A New Field: Court Interpretation

This week, after much hesitation, Judy decided to take the first step towards becoming a certified court interpreter for Spanish in the state of Nevada. It's a difficult and long process with a 5% pass rate on the first try for those who take the written and oral exam in the same year. We have both always had a lot of respect for those interpreters who are able to work in high-pressure court environments with extremely high stakes. Judy wasn't sure if she had the necessary knowledge of the court system to start the process, and while she has found that she has a good foundation thanks to many years as a legal translator, there is a tremendous amount of things to learn. It's a humbling experience.

The court interpreter certification workshop was put on by the Supreme Court of Nevada, which does an excellent job at administering the program. Andrea Krlickova is very efficient at running this certification process (by herself for the entire state!) and has been delightful. The trainer was the well-known and respected Agustín de la Mora, one of the leading authorities on interpreter training. The two-day workshop was very informative and enlightening, and, as opposed to other states that face budget crises, we are glad to see that Nevada is still offering the certification and workshop.

On Judy's to-do list:
  • Get a tape recorder and record a simultaneous and/or consecutive interpretation every day. You only get better by doing this frequently.
  • Read the most important works on court interpretation, especially Holly Mikkelson's books.
  • Gain a solid understanding of Nevada court terminology, including responsibilities of each court.
  • Listen to YouTube videos and interpret them simultaneously.
  • Ask colleagues for honest feedback.
It's thrilling and challenging to expand our interpretation services and move beyond escort community, and health care interpretation. Judy took the written exam today, and in March she will know whether she will be able to take the difficult oral exam in September.

Our hats are off to all your court interpreters! If you have any suggestions for those starting out in this particular field, Judy would love to hear them.


Ryan Ginstrom on January 18, 2010 at 8:48 PM said...

I actually took the court interpreter test for Spanish in California back in 1993. I wasn't really interested in being a court interpreter, but it looked challenging, so I decided to try it. I passed the written test but failed the spoken part. :(

I must have bombed it, too, because the two test givers gave each other "that" look midway through... ;)

I never took the test again; by then I had lost interest, because my school studies were heating up, and I was studying Japanese intensively.

Fernando Cuñado on January 19, 2010 at 5:50 AM said...

I recommend you to read this book on the topic, that I found very interesting: “The Bilingual Courtroom” by Susan Berk-Seligson. And it is focused on Spanish-English interpreting in the USA courts. Good luck.

Ryan Ginstrom on January 19, 2010 at 9:42 PM said...

I forgot to add: best of luck on the test!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 20, 2010 at 8:32 PM said...

@Ryan: we like you taking the exam because it's a huge challenge; that's wonderful. Sorry to hear it didn't go so well, and that "look" from the test givers surely wasn't very professional. Glad you found your calling and nice in Japanese. Thanks for the good wishes. We will keep you posted on Judy's results. The written exam seems to have been quite do-able, but the oral....scary. We hear that they don't have real test givers anymore: there's just one proctor in the room, and it's all recorded. At least Judy will avoid "the look" if she bombs. :)

@Fernando: great idea, thanks so much for the suggestion. This is exactly the kind of advice that Judy needs. It's on the book list, and who knows, maybe the local library district even carries it.

Manny on January 22, 2010 at 9:34 AM said...

Best Wishes, Judy. Court interpreting is such an important job, and you will surely make a positive impact. ALTA has been working closely with the State of California for several years to help analyze and improve the Court Interpreter test, and we will be publishing a new study in the Summer. If you're interested, the 2007 study can be found here:

ALTA Court Interpreter Study

Álvaro Degives-Más on January 23, 2010 at 9:12 PM said...

I'm quite certain you did well, Judy. As to recording yourself: one way that is very unobtrusive, i.e. light on equipment hassle, is to get a digital voice recorder. You can find them cheap, and as long as it has a simple operation (buttons that allow you to record and replay with one click) it's good to go. Quality of voice recording is really unimportant, as you'll be recording your rendition only, and in your own environment, background noise is hardly a consideration.

Option two is for when you're a computer addict (cough) and sitting at or near your desktop rig / laptop is your SOP: use the free Audacity software. Although it's intended as an audio editor, its standard set-up allows you to use any audio file (say, a radio program, or some MP3 with dialog, you name it) and it'll automatically add a new track, each time you click the record button. Meaning, you can have several runs, and every version of your rendition will be separately available, in sync with the original. Great for simul training - even better for consec. (Of course, you have to check the "solo" button for the new track is selected, else you'll hear all previous versions as you go...) Best of all: Audacity has almost ridiculously low system requirements to run. Best is to use a headset, as you'll quickly find out!

The most important thing is to get over your apprehension, hearing your own voice. Once you're over that, and with your honest self-critical attitude, you'll quickly learn a thing or two.

One: you need to practice, practice, practice. Not because it's you, but because every one of us needs to do that, to reach a comfortable cruising speed. And regularity in practicing your skills - especially décalage, for simul - is more important than anything else.

Two: Don't worry. Persistence is what gets you places. Just remember: it's a craft, and if you apply #1 above, you'll get there.

(On a quasi unrelated note: typing a narrative on a micro keyboard is a b-word!)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on January 25, 2010 at 3:14 PM said...

@ADM: wonderfully insightful comment and advice, as usual. Much appreciated. If we should listen to anyone about court interpretation, it should certainly be you, the king of the northern Nevada and California courts. Judy is working really hard on décalage and resisting the urge to talk immediately (a challenge!). We will check out Audacity, thanks for the tip!

Naturaleza Moore, M.A. on January 27, 2010 at 9:31 PM said...

Great choice! Skilled interpreters are desperately needed in our courts. I am honored everyday to be a part of the American justice system as an interpreter. Welcome!

suzanneshaddix on December 7, 2012 at 1:02 PM said...

I see that these posts are a couple of years old, but I have a related question... I have a friend who is in need of a Japanese court interpreter. Can someone advise me on how to help her find one? We are in Mississippi. Thanks so much!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on December 7, 2012 at 5:32 PM said...

@Suzanne: We just answered your e-mail on this topic!

Anonymous said...

Hello. Just a brief comment. Yesterday I took the oral component of the Spanish Court Interpretation Exam administered by Prometric in the city of Walnut Creek, CA. Now the consecutive part is played from a small computer, and normally it would be a sort of interview to a witness about what happened in the day that the crime occur...well, the point is... they break the consecutive portion into smaller pieces and play it in any order as the tester wishes, and with no sense at all as to what they are talking you have to interpret right there in the spot, it was v-e-r-y challenging, in other words, it is a not a logical story sequence type of recording. Memory relies on the association of events described by someone, but, given this mix and match selection it was terrible. I am hoping to pass, but, not sure. About the other sections, the sight and simultaneous... it seemed harder than all the practices I have been working on. Personally, I think they want to raise the bar as to the quality of the examinees that pass this exam. Best regards for you all. I enjoy reading your blog, it cheers me up. Rosita

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