Legal Interpreting Guidelines in Pennsylvania

Legal Language Services ranks Pennsylvania as a state with heavily regulated legal interpreting requirements.

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. Please be aware that some counties in Pennsylvania may have specific legal interpreting regulations in addition to the statewide requirements.

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 Pennsylvania.

Requirements for Certified Interpreters in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania state authorities periodically offer exams, both written and oral, for certification based on the guidelines of the Consortium for State Court Interpreter Certification.

The state of Pennsylvania also offers federal court certification and accepts certification from NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators) and Court Interpreter Certification Certificates from any state which is a member of the National Center for State Court’s Consortium for Language Access in the Court.

However, interpreters certified outside of Pennsylvania’s Interpreter Certification Program (ICP) must attend an ICP orientation session and comply with continued education requirements.

Pennsylvania offers certification in 23 languages:

  • Arabic
  • Bosnian
  • Cantonese
  • Croatian
  • German
  • Haitian Creole
  • Hmong
  • Ilocano
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Laotian
  • Mandarin
  • Marshallese
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Serbian
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Turkish
  • Vietnamese

Classification of Interpreters in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Judicial Department defines legal interpreters in the following eight ways:

Certified interpreters are considered:

  • Master: An interpreter who has achieved an 85% or higher on both the written and oral proficiency examinations.
  • Certified: An interpreter who has achieved an 80% or higher on the written examination and 70% or higher on the oral examination.

“Otherwise Qualified” interpreters are considered:

  • Qualified: An interpreter who has achieved an 80% or higher on the written examination and a 60% or higher on the oral examination.
  • Conditional: An interpreter who has achieved an 80% or higher on the written examination and a 50% or higher on the oral examination.

Where there is no oral proficiency test available, the following classifications apply:

  • Registered: An interpreter working in a foreign language for which there is no oral proficiency test who has achieved an 80% or higher on the written exam and a “Superior Level” designation on the oral proficiency interview.
  • Conditional: An interpreter working in a foreign language for which there is no oral proficiency test or interview, who has achieved an 80% or higher on the written exam.

For both of these classifications, interpreters must pass the oral proficiency test when one is made available in their language.

All venues in Pennsylvania require certified interpreters for languages in which Pennsylvania provides certification. Please consult with Legal Language Services for the rules pertaining to your specific venue and language.

Common Languages Spoken in Pennsylvania

According to a recent American Community Survey, approximately 9.85% of the Pennsylvania population speaks a language other than English.

What’s more, almost 73% of the non-English speaking population of Pennsylvania speaks one of the following 10 languages:

Common Languages Spoken in Pennsylvania

  • Spanish
  • German
  • Italian
  • Chinese*
  • Pennsylvania Dutch
  • French
  • Russian
  • Vietnamese
  • Korean
  • Polish
Benjamin Franklin Parkway -  Pennsylvania court interpreting guidelines

Other languages spoken in Pennsylvania include Arabic, Hindi, Gujarathi, French Creole, Greek, Tagalog, Portuguese, Mon-Khmer/Cambodian, Ukrainian, Malayalam, Dutch, Urdu, Mandarin, Albanian, Japense, Kru/Ibo/Yoruba, Telugu, Bengali and Tamil.

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

Judicial Districts in Pennsylvania

There are 60 judicial districts in Pennsylvania that encompass 67 counties.  However, requirements are statewide.

Call Legal Language Services at 1-800-788-0450 to find Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania is believed to be accurate at the time of posting; however, Legal Language Services is not responsible for any errors or omissions.