Information for Interpreters
What is court interpreting?
Court interpreting is when a qualified professional interpreter communicates the spoken message from one language to another in a court hearing or trial. The three modes of interpreting used in the courtroom are consecutive, simultaneous, and sight translation.
Interpreting is different than translating, although these terms are often confused in everyday speech. Translating is when someone turns something written from one language to another. At its simplest, interpreting involves spoken language and translating involves written language.
What do court interpreters do?
Court interpreters help people who are limited English proficient (LEP) – those who have a limited understanding of spoken English or who are not fluent English speakers – understand court proceedings in their primary language.
A competent court interpreter is able to fluently speak English and another language and has an extensive legal vocabulary in both languages.
Interpreters must have:
- a good working knowledge of court procedures, court rules, and Alaska Statutes;
- the ability to work effectively with judges, court staff and administrators; and
- excellent oral and written communication skills.
A court interpreter needs to be able to do several things at the same time: listen, understand, summarize, retain ideas, and restate the exact meaning of the message.
The interpreter is to:
- ensure that the proceedings in English accurately reflect what the non-English-speaking person said; and
- place the non-English-speaking person on equal footing with those who are fluent in English.
Learn more about the necessary qualifications to become an interpreter.
What is consecutive, simultaneous and sight translation?
Court interpreters use three types of interpreting in the courtroom.
- Consecutive: Providing the interpreted words after the speaker has stopped speaking. Interpreters often take notes to help them recall what has been said.
- Simultaneous: Providing the interpreted words continuously at the same time someone is speaking.
- Sight Translation: Reading a document written in one language and then speaking it out loud into another language. In this type of interpreting, a written text is interpreted without advance notice. Court interpreters are often asked to sight-translate legal documents such as plea agreements.
For what kinds of cases do court interpreters interpret?
Interpreters may be asked to interpret in virtually every case type in the state court system. Matters range from personal injury cases, small claims, landlord/tenant disputes, traffic, domestic violence, divorce and child custody, child support, sexual assault, drug offenses, murder, DUI, to name a few.
Are there different levels of interpreters?
Yes. There are qualified and certified interpreters. Each level involves different training requirements with a certified interpreter having the highest level of training and successfully passing the National Center for State Courts' written and oral exams.
A "qualified” court interpreter is authorized to interpret in court in some court proceedings and:
- is fluent in English and another language as demonstrated by passing an oral proficiency inventory
- completes the court interpreter training program
- passes the National Center for State Courts written exam which includes the Code of Professional Ethics for Court Interpreters
- passes a criminal background check
- completes all training programs required by the court system.
A “certified” court interpreter is the highest level of court interpreter. Certified court interpreters have:
- met all requirements of a qualified interpreter
- passed the National Center for State Courts Oral Proficiency Exam with a score of 70% or higher
- the ability to perform the three major types of court interpreting (sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting).
Many new interpreters do not have all of these qualifications necessary for court interpreting. However, these skills can be improved over time through observation, study, and practice.
What steps can I take to become a qualified interpreter?
Prior to the following steps, interpreter candidates must complete a general orientation to interpreting conducted by an entity approved by the Interpreter Services Coordinator.
Step 1: Complete the Alaska Court System’s Orientation Program (online) and an ALTA Oral Proficiency Inventory (OPI) Listening and Speaking Test scheduled by the Alaska Court System.
(Note: In some instances the Alaska Court System will accept orientation programs from other state courts to meet this requirement.)
The interpreter can choose to complete the orientation program first and then take the OPI or take the OPI first and then complete the orientation program. The OPI tests the oral proficiency skills of the candidate in English and the non-English language. A candidate must score a “Superior” (level 12) to be considered for courtroom interpreting. The candidate is charged a fee for OPI grading.
Step 2: Successfully pass the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Written Exam at a score of 80% or higher.
Step 3: Pass a criminal background check.
What steps can I take to become a certified court interpreter?
To become a certified court interpreter, you will need to complete steps 1-3 listed above and successfully pass the National Center for State Courts oral examination.
To pass the oral exam, interpreters must have a mastery of English and the other language at the level of a native speaker, and have a thorough understanding of legal concepts in both of the languages. In addition, interpreters must be extremely proficient in doing sight, consecutive, and simultaneous interpreting, and be able to convey messages accurately, completely and quickly.
The NCSC’s oral examinations are currently available in twenty languages.
For more information on the NCSC written and oral exams contact the Alaska Court System Interpreter Services Coordinator Stefanie Burich.
How do I know if I am ready to take the exams?
You may be ready to take the NCSC’s written exam if you successfully complete the online orientation program, an OPI, and classes offered to prepare an interpreter for the written exam.
When you successfully pass the written exam, you may take the NCSC’s oral exam.
Read the resources on the written and oral exams:
When are the next exams given?
The Alaska Court System will administer NCSC oral exams, in Anchorage, by appointment only.
For more information about written and oral examination dates please contact Interpreter Services Coordinator Stefanie Burich.
What training programs are available?
The Alaska Court System offers training programs to prepare bilingual persons for court interpreting.
Introduction to Legal/Court Interpreting
This training addresses these topics:
- ethics and the role of the interpreter in the courtroom
- courtroom protocol
- overview of the justice system
- court hearings
- court terms
- types of hearings
- simultaneous, consecutive, sight translation
- NCSC exams
Interpreter Practice Sessions
These sessions allow candidates to practice interpreting in the three modes used in the courtroom.
Professional Development Sessions/Continued Education
These sessions are made available to further develop their interpreter skills, improve vocabulary, and enhance their knowledge of the legal, medical, and community interpreting.
Preparation Session for the NCSC’s Written and Oral Examinations
These sessions help the interpreter candidate prepare for court certification exams.
For training dates and to register for the training programs, contact Interpreter Services Coordinator Stefanie Burich.
What is the Interpreter Code of Ethics/Professional Responsibility?
As officers of the court, court interpreters must uphold these professional standards:
Canon 1: Accuracy and Completeness.
Interpreters shall render a complete and accurate interpretation or sight translation, without altering, omitting, or adding anything to what is stated or written, and without explanation.
Canon 2: Representation of Qualifications.
Interpreters shall accurately and completely represent their certifications, training, and pertinent experience.
Canon 3: Impartiality and Avoidance of Conflict of Interest.
Interpreters shall be impartial and unbiased and shall refrain from conduct that may give the appearance of bias. Interpreters shall disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest.
Canon 4: Professional Demeanor.
Interpreters shall conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the dignity of the court and shall be as unobtrusive as possible.
Canon 5: Confidentiality.
Interpreters shall protect the confidentiality of all privileged and other confidential information.
Canon 6: Restriction of Public Comment.
Interpreters shall not publicly discuss, report, or offer an opinion concerning a matter in which they are or have been engaged.
Canon 7: Scope of Practice.
Interpreters shall limit themselves to interpreting or translating, and shall not give legal advice, express personal opinions to the court, counsel individuals for whom they are interpreting, or engage in any other activities which may be construed to constitute a service other than interpreting or translating while serving as an interpreter.
Canon 8: Assessing and Reporting Impediments to Performance.
Interpreters shall assess at all times their ability to deliver their service. When interpreters have reservations about their ability to satisfy an assignment completely, they shall immediately convey that reservation to the appropriate judicial authority.
Canon 9: Duty to Report Ethical Violations.
Interpreters shall report to the proper judicial authority any effort to impede their compliance with any law, any provision of this code, or other official policy governing court interpreting and legal translating.
Canon 10. Professional Development.
Interpreters shall continually improve their skills and knowledge and advance the profession through activities such as professional training and education, and interaction with colleagues and specialists in related fields.
What resources are available for court interpreters?
The Language Interpreter Center is a collaborative, multi-agency, public-private effort to create a pool of qualified language interpreters for public and private entities statewide. The Center provides trained and certified interpreters for court and legal interpreting.
Coalition of state court systems who develop standardized exams to test interpreter skills and qualifications. The NCSC’s website lists resources on court interpreting, language barriers, cultural issues, interpreter training resources, with links to other helpful sites.
Provides links to the Language Interpreter Center, general court information, trial court records, court forms, CourtView, Family Law Self-Help Center, Law Library, legal research links, Alaska government websites.
A professional organization of translators and interpreters that conducts conferences, hosts discussion groups, distributes publications, and provides helpful links.
Useful information on world languages provided through a searchable database, as well as publications on cultures, software, and a bibliography on past research work.
An English glossary of common legal terms in plain English.
A professional organization of court interpreters and legal translators providing conference announcements, degree programs, discussion groups, publications, and resource inks.
For more information or questions about language services in the Alaska Court System, contact:
Interpreter Services Coordinator
Alaska Court System
820 West Fourth Avenue
Anchorage, AK 99501-2005
How are interpreters paid?
Administrative Bulletin 82 Payment of Interpreters
Can I be court-certified in Alaska if I am a court-certified interpreter in another state?
The Alaska Court System will certify an interpreter certified from another state court system only if the interpreter moves to Alaska and resides in the state. However, the Alaska Court System often contracts with interpreters certified in other states to interpret for court hearings and trials. For more information, contact the Interpreter Services Coordinator, Stefanie Burich.
How can I interpret for the Alaska Court System if I am a court-certifed interpreter who lives outside of Alaska?
The Alaska Court System often contracts with court-certified and credentialed interpreters from other state courts if the interpreter is in good standing with the state court system in which they are certified and the interpreter provides proof of certification or credentialing.
Interpreters should be advised that the Alaska Court System uses three delivery methods in providing interpreting services: video remote, telephonic, and in-person. Contact Interpreter Services Coordinator, Stefanie Burich for more information.
Will the Alaska Court System help me to set up my computer to interpret using video-remote technology?
Yes. The Interpreter Services Coordinator will explain how the Alaska Court System uses video- remote technology and will assist the interpreter with downloading the free easy-to-use software. The Interpreter Services Coordinator will also initiate the necessary tests between the interpreter and the court needing interpreting services prior to the actual court hearing.