Interpreting 101

Buenas noches … It´s 10:00 pm and I just started this blog because I figured it was time to start writing about being a court interpreter and the stories that come out of this line of work.

So, what´s a court interpreter, anyway? NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators) has a nice description on their FAQ page: they are people who “… interpret for people who come before the courts who cannot communicate effectively in English. These include defendants and witnesses in criminal courts as well as litigants and witnesses in family and civil courts.”

That´s basically what I do, and my interpreting language is Spanish. (Court interpreters specialize in all kinds of languages but this blog is mainly about interpreting in Spanish.)

The defendant enters the courtroom and appears before a judge. I have to interpret everything that´s said into Spanish, including statements made by judges, witnesses, attorneys, jurors, etc … When it´s the defendant´s turn to speak, I do the reverse. I interpret their statements into English for everybody else in the courtroom. If all this sounds like a piece of cake, it´s not.

One of the main reasons why court interpreting is not well understood by the public is because the court interpreter is essentially an invisible element of the justice system. The interpreter is (or ought to be) a completely neutral entity whose sole purpose is to form a bridge between the non-English speaker and everyone around them. The court interpreter has to “provide a way” without “getting in the way.”

34 Responses to “Interpreting 101”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    how do you become court certified?

  2. Mayra Says:

    How much do you get paid?

  3. Alan Says:

    Hello Mr. Interpreter:

    I’m also an interpreter, though not a certified one yet. My main language is also Spanish. I took my state test this past December and so far its looking dreadful. There have been a lot of bricks and walls along the way because it seems that no one can really sit and determine what and what not to put on the examination. I live in CA and I know this is the hardest test through out the nation but what really confuses me is, the test has no realtionship with any criminal or legal proceedings! Can anyone tell me how is this possible? I’ve been interpreting in small claims courts, civil courts and I’m currently working as a medical interpreter. I’m taking my test this April too. By the way, I’d like to become member of this site…this is very constructive and I like how the real court interpreter is displayed out there for others to appreciate.

  4. Rodrigo Says:

    Hey, what is a good place to find out about translations of legalese? I was born to educated Mexican parents in Canada, so being fully bilingual, I still can’t figure out what Sra. Gutierrez “de generales conocidas en autos” means.
    Thanks for putting up a good site

  5. Carolina Says:

    Hey Rodrigo, ‘de generales conocidas en autos’ only means that the person’s (in this case Sra. Gutierrez) information is a part of the record

  6. Emilia D'Auteuil Says:

    I am so glad I found you. I feel sometimes like we are some wierd creatures and the nobody understnds what we have to go through everyday. We speak for others and are not entitled to give our ooinion and by God most of us are very opinioated. Its good to know there is life out there.

  7. Me Says:

    I was balancing myself off the siderails of the Triborough bridge and looking down towards the murky waters beneath me while uttering a final prayer, when word of this new blog reached my ears. I immediately untied the rope around my neck and ran back home in joyous ectasy in order to read the powerfully emotional postings I knew were to come from this blog.

    No shit I really did.

  8. Fonzie Says:

    How much Dinero do you interpreters make???

  9. Boothy Says:

    Hi Mr Interpreter!
    Being a conference interpreter I feel I’m also part of this wierd world (as Emilia says). I work in Spanish and in Spain, and although court interpreting is far beyond my capabilties I find your blog really interesting; and in fact your are listed on my blog!
    Keep on posting and good luck!
    Another anonymous interpreter………….

    • Mariana Says:

      Oh boy, you are so lucky!!!!
      I wish I could be a conference interpreter and live in Spain.
      I absolutely love that country I’m sure I would love conference interpreting much better than court interpreting.

  10. anita Says:

    Hi, I’m happy to have found your site. I’m on the other side where my company provides interpreters for attorneys and other legal groups. I’ll be curious to read your stories to better understand the industry as a whole. I’ll be back :)

  11. Bartosz Says:

    Hey This is Bartosz the crazy interpreter. Nice to see some true veterans presenting and promoting their work down here. I hope the job will not drive you crazy. Court interpretation is one of the most demanding types of translation. What´s the situation of certified court interpreters in the US??

    best regards from Poland
    Bartosz świat

  12. Taina Says:

    Well I am happy I found you as well. I am just now studying for certification in the fall. I was wondering if people in the Tampa Bay area were interested in forming a “study group” before the written and oral tests…


  13. Thanks for sharing information on Translation, I also found one good Certified Translation Services company from California.

  14. Amanda Says:

    Hey, im a south – african law student and im writing my dissertation on the court interpreter and the effects that it has on cross-examination…(emotionally and the right to a fair trail) whould you mind giving me your opinion?

    • Tina from Spain Says:

      Hi Amanda,
      It´s nice to talk to you. First of all I´m from Spain so the legal system is different from yours, I suppose, we have an Inquisitorial one, we don´t really have the cross-examination properly said although there is always sth similar. From my point of view there are many things involving “FAIR TRIAL”, lawyer/public defender, native speaker/non-native speaker, docket for the day (chance with it). I think the word LUCK plays an important role in it.
      I hope this can help a little bit, If you want more information from Spain, don´t hesitate to let me know.
      Kind regards,

  15. Tina from Spain Says:

    Hi everyone,
    I found this blog by chance and all of a sudden I though that maybe someone of you wanted to share some work expiriences with me, I mean, I´m looking for exchanging conversation, bcs I need improve my speaking, I´m not fluent enough in English. I´m from Spain so I´ll be glad speaking with someone from USA, I´m also envolved in Court interpreting. We could use skype for interchange our conversation; what I´m trying to do is like a Language tandem, is anyone of you not fluent enough in Spanish ready to be my tandem partner?

    • November Says:

      Haha! I just realised their is a reply button. I just replied to the blog. Anyway, I would be interested in exchanging conversation with you. Let me know.

      • Tina from Spain Says:

        Sorry it´s been a longtime …But I´ve completely forgotten this blog, I´m still interested in interchange conversation, written or speaking, I want practise,

  16. November Says:

    @Tina from Spain I would love to your tandem partner. I was in Barcelona, and I fell in love with the city and the people. Anyway, my spanish is very good. Let me know if you are still searching for someone to chat with. It would be my honor.

  17. Michael Aberle Says:

    I am thinking about becoming a court interpreter.. From everything I have read it is very difficult to pass the test in California..

    What I really want to know is what people like and dislike about the profession.. What is the working environment like? What is the stress level.. What kind of qualities do you need to do well in the position.. Any comments would be appreciated.

    Thanks very much. michael

    • Tina from Spain Says:

      What I like is helping people is very rewarding, specially when the accused is released, the drawback is the salary and sometimes the interpreter is considered like a coffee machine you can translate everything bcs you have to without preparation….

  18. Peter P. Fleitas, mba. ba, csr, cam, cri, cam,mb + Says:

    I am also happy to find this “Oasis” no one like to help or tell you what to do or how to guide the steps in order to become certified I have a Master also a Bachelor and 7 Licenses of the State of Florida (all active) but I like to get my Interpreter’s certification (as a matter of pride) every time I have to go to Court and Interpret for some one the first question is ARE YOU CERTIFIED I will become certified if not this year perhaps next…. but remember my name will provably encounter each other in Court some time.. so long Thanks,,,

  19. Hi there, You’ve performed an incredible job. I will certainly digg it and for my part suggest to my friends. I am sure they will be benefited from this website.

  20. yady Says:

    I have been thinking of becoming a court interpreter.. but i can not find any information about what to do or where to start anywhere. I speak Spanish and i feel that being a court interpreter would be a great career for me but i need to learn more about it, it has been a struggle for me because like i mentioned above, i cant find anyone in Phoenix, AZ that could answer my questions or walk me through the process.

    What I really want to know is what schools should i look into? how long would it take to get certified or learn enough to begin working as an interpreter?…how difficult is it to get hired?.. what people like and dislike about the profession.. What is the working environment like? What is the stress level.. What kind of qualities do you need to do well in the position?… Any comments would be appreciated.

    I am currently working at a law firm as a paralegal, I began working here with out any experience at all. I really like it and have considered law school but the truth is i do not want to go to school for that long and have such a stressful career. I dont think i am passionate enough to become an attorney, i dont feel like all that loan debt and years in school is worth it to me. I have always liked translating for others and i like the idea of not having as much stress and still being able to be in court while helping others when there is a language barrier.

    If there is anyone out there that could help me, please feel free to contact me via email.

    Thank you very much!

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  22. Heken Says:

    Please give me some advice I am I Marbella spain and I have been cautioned on picking up some phone cases which I thought were used, as they keep a bucket of used mobiles wires etc and I took a few phone covers and now I have to appear in court, can u help me

  23. Heken, has your case gone to court yet? I´m a professional interpreter with 26 years’ experience, and I live near Marbella, Spain. You can call me on 639199264. Regards, Antony

  24. Daniel Says:

    What school did you attend?
    How long did it take?
    Does it pay well?
    Is there a demand for it?
    How hard is it to get hired?
    Could you recommend a school?

    I live in OC, I’m looking into doing online classes. I have no idea what I’m getting into and well I have concerns.

  25. Lucy Cebrera Says:

    I really enjoyed this explation on what kind of roll the interpreter plays as an interpreter in the courtrooms. It’s very challenging for all the court interpreters to become the bridge between the non-English speakers and the judgeS. I like it. Good luck to you brabe people. Blessings!

  26. If you or anyone you know Speaks a Second Language and is interested in becoming an Interpreter, please send them my way. I’ve been a Professional Interpreter | Translator | Interpreter Trainer for over 18 years. As a previous agency owner (CEO), I know first hand what it takes and required to enter this profession. or on Instagram #FaviolatheInterpreter if you DON’T APPROVE OF THIS POST, PLEASE DELETE. :)

  27. Peter Nguyen Says:

    Thanks for the quick introduction about interpretation. We also cover many interpretation tips at our website. Please do check it out at :)

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