What Is a Certified Interpreter?

By Katherine at Legal Language
Updated on 10/15/2014
In Legal Interpreting



sign language interpreterWhen you hire an interpreter, you want to be assured that he or she will do quality work.

For that reason, many people look for certified interpreters. But what exactly makes an interpreter certified?

The truth is, there is no nationwide standard for interpreter certification. The process of certifying an interpreter varies from state to state and organization to organization.

In fact, not all excellent interpreters are certified, or even have the option to take a certification exam.

One of the most prominent interpreter certification programs is that of the US federal court system. The requirements to become a certified interpreter for US courts are good indicators of what any interpreter should be capable of.

The US Federal Court Certified Interpreter Program

As the population of non-English-speaking US citizens and residents grows, so does the need to have certified interpreters on hand to make sure justice is carried out for defendants, litigants and victims.

The Administative Office of United States Courts has developed a certification examination for interpreters in three different widely used languages: Spanish, Navajo and Haitian-Creole.

The examination for certification is administered in two parts. First, there is a written exam. If an interpreter passes the written exam, he or she is then permitted to take the oral exam. The oral exam tests the interpreter’s ability to perform both consecutive and simultaneous interpreting duties.

Besides being fluent and skilled at consecutive and simultaneous interpreting, the other skills an interpreter needs to become certified by the US courts are:

  • To be impartial during judicial proceedings
  • To interpret messages without any additions, omissions or misleading factors
  • To have knowledge of courtroom protocol and professional conduct

A Nationwide Interpreter Certification Program

When you hire a certified interpreter, you know that you will be working with someone who has passed rigorous testing to obtain the “certified” title.

No matter if they’re in the courtroom, the boardroom or any other room, certified interpreters need to be ready to handle a variety of complex communication. This includes different dialects, specialized vocabulary, idioms and slang terms.

But many times, businesses, hospitals and courts cannot find a certified interpreter. There may be too little time to look for a certified interpreter, the language may be too obscure, or the company who sent the interpreter may be unreliable. This can have disastrous results, like in the case where an interpreter for the wrong language showed up in court, delaying the trial!

Many support the idea of a nationwide interpreter certification examination for certified interpreters in the legal, medical and corporate industries.

But developing a reliable test is an undertaking that requires many linguistic experts and many evaluations to ensure its validity and reliability. This takes time and money — years and tens of thousands of dollars — just so qualified interpreters can add the word “certified” to their title.

Whether or not a nationwide interpreter certification system ever happens, it is important to encourage standards among those in the interpreting community. So many businesses and industries benefit from having access to quality interpreters, whether they are certified or not!


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