Court Interpreters and Translators


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school diploma (or equivalent) is usually required for candidates to sit for qualifying examinations to serve as court interpreters and translators. Recommended classes include English, foreign language, communications, and to the extent available, classes in the law.

Postsecondary Education

Postsecondary education is not mandatory, though qualifications in many states, such as California, require interpreters to “display wide general knowledge characteristic of what a minimum of what two years of general education at a college or university would provide,” according to the National Center for State Courts.

Some court interpreters and translators have bachelor's degrees in specific languages, linguistics, or criminal justice. Degree programs in translation are becoming more commonplace.

In recent years, the number of colleges that offer bachelor's degree in court interpreting has increased. Some colleges are even offering graduate degrees and certificates. For example, the University of Charleston, South Carolina offers a masters of arts in bilingual interpreting for English-Spanish and a graduate certificate in bilingual legal interpreting.


Some colleges and universities—such as San Diego State University, Florida International University, and the University of Louisville—offer certificates in interpreting or translation (including specialization in legal services). Contact schools in your area to learn what types of certificate programs are available. 

Other Education or Training

The federal government, as well as individual states and the National Center for State Courts, provide training, workshops, and continuing education to those seeking or maintaining employment as court interpreters. Some states are currently considering mandating continuing education for those employed as interpreters.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification, Licensing and Special Requirements 

Certification or qualification is required in order to be employed as an interpreter for the federal courts and most state courts. The federal court system offers a Spanish-English Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination that includes both a written and oral exam; no other certification exams (in other languages) are currently offered. Rather, interpreters in the federal court system interpreting languages other than Spanish may be classified as “professionally qualified,” or “language skilled/ad hoc” pursuant to standards set by the federal court system. Likewise, most states require some form of certification. Certification exams recognized by many states are given by the National Center for State Courts, the American Translators Association, and in the case of sign language, by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which offers several certification credentials. In addition to written testing of language, vocabulary, skills, and ethics, testing will evaluate a candidate's qualifications by requiring actual interpretations.

Other Requirements

Interpreters and translators who work in courts may be required to undergo a criminal background check.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Court interpreters require exceptional skills in their foreign language to an extent described as “native” proficiency, that is, equivalent to those who speak the foreign language as their first language. While generally there are no minimum number of years of experience required for employment, additional experience leads to more complex assignments. The job not only requires the additional knowledge of the legal and judicial system, rules, and terminology, but a desire and commitment to assist in the administration of justice. 

Court interpreters and translators must have impeccable ethics, understand and practice confidentiality, and be able to strictly comply with court rules. They must be willing to assist people of differing nationalities, socioeconomic classes, and intellectual capacities without judgment or comment. They must be not only interpret or translate words, but as near as possible to communicate the exact tone and meaning of the speaker. Court interpreters must be punctual and compliant with schedules set by courts, while flexible enough for adjournments, delays, or assignments that extend past their scheduled work hours.