoo.com), pass the background check, and pass the examination on the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters. The other Basic Steps are waived. Nevertheless, only interpreters residing in Utah will be listed on the official roster. To remain credentialed in Utah, Court Interpreters must meet the Continuing Requirements for Court Interpreters.


Conditionally Approved Court Interpreter

If no certified, approved or registered Court Interpreters are reasonably available, the court may appoint a conditionally approved interpreter. A conditionally approved interpreter is authorized to interpret only the hearing for which they are appointed. This is limited to circumstances in which:

  • the interpreter has language skills, knowledge of interpreting techniques and familiarity with interpreting sufficient to interpret the hearing; and
  • appointment of the interpreter does not present a real or perceived conflict of interest or appearance of bias; and
  • the gravity of the hearing and the potential consequence to the party are so minor that the delay in obtaining a certified, approved or Registered 1nterpreter is not justified.

The interpreter must answer questions posed by the judge. These questions address the interpreter's background, level of education, and experience as a Court Interpreter. The interpreter must also read the Code of Professional Responsibility for Court Interpreters. If the interpreter's responses to the questions are deemed satisfactory by the court, the interpreter may be conditionally approved to interpret on a one-time basis. Their name does not go on a list for future use.


Interpreter Fees


Hourly Fees

  • Certified: $39.41
  • Approved: $33.77
  • Registered 1: $33.77
  • Registered 2: $25.32
  • Conditionally Approved: $18.39

Minimum Fees. Court Interpreters are paid for the time they interpret or a minimum fee based on the distance they travel, whichever is more:

Interpreters who travel at least this far (one way) from their home base or from their previous assignment:

Are paid for at least this much time:

0 miles 1 hour
25 miles 2 hours
50 miles 3 hours
75 miles 4 hours

For a more thorough description of fees, please see the Court Interpreter Section (Section 9) of the Court Accounting Manual.


Forms


Related Information



Page Last Modified: 2/12/2014
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