Legal Interpreting Guidelines in California

California US mapRegulations for legal interpreters in California differ from those in other states.

Legal Language Services ranks California as a state with moderately regulated legal interpreting requirements.

In general, your legal interpreter must have the appropriate level of certification that meets your language needs. This is especially true if you require a court interpreter.

This does not mean, however, that you should hire a certified interpreter for every situation. Whether or not an interpreter is certified — let alone the level of certification — will have an effect on how much you are charged for legal interpreting services.

Do you need a certified interpreter?

Due to the added cost of certified professionals, it may not be a sound strategy to use certified legal interpreters if certification is not legally required for your proceeding. In fact, some situations may not benefit from certified interpreters. In particular, where subject matter expertise and/or special skills are required, certification may be a secondary consideration in securing a competent interpreter.

As previously noted, non-certified legal interpreters can provide professional interpreting services at a more affordable price. As in other states, a certified interpreter will command a higher fee for legal interpreting services. Prices will be affected based on the level of certification.

Legal Language can help you determine the best interpreter, certified or otherwise, for your legal interpreting needs in California.

Requirements for Certified Interpreters in California

California does not require certified interpreters for any legal proceeding. However, the Judicial Council of California oversees the state’s certification program, including:

  • Designating the languages for which certification programs shall be established.
  • Approving one or more entities to certify Spanish-language interpreters and interpreters for as many other languages as the council designates.
  • Giving provisional approval to an entity to examine interpreters while final approval of one or more certification entities is pending.
  • Adopting and publishing guidelines, standards and procedures to determine which certification entities will be approved to test and certify interpreters.
  • Adopting standards and requirements for interpreter proficiency, continuing education, certification renewal and discipline.
  • Adopting standards of professional conduct for legal interpreters.
  • Adopting programs for interpreter recruiting, training and continuing education and evaluation to ensure that an adequate number of interpreters is available and that they interpret competently.
  • Conducting a study of language and interpreter use and need in court proceedings and reporting to the California governor and legislature every five years.

California offers exams, both written and oral, for certification in Spanish and 11 other languages based on the guidelines of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification.

Other languages in which an interpreter can be certified include:

  • Arabic
  • Eastern Armenian
  • Cantonese
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese

Common Languages Spoken in California

According to a recent American Community Survey, approximately 42.98% of the California population speaks a language other than English.

What’s more, more than 87% of the non-English speaking California population speaks one of the following 10 languages:

Spanish 66.22%
Tagalog 5.12%
Chinese* 3.72%
Vietnamese 3.33%
Korean 2.51%
Cantonese 1.54%
Mandarin 1.26%
Armenian 1.21%
Persian 1.21%
Japanese 1.00%


Other languages spoken in California include Russian, Hindi, Arabic, French, German, Panjabi, Portuguese, Mon-Khmer/Cambodian, Hmong, Italian, Thai, Gujarathi, Hebrew, Urdu, Laotian, Formosan, Telugu, Tamil and Indonesian.

*This table was created based on respondents’ written answers, the majority of whom wrote “Chinese” while others specified “Cantonese” or “Mandarin.”

Classification of Interpreters in California

The Judicial Council of California defines legal interpreters in the following ways:

  • Certified Interpreter: An interpreter who has passed a written exam and a bilingual oral interpreting exam, including portions on English language grammar and vocabulary, court-related terms and usage and ethics and professional conduct.
  • Registered Interpreter: An interpreter who has successfully passed the written exam, passed the oral proficiency exam in both English and their chosen non-English language, and is determined to be qualified to serve as an interpreter for a language that does not have a certification program or when a certified interpreter is not available.

Judicial Districts in California

There are 58 judicial districts in California, one for each of the state’s 58 counties. However, certification requirements in California are statewide and remain consistent across all local jurisdictions.

Call Legal Language Services at 1-800-788-0450 to find California interpreters who meet state interpreting rules for courtroom trials, hearings, depositions, arbitrations and other legal proceedings.

Please Note

The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information about legal interpreting guidelines in California is believed to be accurate at the time of posting; however, Legal Language Services is not responsible for any errors or omissions.