Qualified court interpreters speak English and the other language really well. They know legal terms in both languages. They understand the legal process. And they stay neutral and impartial at all times.
Ask the court to provide you an interpreter as soon as you find out that you will need to go to court. In many cases, the court will be able to provide you an interpreter for free. In some cases, the court may ask you to bring your own interpreter. If that happens, find someone who is trained and qualified. Do not bring a minor (someone under 18) to interpret for you.
Note: There are also sign language interpreters for persons that are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The court will provide you a sign language interpreter or other accommodation you may need. You can ask your court’s ADA Coordinator for more information. Or read For Persons With Disabilities Requesting Accommodations.
You can get a free interpreter for criminal cases, traffic court, juvenile cases, and domestic violence cases. Many courts may also provide you an interpreter for: evictions, family law (like child support and child custody and visitation), restraining orders for elder abuse, dependent adult abuse, and civil harassment, guardianships, conservatorships, and others.
If your court cannot give you an interpreter for your type of case, click for help finding a qualified interpreter.
Look for an interpreter who has passed the required exams, and has been approved by the Judicial Council of California.
There are 2 types of approved court interpreters in California: Certified and Registered.
Find a list of certified and registered court interpreters. Click to learn more about becoming a court interpreter.
You can use someone else like a friend, relative, or someone else to interpret for you when you go to court. But they must be qualified.
Just because someone speaks English and another language does not mean he or she will be a good interpreter. Court interpreters need to know both languages really well. They need to know formal and informal speech. They also need to know legal terms in both English and the other language. And they need to know how to interpret—there are many rules for how to interpreter in court. Most people, even if they are fully bilingual, are not able to interpret well.
Court hearings are your only chance to tell your side of the story to the judge. If you have an interpreter that does not interpret what you are saying exactly as you are saying it, you will not have a second chance to talk to the judge. And if your interpreter does not accurately interpret for you everything that the judge or the lawyers say, you may miss really important information and be at a disadvantage. Once the court hearing is over, there is usually nothing you can do to fix a problem that happened because you had a bad interpreter. That is why it is very important you have a qualified interpreter in court.
Court interpreters usually interpret whispering into your ear or with the help of headphones. When you speak, they will interpret your words into English loudly so the judge can hear. Interpreters sometimes interpret at the same time as the person speaking. This is called “simultaneous interpreting.” Other times, they will let one person finish talking and then will interpret what was said into the other language. This is called “consecutive interpreting.”
In general, interpreters have to follow these rules: