How to Become a Court Interpreter in Maryland
Maryland Court Interpreter Program
What is a Court Interpreter?
A court interpreter is an individual who possesses native-like proficiency in English and foreign languages. Court interpreters are professionals who are highly skilled in the three modes of court interpreting and familiar with legal terminology, courtroom protocol and the Maryland Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters. Upon being appointed by the Court, interpreters are required to take an oath, under penalty of perjury, to “…interpret accurately, completely, and impartially and to refrain from knowingly disclosing confidential or privileged information obtained while serving in the proceeding.” Rule 16-819 (d)(3)
- Simultaneous interpretation - the interpreter listens to the English language speech and, at the same time, interprets in the foreign language for the benefit of the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) party. To ensure their interpretation does not interfere with the court proceedings, court interpreters utilize wireless equipment when interpreting simultaneously.
- Consecutive interpretation - used during testimony at the witness stand and when a Limited English Proficiency (LEP) party addresses the Court. The interpreter renders what is being said in the target language orally without changing or embellishing statements. This becomes part of the record. Court interpreters must understand and speak legal jargon, street language, slang, and formal language in English and foreign languages.
- Sight Translation - the oral rendition of a document from the source language into the target language. The interpreter must read a document, process the information, and render it accurately in the target language orally.
What are the Requirements to Become Certified as a Court Interpreter in Maryland?
The Administrative Office of the Courts maintains a Court Interpreter Registry that is distributed to the courts throughout the state. In order to become certified a candidate must:
- Have previous professional experience as an interpreter. Interpreting in informal settings (i.e., family or friends) is not considered "professional".
- Pass a criminal background check and have no pending criminal charges or convictions on a charge punishable by a fine of more than $500 or imprisonment for more than six months unless pardoned or expunged in accordance with the law. Rule 16-819 (a)(3)(C)
- Attend a mandatory 1-day Introductory Workshop on Court Interpreting offered twice a year in Annapolis. There is a $75 fee for the workshop. The workshop will introduce interpreter candidates to the Maryland Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters, the basics of the court interpreter profession, and help them prepare for the Court Interpreter Written Examination.
- Pass a written examination on general knowledge of English, legal terminology, courtroom procedures and the Maryland Code of Professional Conduct for Court Interpreters. There is no additional fee for the written examination.
- Undergo and pass an Language Proficiency Interview (LPI) in English and foreign languages. The LPI is a standardized procedure for the global assessment of functional speaking ability. This means that an LPI is a testing method, which measures how well a person speaks a language by comparing their performance of specific language tasks, not with some other person's, but with the criteria for each of ten proficiency levels. Interpretation skills are not tested duirng the LPI. There is a $55 fee for the Language Proficiency Interview.
- Attend a mandatory 2-day Court Interpreter Orientation Workshop. The candidate will be considered an eligible interpreter upon successful completion of this step. There is a $75 fee for the 2-day, non-language specific training workshop.
- Pass an oral examination on the three modes of interpreting if available in the target language. The candidate will be considered a Maryland certified court interpreter upon successful completion of this step. There is a fee for the oral examination. Currently, the Administrative Office of the Courts offers certification exams in the following languages: Arabic, Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian, Cantonese, French, Haitian-Creole, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Turkish.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
What is the difference between an interpreter and a translator?
An interpreter works with the spoken word and provides an oral rendition of a unit of speech from the source language into the target language. A translator places documents into the target language in writing.
I am a translator, not an interpreter. I translate for members of the community. How do I get certified to be a translator?
The Administrative Office of the Courts administers the Court Interpreter Program and does not certify translators.
I speak both English and the target language perfectly, do I still need to take the test?
Yes. Being bilingual does not guarantee success as a court interpreter. Your language and interpretatinon skills must be validated if you wish to interpret in the Maryland courts.
How long does it take to become an interpreter?
It takes approximately three months to become listed as an "eligible" interpreter on the Interpreter Registry. The actual certification process can take up to a year or longer.
I have an accent, does that matter?
No, court interpreting is truly an equal opportunity field. The richer a person’s diversity, the more successful he/she seems to be as an interpreter. However, the main purpose of a court interpreter is communication, so it is imperative that the interpreter’s speech be clear, easy to understand and syntactically correct.
Is there an age requirement?
An interpreter must be “… an adult who has the ability to render a complete and accurate interpretation or sight translation, without altering, omitting or adding anything to what is stated or written and without explanation. A person related by blood or marriage to a party or to the person who needs an interpreter may not act as an interpreter.” Rule 16-819 (a)(2).
Is there an education requirement to become certified?
No, but interpreters encounter extremely complex language in the courts. An interpreter’s command of the source and the target language is usually at the college level or higher.
Do I have to be a citizen of the United States to become an interpreter?
The courts may only contract people who are legally authorized to work in the United States, but there is no citizenship requirement.
How are court interpreters hired ?
Interpreters are hired on a freelance basis by the courts and are paid for services provided on an hourly basis. Once on the Court Interpreter Registry, interpreters are called as needed by the courts. Assignments may range from less than an hour to a full day, depending on the type of proceeding. Each interpreter is responsible for taxes and his/her own benefits. There is no guarantee that an interpreter will be called for work after they are placed on the Court Interpreter Registry.
What kind of assignments should I expect?
Interpreters are needed in a wide variety of cases, which may include criminal cases (murder, rape, robbery), civil matters (divorce, family law, domestic violence), juvenile delinquency, children in need of assistance, termination of parental rights and more.
I don’t live in the State of Maryland, can I still get certified?
Residents of Maryland are given priority for any workshops and testing. We will accept applications from qualified candidates from Washington DC and Virginia in those languages where we have a shortage of interpreters.
How can I get experience if I am not certified?
Many interpreters begin interpreting in the courts after many years of interpreting informally. In order to gain experience, interpreters must be disciplined and begin studying on their own. Foreign newspapers on the Internet are great resources, which allow candidates to quickly gain access to current texts for sight translation. Court television gives certification candidates the opportunity to take a look into a courtroom and begin familiarizing themselves with terminology and protocol. Recording court television allows a candidate to pause the proceedings and practice consecutive interpretation. An interpreter can use the news or talk shows to practice simultaneous interpretation. In addition, there are many glossaries available on the Internet, which will help interpreters to study. Passing the certification exam requires a great deal of studying.
Yes, I want to be an interpreter, now what?
Once you have experience, visit our website at:
- http://www.mdcourts.gov/interpreter/index.html. If you have no experience, look into different professional organizations that may help you learn about the field.
In addition, here are other websites for reference and selfstudy:
Visit different courthouses and begin familiarizing yourself with the courts. You will find that observing trials and other hearings will help you learn about the legal environment. During your visits you may meet experienced interpreters who could provide insight into becoming a certified court interpreter.
The work of a court interpreter is rewarded by a dynamic and varied career in the courts. We encourage you to study and then decide whether court interpreting might be for you.