What does a Court Interpreter do?

S. Gonzales
S. Gonzales
A courthouse.
A courthouse.

A court interpreter helps those involved in court cases to communicate. Generally, a court interpreter is expected to facilitate communication and understanding between the courts and a non-English speaking party. A court interpreter can also find employment opportunities in meetings between lawyers and their clients, deposition hearings, sessions that prepare witnesses for court proceedings and interviews with court support personnel.

Anyone interested in becoming a court interpreter should have a native-like fluency in the court's official language and the the language that he intends to help interpret. The interpreter should be familiar with formal vocabulary as well as informal language such as slang. Generally, an education equivalent to an associate's degree program, knowledge of court terminology and procedures and talents in dealing with attorneys, court personnel and the public are favorable to a career in court interpreting.

A court interpreter is expected to keep his or her translation as close to the original communication as possible. For example, all tones, tenses and grammatical persons are to be preserved. Adding or deleting anything from the original communication is generally forbidden due to the sensitivity of official court material. Translations can be either simultaneous or consecutive. Additionally, a court interpreter may be expected to interpret non-oral communications such as legal documents.

The training required to become a court interpreter varies from state to state. Some states require no certification, while federal certification exists for the languages of Spanish, Navajo and Haitian Creole. Because states vary widely in their certification requirements, many employers ask potential employees if they have been certified by the American Translators Association. Employers may hire individuals who have an association with this organization because of its accreditation requirements.

Court interpreting may be offered as a minor at colleges and universities around the country. Certificates may also be earned in general translating or interpreting. Those interested in becoming a court interpreter should consider taking part in court interpretation seminars and workshops. Joining local translating and interpretation organizations can also help with job prospects due to networking and the organizations' industry newsletters.

In the United States, Spanish is the language that is most frequently interpreted in court. However, there is also a need for other languages to be interpreted. The popularity of languages will likely depend on the area in which the interpreter lives and the ethnic makeup of its surrounding population. A court interpreter may find his work thoroughly interesting because those who are involved in court cases may come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Discussion Comments


@cardsfan27 - Do not forget that another incident that could occur is that the case could easily be declared a mistrial simply because the statements made by the witness, were mis-interpreted and thus inaccurate. This would mean that there would either have to be a re-trial or a mis-trial.

I guarantee that in cases where there is a witness who does not speak the language of the court the first thing a lawyer for the losing side does is look to make sure that his or her words were interpreted correctly to a tee.

If the words were not interpreted correctly the lawyer could easily make an argument in appeals court and ask for a mis-trial, which would be very easy to obtain in this case.

So, the courtroom interpreter has to have almost near precision all the time and cannot screw up at all with their job. Severe problems can occur if there is an inaccuracy and it is up to the interpreters to train correctly and be good at their job to ensure accuracy in the courts.


It is very interesting to think that major cultural differences can play such a role in the courtroom.

The decisions reached by courts all revolve around judgment and performance of the legal intangibles by the prosecution and defense. If a witness, who does not speak English, is vital to the prosecution or defenses case, than the courtroom interpreter has a major responsibility in making sure they accurately pass on what the witness is saying and how they are saying it.

If they were to mis-interpret something a very unfortunate consequence can occur and a person could be wrongfully convicted or let go.


@Izzy78 - You are correct. Throughout history there have been several people convicted, most of the time in being in shams of trials which were in reality witch hunts.

This happened a lot around the turn of the 20th century as resentment against incoming immigrants built up and the courts were used as a way to get rid of some that were deemed undesirable.

Many people were wrongfully convicted simply because of the fact they had a witness that did not speak English and they were discredited on the stand or the Court Interpreter was unscrupulous and simply change their words or sometimes even wrongfully implicate them.

This was an unfortunate time in American legal history, but some people have to realize that this did show the importance of the court room interpreter and that it is necessary to create certain standards and guidelines that they need to follow to assure absolute accuracy.


I have always thought that there is a problem with having someone interpret for someone on the witness stand.

The issue that arises is that if the person is from another country and does not speak the language of the court they probably do not have a clear understanding of the legal system in the country they are in and this can lead to problems on the witness stand, such as self-incrimination or even looking foolish just because they simply do not speak the same language.

I find this unfortunate because I am sure that there have been people in the past that have been wrongfully convicted of a crime simply due to the discrepencies in language among the witness and the court.

The other thing to consider is that the person is somewhat at the interpreter' s mercy to translate right for them and to make sure that they translate in a way that is accurately emphasized as opposed to people misunderstanding the meaning of the interpretation.

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      By: SeanPavonePhoto
      A courthouse.