Legal Interpreters at Work

In our third of a series about different types of language interpreting, we will explain the tasks carried out by a legal interpreter, as well as his or her important role in US courts today.

Legal or judiciary interpreters help people who are unable to communicate in English to receive fair treatment in the court system. Legal interpreters must remain emotionally detached from their work and not modify the meaning or tone of what is said, so a high standard of ethics and a keen sense of objectivity are extremely important in this field.

Legal interpreters also need to be thoroughly familiar with the language and functions of the U.S. judicial system, and sometimes with other countries’ legal systems as well. Court interpreters work in a variety of legal settings, such as attorney-client meetings, preliminary hearings, depositions, trials, and arraignments. Success as a judiciary interpreter requires an understanding of both legal terminology and colloquial language.

Since the stakes are extremely high in this field of language interpreting, legal interpreters must be perfectly qualified for their job. For example, despite a shortage of legal interpreters, some states, including California, are seeking to raise court interpreters’ qualification standards in the interest of justice for all.

Right now, court interpreters can be certified in the following 13 languages:•    American Sign Language •    Arabic •    Armenian (Eastern) •    Armenian (Western) •    Cantonese •    Japanese •    Korean •    Mandarin •    Portuguese •    Russian •    Spanish •    Tagalog •    Vietnamese Court interpreting is a very demanding job. Spoken language court interpreters must be completely fluent in both English and the second language, while court interpreters of American Sign Language must be completely fluent in both English and American Sign Language. The level of expertise required for this profession is far greater than that required for everyday bilingual conversation. The interpreter must be able to handle the widest range of language terms that may be presented in the courts—from specialized legal and technical terminology to street slang. Most people do not have a full command of all registers of both English and the foreign language and, therefore, require special training to acquire it.

Language Translation Inc., has been serving the U.S. and countries abroad since 1989 with professional document translation, certified conference interpreting, and software / website localization services. With more than 25 years of experience in writing, communications, and language teaching skills Betty Carlson serves as Language Translations Marketing Communication specialist. Betty authors our blogs, media communications including press releases, white papers, and user guides. Betty holds a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in English from Stanford University and is fluent in both English and French.

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