Court Interpreters and Translators


Exploring this Job

The field of court interpreting and translation allows for the merging of two differing interests and skill sets—language and the law. Fluency in languages other than English may be developed in classes, language clubs, and immersion programs, or by participation in student exchange programs through high schools or colleges, or travel.  

Providing interpretation or translation services on a volunteer basis in your community is a good way to see if one of these career paths is a good fit for your skills and interests. Likewise, participation in clubs or classes that focus on law or criminal justice will introduce you to the court system. Most court and legal proceedings in the United States are open to the public, and there is no better way to gain knowledge of the court and legal system than to observe day to day operations.

The Job

Court interpreters and translators serve a critical role in the court system in the United States, and their work helps to increase the likelihood of fairness and effective legal representation of those persons who have limited proficiency in English, or are deaf or hearing impaired.

Court interpreters are involved in all aspects of court proceedings when a participant is unable to effectively communicate or understand. They assist the participant in order to allow him or her to fully participate in the legal proceedings when he or she would otherwise be unable to due to language barriers or hearing impairments. As such, much of the work of a court interpreter is done in a courtroom, in either trial or pre-trial matters. Court interpreters may be required to be present for full (and sometimes lengthy) trials, depositions, pre-trial hearings, or pleas and sentencing proceedings.

Court interpreters may also work in alternative criminal justice settings such as jails or juvenile facilities, and on occasion, may work for private parties, outside of a court setting but in conjunction with litigation, such as when attorneys are preparing complex matters that may or may not be settled before legal proceedings are brought.

Despite the terminology, the role of an interpreter is not to lend any interpretation or comment to the communication being interpreted, but as nearly as possible to convey the exact words, meaning, and tone of those communications; there is no room for the court interpreter to provide assistance, opinion, or guidance to the language being interpreted.

Court interpreters must understand and be bound by rules of confidentiality and ethics as dictated by state, federal, and court rules and statutes, be independent, and must neither have, nor develop, any personal relationship with the subjects of their interpretation.

Court translators translate written documents from one language to another. This is ordinarily done outside of a courtroom setting. They translate depositions, witness statements, correspondence between judicial officials, and any other documents that are in another language. 

Court interpreters and translators in the U.S. must be fluent in English, as well as in at least one other language (or American Sign Language). He or she must be familiar with legal processes and terminology in order to appropriately and exactly translate questions and answers between lawyers and defendants, judges, and court personnel.