Translator's Guide

How to Become a Court Interpreter in Texas

Nowadays, the international communication and mobility of people have grown significantly which makes the need for interpreters more urgent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of interpreting and translation is about to increase by 19% within the next ten years, which makes it even more attractive. One of the most popular specialties in the industry is a court interpreter and many are interested in how to become one. Unlike some other fields, it requires mandatory certification while other requirements vary from state to state. Here is a detailed guide on how to become a court interpreter in Texas.

The requirements and procedures for becoming a court interpreter are often confusing. This guide offers the full explanation of the process and provides a step-by-step description of the actions to take in order to become a licensed certified court interpreter in Texas.

Step 1. Orientation course

The process of becoming a court interpreter begins with an orientation course. It is a 6-hour general overview course that does not teach all the specifics in court interpreting but is more like an introduction to the field. It is mostly concerned with some basics such as interpreting terms and modes and the different roles they can play in the court setting. The Texas State court system does not offer any such course on its own but provides a list of organizations where such an orientation course can be taken. This list can be found on the official website of Texas Court Interpreters.

Taking an orientation course is obligatory regardless of any work experience as an interpreter in the judicial system in any other state. So if you have worked in the field before and even if obtained the position of a court interpreter outside Texas you would still need to take this course. Of course, this is a disadvantage, but the duration of the course is rather short, so it should not be such a big concern. After passing the course exam you will receive a certificate stating that you have successfully completed it.

Step 2. Application

The next step is to fill out the application form to get a license as a court interpreter in Texas. It includes some simple questions and essential information about the applicant. In fact, it is rather short and easy to fill in. It is also mandatory to attach the certificate from the orientation course to the completed application form. This step also requires paying the fee for the application (non-refundable). Currently, the application fee is US$ 200. So in order not to redo this step and pay twice, one needs to check everything very carefully before the submission. If any information is wrong or the certificate is missing, the application will be rejected and one would need to start it over. It means that all the information should be double-checked and that filling in the form should not be done in a rush.  

The information required to provide in the application form is:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Residence address
  • Business contact information (not obligatory)
  • Exam orientation course completion
  • Language pair (or multiple languages) you want to be licensed in (currently there are 22 foreign languages for which one can be certified including the most popular ones such as Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, and some more. The full list can be viewed here.)

Then you will also need to answer questions about the previous job experience and criminal record (excluding minor traffic offenses).

After filling all the information out the applicant also should sign the application and put the current date.

Step 3. Criminal background check

After the submission of the application, any applicant is required to undergo a criminal background check. This process requires taking one’s fingerprints to be further checked against the state and federal systems in order to make sure the person who applies for court interpreting has not been involved in any criminal activity. To do it, applicants who are not Texas residents will need to get their fingerprints taken by local law enforcement authorities (this can be done at a police station). After that, the applicant will need to take the filled in fingerprint card and send it to the provider in charge of managing the program. The criminal background check for Texas residents, is, however, a little easier. One would only need to set an appointment with the provider directly. This person will take the applicant’s fingerprints and send them to the Texas Department of Public Safety. This step also requires filling in the form for Fingerprint Applicant Services of Texas (FAST) that should be then attached to the application.

Step 4. Court interpreter exam

To receive the license in court interpreting in Texas the applicant has to pass the certification exam that consists of a written and an oral part. To take the exam one also needs to pay the relevant fees (separately for each part of the test). Once all other documents are settled, the applicant receives an email confirming that it is allowed to proceed with the exam. In the following email, it will be stated what time and date for the exam the applicant is registered for.

The written part of the exam consists of questions in English with multiple choice answers. This part does not presuppose assessing any foreign language proficiency. It is primarily concerned with knowledge about the judiciary system and in particular with the court terms, relevant ethical codes for court interpreters and professional conduct, and mastery of the English language. The test is timed and it is not allowed to use any materials while taking it.

The oral exam includes three separate parts that are dedicated to different types of interpretation:

  • Sight Interpretation

This is the shortest part of the exam. The applicant is given a piece of text and is required to look it through and interpret it within a short period of time (about 5 minutes). The same procedure will be repeated for the foreign language you apply for.

  • Consecutive Interpretation

The second part of the exam takes up to half an hour. The applicant is required to listen to a recording of questioning during the court hearing between a lawyer and a witness and interpret in consecutively both ways (to and from English and the second language). The recording is likely to include some explicit language and so it is important to be ready for it. 

  • Simultaneous Interpretation

The third part of the test is completed in about ten minutes. It includes listening to a recording where a lawyer speaks in English and the task is to interpret his/her speech simultaneously into the language one applies for. The tricky part of the test is that the recording has background noises and some other people speaking in it. So the task is to single out the voice of the required speaker and continue interpreting ignoring all the distractors.

There is good news for holders of other relevant certificates. The Commission that issues the license for court interpreters in Texas recognizes the following certificates as satisfying the requirements of both the written and oral parts of the certification exam. So if you have successfully passed any of these, you will not need to take the exam and pay the fees for it:

  • Member states of the National Center for State Courts Language Access Services Section
  • National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT)
  • Federal Court Interpreter Certification (916) 263-3494

Step 5. Waiting for the results

After the completion of the tests, they will be taken and sent for grading. The applicant should expect a reply on the results via email within 30 days. 

The passing score for the written part of the exam is 80%. The oral exam is graded separately on each part. If the applicant scores a minimum of 60% on all of them, then he/she is eligible for a Basic License. Those who get more than 70% on sight, consecutive, and simultaneous interpretation receive a Master License. The difference between them is rather simple. The holder of a Master license can interpret in any court in Texas, while those who get a Basic one can only work in municipal and justice courts that are not municipal courts of record (the exception is only for the proceedings before courts where the judge acts as a magistrate).

If the applicant did not score a minimum on any of the tests, it is possible to reapply for the examinations in no less than 6 months.

Step 6. Renewal of license

The court interpreter’s license has an expiration date. If it expires within 90 days, the holder needs to pay 150% of the regular renewal fee. If more than 90 days have already passed, the regular renewal fee is doubled. In case the license is not more valid for over 1 year, the holder will have to reapply for it (take all the 5 steps above).

In fact, becoming a court interpreter in Texas only takes 6 steps. The main requirements for getting licensed are professional skills, command of English, and a foreign language and adherence to ethical standards. So if you hesitated in the face of a long and complicated application and certification process, now you can take your chance and become a court interpreter in Texas.