How to become a court interpreter in Texas

How to Become a Court Interpreter in Texas: A Step-by-Step Guide for the Licensed Court Interpreters Program

Interpreting is a hot industry and court interpreting, whether through state courts or federal courts, is on the rise as well. This holds true if you want to become a court interpreter in Texas.

But unlike the translation industry in the United States where certification is not mandatory for offering translation services, state and federal court interpreters usually have to adhere to and pass a certification program in order to in interpreters for the court.

These requirements can vary between states. They will be different than the requirements necessary in order to become a federal court interpreter.

This step-by-step guide is meant to help you wade through the often confusing requirements to become a state court interpreter, specifically for the courts in the state of Texas.

The first step to understanding how to become a licensed certified court interpreter in Texas is to know that this certification is managed by the Judicial Branch Certification Commission.

This commission is not only in charge of certifying court interpreters but is also responsible for the process of becoming a court reporter, a guardian, or a process server.

Here, though, we’re going to focus on what it takes to become a court interpreter.

Steps for Becoming a Court Interpreter in Texas

1. Enroll in and complete an exam orientation course
The first step in the process is to take a six-hour orientation course. There is not one specific course that is offered by the Texas State court system, but rather a list of courses offered by outside organizations that cover the material deemed necessary by the court.

A list of those courses can be found at the Texas Court Interpreter website. As of this writing there were about nine different organizations offering this type of course.

One thing to remember is that this course is not a course that will necessarily teach you how to become a court interpreter in Texas.

Remember, it’s only six hours long.

Instead, think of the course as an introduction to court interpreting, as well as interpreting in general.

You’ll learn about interpreting terms and modes and how those play a role in court interpreting.

Even if you have done court interpreting in other states, you still have to take this orientation course. I don’t know of any way to opt out of this, although it would make sense to have that option for people who have successfully interested for other state court systems.

2. Submit an application form
Once you finish an exam orientation course, you need to fill out the application. Don’t think you can skip the course and go straight to the application, though. Part of the application asks you to attach a certificate indicating you successfully passed the class.

The Licensed Court Interpreters application form is only two pages long. It’s not difficult to fill out.

But you do need to fill it out right and attach all the right documents so that it doesn’t get rejected.

Here’s the information you’ll need to provide:

  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Address
  • Business Contact Information (This can be left blank)
  • Confirmation you took the exam orientation course
  • Languages you want to be licensed in (you can click more than one)
  • Answer to three questions:
    • Have you ever had a professional license, certification, or registration of any kind which was denied,
      suspended, or revoked in Texas or any other jurisdiction?
    • Has your authority to be a court interpreter ever been terminated, vacated, or sanctioned in Texas or any other jurisdiction?
    • Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense other than a minor traffic offense?

Finally, you need to sign and date the application.

In addition to filling out the application and attaching a certificate of completion of an exam orientation course, you also need to pay the relevant fees.

Currently, the cost for submitting the application is $75. Remember that this fee is non-refundable, so once you send it in, it’s gone.

4. Criminal background check
As part of the application process for becoming a court interpreter in Texas, you have to submit your fingerprints to the state of Texas in order for a background check to be completed.

The process is slightly different whether you are a Texas resident or are an out-of-town applicant.

If you are coming from out of state, the process entails getting your fingerprints taken from an approved source (such as local law enforcement), and then sending the completed fingerprint card to the provider in charge of managing the program.

If you’re a Texas resident interested in becoming a state court interpreter in Texas itself, you have to schedule an appointment directly with the provider. He will take your fingerprints and send them directly to the Texas Department of Public Safety for processing.

Whether you’re an in-state applicant or applying from out of state, you’ll need to fill out the the (Fingerprint Applicant Services of Texas) FAST paperwork and submit it along with your application.

5. Take and pass the court interpreters exam
The court interpreting exam is actually two exams, a written one and an oral one.

First, though, you’ll need to pay. The written test costs $100 and the oral exam will set you back $300.

Let me first explain the written exam.

The exam has 135 questions which are all multiple choice. The questions and answers are all in English, as the exam is not meant to test your foreign language capability.

Instead, the written exam focuses on three areas:

  1. English language proficiency
  2. Court terms
  3. Ethics and professional conduct

Each applicant is allowed two hours and fifteen minutes for the written exam. It has to be completed without any aids or resources.

Now for the oral exam.

The oral court exam has three parts, with each section focusing on a specific type of interpretation:

Sight Interpretation
For this part of the exam, you will be given a typewritten page in English that you have to review and interpret within a six-minute window.

Then you will be given a page in your other language. You’ll have six minutes to review and interpret that page into English.

Consecutive Interpretation
This part of the exam is a bit more complicated and takes more time, usually between 20 and 30 minutes. You will be given a recording that simulates questioning between a lawyer and a person on the witness stand.

As part of the test, you’ll have to interpret from English to the target language of the witness and then from the target language responses back into English.

One thing to note about this part of the exam is that you’ll need to be comfortable, or at least willing to, interpret lower-register language, including obscenities.

Simultaneous Interpretation
The final part of the oral exam is simultaneous interpretation and can take around ten minutes to finish. You’ll be asked to listen to a recording of a lawyer speaking, like what would happen during opening or closing arguments.

You’ll have to simultaneous interpret into your target language the English speech of the lawyer However, the recording will also have background noise and other voices, so you’ll have to focus on what the lawyer is saying without getting distracted by the other voices.

That’s it.

Those are the three parts of the oral exam for interpreters interested in working with the Texas court system.

One important thing about the exams for becoming a court interpreter in Texas is that there are outside exams that can satisfy the requirements for both the written and oral exams or for just the oral exams.

If you’ve taken and passed an exam from one of the organizations below, you will not have to take either the written or oral exam:

  • National Center for State Courts
  • Federal Court Interpreter Certification
  • National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators

The following organizations offer exams that will satisfy the requirements for just the oral portion of the Texas state interpreters exam:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Language Line Services
  • Lionbridge
  • Language Testing International

6. Wait for the results
Once you’ve taken the tests, they’ll be sent off to be graded. You’ll get the results emailed to you within 30 days of the date you took the test.

In order to pass the written exam, you’ll need a passing score of 80%. For the oral exam, you’ll need at least a 60% on all three parts to be given a Basic License; above a 70% on all three sections will get you a Master License.

According to the Texas Courts website, the differences between what a court interpreter in Texas can do with a Basic License versus one with a Master License is the following:

Master – Permits the interpreter to interpret court proceedings in all courts in this state, including justice courts and municipal courts.

Basic – Permits the interpreter to interpret court proceedings in justice courts and municipal courts that are not municipal courts of record, other than a proceeding before the court in which the judge is acting as a magistrate.

If you don’t end up passing either the written or oral exams, you’ll have to wait six months before retesting, so you’ll want to make sure you are pretty confident about your abilities before testing.


P.S. Want to be more successful as your own translation or interpretation boss? Read this.

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