Credentialing Overview

Credentialing processes generally require court interpreters to show their ability to interpret to an acceptable degree of accuracy in the simultaneous and consecutive modes and to perform adequate sight translation. Performance testing, i.e., placing a candidate in a simulated work environment and evaluating their interpretation, is generally viewed as the best way to determine an interpreter's ability.

Interpreters may be subjected to a variety of tests in their careers, either written, oral, or both. However, not all tests are recognized as certification tests. A certification test is an examination mandated by legislation to assess interpreter competency for court proceedings, or an examination by a professional association to assess skills and a common body of knowledge.

Most court interpreter tests are offered under state or federal authority, generally through the main office of court administration. Some states (notably, California and Washington) certify interpreters, but neither New York nor New Jersey certifies their contract interpreters: these two states currently register, screen or qualify interpreters through different - but not reciprocal - testing processes. Before you can be tested, some courts require attendance at seminars on codes of ethics; others have orientation seminars. Approval by one state or another is not an automatic qualification to work in federal court. Note that some language agencies claim to certify interpreters, but these should be closely questioned by the consumer and the prospective interpreter. Some agencies have their own screening procedures, but no agency can certify an interpreter for court purposes.

In addition, one professional association, NAJIT, offers a certification examination for Spanish interpreters and translators. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin currently accept NAJIT certification as an interpreter qualification. Other states may accept it in the future. For further information, see www.najit.org

It is an ethical violation for any agency or interpreter to misrepresent his credentials to an attorney, judge or other court personnel, or to have business cards which misrepresent their credentials. It is the interpreter's responsibility to know which credential he has, what it qualifies him to do, and to represent it accurately. Each court system may use its own terminology and procedure for qualifying interpreters. For example, certified applies to federal certification in Spanish, Haitian and Navajo. Official or approved are terms used by the state courts, which qualify interpreters through their own testing program, which is not the same as the federal certification program.

To learn more about the federal court interpreter certification examination, see http://www.uscourts.gov/services-forms/federal-court-interpreters/federal-court-interpreter-certification-examination

To get a general idea of the field, it is helpful to talk to the Interpreters office or to the person in charge of coordinating interpreting services in each court. The more information you have, the better equipped you will be to decide whether this is a career option for you.