General Court Interpreters FAQs

Q: What is the Judicial Council of California's role in the current court interpreter program?

A: Ensuring equal access to the courts has been and continues to be a priority of the Judicial Council. The council, effective January 1, 1993, has been mandated to certify and register court interpreters (Sen. Bill 1304; Stats. 1992, ch. 770). Specifically, the statute requires the council to:

  • Designate the languages for which certification programs shall be established;
  • Approve one or more entities to certify Spanish-language interpreters and interpreters for as many other languages as the council designates;
  • Give provisional approval to an entity to examine interpreters while final approval of one or more certification entities is pending;
  • Adopt and publish guidelines, standards, and procedures to determine which certification entities will be approved to test and certify interpreters;
  • Adopt standards and requirements for interpreter proficiency, continuing education, certification renewal, and discipline;
  • Adopt standards of professional conduct for court interpreters;
  • Adopt 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; and
  • Conduct a study of language and interpreter use and need in court proceedings and report to the Governor and the Legislature every five years.

Q: Which Judicial Council panel oversees the court interpreters program?

A. The Court Interpreters Advisory Panel assists the California Judicial Council in performing its duties under Government Code sections 68560 through 68566. CIAP reviews and makes recommendations to the council on: Interpreter use and need in court proceedings; Certification, registration, testing, recruiting, training, continuing education; and professional conduct of court interpreters. In addition the Court Interpreters Panel reviews and make recommendations to the Judicial Council on the findings of the Language Need and Interpreter Use study in court proceedings, conducted by the Judicial Council every five years under Government Code section 68563.



Q: How can courts identify certified or registered court interpreters?

A: The Judicial Council maintains a list of certified and registered interpreters from which courts can make their selection. Certified and registered interpreters receive identification badges, which they must wear during all court interpreting assignments.

Q: How do I request a new or replacement interpreter badge?

A: The process for requesting a new or replacement interpreter badge is very straight forward. Simply fill out the Badge Form and submit a recent passport size photo and a check for $15 payable to the “State of California” to:

Judicial Council of California
Court Operations Services
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, California 94102-3688

Prospective Interpreters FAQs

Q: What is a court interpreter?

A: Spoken language court interpreters interpret in civil or criminal court proceedings (e.g., arraignments, motions, pretrial conferences, preliminary hearings, depositions, trials) for witnesses or defendants who speak or understand little or no English. American Sign Language interpreters interpret for all parties who are deaf or hard of hearing in all proceedings. Court interpreters must accurately interpret for individuals with a high level of education and an extensive vocabulary, as well as for persons with very limited language skills without changing the language register of the speaker. Interpreters are also sometimes responsible for translating written documents, often of a legal nature, from English into the target language and from the target language into English.

Q: What do court interpreters do?

A: California court interpreters have an important job in the courtroom: they interpret court proceedings for witnesses and defendants with limited English skills or for parties who are deaf or hard of hearing. The position requires strong memory and communication skills. Court interpreters shift between two different languages, in real time, accounting for different types of speech and grammar. They also know legal terms and commonly used courtroom forms and reports.

Q: Are court interpreters in demand?

A: Very much so. According to a recent study, more than 200 languages are spoken in California. Of the state's 36 million people, about 20 percent speak English less than "very well." That's almost 7 million Californians who would need help from an interpreter if they found themselves in court.

Q: What does it take to become a court interpreter?

A: First, interpreters need to be fluent in both English and a second language. Right now, court interpreters must be certified in the following languages:

  • American Sign Language
  • Arabic
  • Armenian (Eastern)
  • Armenian (Western)
  • Cantonese
  • Farsi
  • Japanese
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Mandarin
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese

People who master other languages can become registered interpreters with the same full-time pay and benefits that certified interpreters receive.

Court interpreters:

  • Interpret speech and text from English into a second language and back again in real time. The interpretation must be accurate without any editing, summarizing, omissions, or change in meaning
  • Maintain good working relationships with judges, attorneys, other court personnel, supervisors, and coworkers
  • Understand a variety of court procedures and practices

Q: Is special training recommended to become a court interpreter?

A: Yes. Court interpreting is a very demanding job. Spoken language court interpreters must be completely fluent in both English and the second language, while court interpreters of American Sign Language must be completely fluent in both English and American Sign Language. The level of expertise required for this profession is far greater than that required for everyday bilingual conversation. The interpreter must be able to handle the widest range of language terms that may be presented in the courts—from specialized legal and technical terminology to street slang. Most people do not have a full command of all registers of both English and the foreign language and, therefore, require special training to acquire it.

Although there are no minimum requirements that must be met in order to apply to take the state certification test, applicants are encouraged to complete formal, college-level course work and training in both languages and modes of interpreting before applying for the examination. At present there are colleges and universities throughout the State of California that offer introductory courses and certificate programs in interpretation or translation. However, most of these are for English/Spanish. We encourage you to contact the schools and request information about their programs. For the other languages, the following self-study techniques are suggested: (1) expand your vocabulary, (2) develop your own glossaries, and (3) develop interpreting techniques. Suggested skills-enhancing exercises are available to help you develop three interpreting techniques: (1) consecutive interpretation, (2) simultaneous interpretation, and (3) sight translation.

Q: What is the difference between a certified and a registered interpreter?

Only interpreters who pass the Bilingual Interpreter Exam or the required exam for American Sign Language and fulfill the corresponding Judicial Council requirements are referred to as certified interpreters. Currently, there are certification exam for the following designated languages: American Sign Language, Arabic, Eastern Armenian, Cantonese, Farsi, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state-certifying exam are required to pass the Written Exam and Oral Proficiency Exams in both English and their non-English language and fulfill the corresponding Judicial Council requirements in order to become a registered interpreter.

Q: What happens when a previously nondesignated language is designated for certification?

A: Certifications may change periodically, depending on the results of studies of language use in the courts and other administrative factors. When a language is designated for certification, there is a transitional period in which a new certification exam is developed and registered interpreters are given time to meet the requirements for certification.

Q: What has the Judicial Council determined to be the requirements for becoming a certified court interpreter?

A: As approved by the Judicial Council on July 7, 1994, court interpreters must meet the following requirements for certification:

  • Pass the Written Exam and the Bilingual Interpreting Exam or the exam for American Sign Language offered by an approved testing entity;
  • File for certification with the Judicial Council, including submitting proof of completion of the "Orientation to Working in the California Courts" online course;
  • Pay the annual $100 fee;
  • Attend a Judicial Council Code of Ethics Workshop; and
  • Submit proof of 30 hours of continuing education and 40 assignments of recent professional interpreting experience every two years.

Q: What has the Judicial Council determined to be the requirements for registered interpreters?

A: Registered interpreters must satisfy the following requirements:

  • Pass the Written Exam and the Oral Proficiency Exams in both English and their non-English language(s);
  • File for registration with the Judicial Council, including submitting proof of completion of the "Orientation to Working in the California Courts" online course;
  • Pay annual registration fee of $100;
  • Attend a Judicial Council Code of Ethics Workshop; and
  • Meet the requirements developed for court interpreters regarding continuing education and professional experience.

Q: What entity administers California's court interpreter exams?

A: The Judicial Council has contracted with Prometric to administer the Certified Court Interpreter and Registered Interpreter exams. See the Exam Information page for more information.

Q: Is certification required to become an American Sign Language Interpreter?

A: The Judicial Council also has the authority under California Evidence Code section 754(f) to designate testing entities for American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. Currently the Council requires ASL interpreters to hold the "Specialist Certificate: Legal" issued by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) to be placed on the Council’s list of recommended interpreters.

Q: What is the job market like for court interpreters?

Most court interpreters work as freelance or per diem interpreters, meaning that they are hired by the day or the half day, rather than being permanent employees of the trial courts. Some trial courts, however, have permanent positions for court interpreters. A freelance interpreter must be willing to travel from one trial court to another, perhaps even from one county trial court system to another. Court interpreters are generally paid by the whole or half day.

Q: How do I contact the Court Interpreters Program?

A: Please direct further questions to our toll-free number (866) 310-0689, or send an email to courtinterpreters@jud.ca.gov.


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