I’m Already Bilingual, What Could I Possibly Need to Learn to Interpret in Court?

By January 5, 2015 October 28th, 2017 For Language Professionals, Interpreting

shutterstock_115333348 webLet’s just start with basic language.  Speaking a second language even on an everyday basis doesn’t mean you are speaking the languages used in legal settings.  Yes, I said languages.  There are at least five different languages spoken in any given court assignment or setting and you will need to immediately interpret without paraphrasing, omitting, or substituting.

First you have English, the language you hear every day.  Then you have the English legalese spoken by the attorneys or Judge when they are speaking to the witness, to each other or to the jury.  Also each case has specific subject matter terminology depending on the nature of the lawsuit.  Consider these examples: in a criminal case- weapons and ballistics,; in plant explosions- the work performed by plant employees,; in medical malpractice- entire medical procedures.  You have to know what those words mean in English plus you must be able to interpret them into your second language.

Now consider the language spoken by the witness.  You have to be completely fluent in all tenses.  Then you will also hear the regional language, slang, or second language affectations used by the witness.

How do we Master Licensed Court Interpreters learn all this?  We rely on training.  We identify and learn the terminology.  We develop the skill of interpreting all the possible ways people might communicate in a legal setting.  The process to get your license starts with a required orientation course that introduces you to the terminology, the court environment and the process of interpreting.

Here’s a tip: Go down to the court house and watch a trial or hearing to observe the court process.  Go through the website for directions and to find the specific site for each court http://www.ccl.hctx.net/ .  Once at court, tell the Bailiff you are a student court interpreter and ask if you can observe.  They will tell you if the trial is open to observers.  It doesn’t matter if there is an interpreter there or not; the court procedure is the same.  Listen to what is said and how they say it.  Watch what the participants do and how they interact with each other.  And just to let you in on a secret, we veteran court interpreters still do this to learn new terminology and procedures.  This will be your jumpstart to becoming familiar and comfortable with the environment in which the court interpreter works.  Because the role of the court interpreter is to be a seamless and almost invisible participant providing a communication service much like a telephone.  There is no cost or pressure to a visit like this.  You could get excited enough to say, “I can learn to do this; I want to be a court interpreter!”

Then, in training you will learn our regulations and how we capture the words spoken and relay them completely.  You will receive resources to the terminology you heard in court so you can build your vocabulary. The judicial procedure will be explained so bring any questions about what you observed.   Knowing all the languages of legal settings is is how you learn to be the best possible court interpreter.