What Skills Does a Good Court Interpreter Need to Have?

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 06/09/2010
In Legal Interpreting



court legal interpretingCourt interpreters are necessary to interpret for the thousands of non-English speakers who make appearances in US courtrooms every year.

The demand for qualified court interpreters grows each year.

The demand is great for a reason: not every interpreter is cut out to work in a courtroom. Being a qualified court interpreter requires a specific skill set.

Court Interpreter Roles

A court interpreter is present in the courtroom during legal proceedings to facilitate communication for people with limited or no English proficiency.

A court interpreter’s work may include interpreting for all types of legal proceedings — a court interpreter may also be present during preliminary hearings, arraignments, depositions and meetings between attorneys and clients.

Court Interpreter Qualifications

There are many skills required for an interpreter to be able to work competently in a legal setting.

It goes without saying that a court interpreter needs to be fluent in English as well as another language. However, a court interpreter needs to be fluent in a third kind of language — the language of legal terminology and protocol. A court interpreter must be comfortable with the often-confusing legal jargon that is bandied about freely in a courtroom.

It helps for a court interpreter to have excellent public speaking skills and the ability to reign in emotion while working. Some testimony may be shocking or graphic, and a court interpreter cannot be daunted by conveying this information.

Additionally, a court interpreter must be able to refrain from expressing personal opinions or taking a side while interpreting.

Obviously, a court interpreter must act quickly and know how to handle any linguistic or ethical issues that will undoubtedly arise. A good court interpreter will know how to solve a problem and when it is necessary to bring an issue to the attention of the court.

Finally, a qualified court interpreter will always be striving to make improvements. Everything from reading and brushing up on vocabulary, researching unfamiliar terms and concepts, and attending conferences and seminars will improve a court interpreter’s abilities.

Court Interpreter Certifications

There is no nationwide certification program for court interpreters. However, different states have different requirements for proficiency among court interpreters, and there are a variety of different tests that court interpreters can take to prove competency and gain employment opportunities.

The US federal court system has developed a certification program for court interpreters. If a court interpreter passes the two-part exam, he or she will be certified and eligible to make more money when working in federal court proceedings. The certification program is currently only available in Haitian-Creole, Navajo and Spanish languages.

Since there is no universal standard for certifications, standards should be encouraged among court interpreters. Remember that a good court interpreter will be fast, fluent, impartial and professional!


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