How to Become a Court Interpreter in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a court interpreter. Learn about degree requirements, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Legal Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information At a Glance

Interpretation involves translating oral speech into another language, and court interpreters work within the judicial system. Mastery of English and another language is one of the most important skills to have. After earning a bachelor's degree, on-the-job training typically occurs. Discover the qualifications for this career, and review the typical salary for court interpreters.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree; postsecondary certificate programs in the field may be helpful to those with a bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Translation studies, court interpreting
Key Skills Speaking, writing, listening, interpersonal, fluency in English and a second language
Certification Certification is optional
Job Growth (2012-2022) 46% (for all interpreters and translators)*
Median Salary (2013) $42,420 (for all interpreters and translators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Court Interpreter?

As a court interpreter, you are responsible for helping non-English speaking individuals communicate in a judicial environment. You must be fluent in a foreign language, and should also be well versed in both U.S. and international legal systems. You might be responsible for interpreting in depositions, arraignments, trials, legal meetings and preliminary hearings. No specific degree is required; however, most court interpreters have a bachelor's degree.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

Several different educational paths can set you on your goal towards becoming a court interpreter. However, most employers will require you to have at least a high school diploma. High school courses that can prepare you for the career include those relating to English, communication and reading comprehension skills. If you were not raised in a bilingual household, you should also consider taking foreign language courses in high school.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) most court interpreters hold at least a bachelor's degree (www.bls.gov). One undergraduate program you can enroll in is a bachelor's degree in translation studies. Such a program should allow you to concentrate on one foreign language, such as Spanish, French or German. Additional courses might cover diction, phonetics, composition and translation processes.

Step 3: Complete a Certificate Program

If you are already fluent in a foreign language, or have already completed a bachelor's degree program in translation studies, you may want to consider enrolling in a professional court interpreter certificate program. Such programs are designed to provide you with an understanding of U.S. law and the judicial system. They are often offered through 4-year universities, community colleges and professional organizations. Courses covered include simultaneous translating skills, court procedures, court interpreting and the penal code.

Step 4: Work as a Translator or Interpreter

Many employers only hire those translators who have a degree, 3-5 years of experience, or both, according to the BLS. You can gain the requisite experience by working for a translation company. You might also complete an internship or do volunteer interpreter work for a community organization.

Step 5: Become a Court interpreter

Although it is not a requirement, you can become certified as a translator or interpreter through the American Translators Association or the Translators and Interpreters Guild. According to the BLS, translators and interpreters held more than 49,060 jobs in 2013. About 2,500 of those individuals worked for local government agencies. The median wage in the field during that year was roughly $42,420.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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