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What is a Court Translator?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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A court translator is someone who provides translation services for a court of law. Court translators can often find employment in major cities, where a large population of immigrants can bring people who need translation services into contact with the courts. In many nations, translators must be provided by law to people who need them. Failing to provide a translator would deprive someone of the right to a fair trial, as the person would not be able to understand the court proceedings.

Court translators need several distinct skill sets. They need to be fluent in the language used in the court as well as at least one other foreign language; for example, a court translator in San Francisco might speak Korean and Mandarin so that he or she can provide assistance to people who speak those languages. In addition, a court translator also needs to know legal terminology. The terms which get used in court are highly specialized, and the translator must understand them.

When someone who needs a translator comes into contact with the court, the court assigns a translator from a pool of people who provide such services to the court. Some nations require translators to be certified by professional organizations, which attest that they are comfortably fluent in both foreign languages and legal concepts. The court translator translates the proceedings in court and also translates communications from the foreign language speaker.

For example, if someone is called as a witness in a case, the court translator would translate the questions and orders from the judge and also translate the testimony provided to the court. The court reporter would enter the translation into the record, noting that the witness was speaking through a translator. Likewise, if someone is accused of a crime, a translator is furnished to help that person navigate the court and communicate with his or her lawyer, if a bilingual lawyer is not available.

In addition to providing translation to and from spoken languages, a court translator can also provide sign language services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In this case, the translator translates spoken language into sign and sign into spoken language.

Court translators just translate. They do not provide interpretation or legal advice. Translators will be liable if their work is not accurate and it leads to a miscarriage of justice. When interacting with someone who needs a translator, it is important to look at the person who is talking, not the translator.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Jan 31, 2015

@Soulfox -- I kind of have a problem with that. Shouldn't a translator be neutral? I am not saying a prosecutor would do anything wrong, but isn't there a concern a prosecutor might tell a defendant one thing and his lawyer another if the defense lawyer doesn't speak Spanish?

That might not be a problem, but I am curious.

By Soulfox — On Jan 30, 2015

A lawyer wanting to become prosecutor can often have a leg up if he or she can speak another language, thus saving the state money by negating the need for a court interpreter.

Take an area with a lot of immigrants from Latin America. A lawyer that can speak fluent Spanish has a skill that is very valuable. That attorney could take the place of both a prosecutor and translators and you know governments find that attractive as they are always under pressure to cut costs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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