Court interpreters play a crucial role in ensuring that everyone has equal access to the legal system, especially those who have limited English proficiency. They are professionals who follow strict ethical standards and act as impartial officers of the court.

In the United States, both federal and state courts provide interpreting services to meet the needs of diverse populations with limited English proficiency. To maintain high standards, certification programs have been established to assess the competence of court interpreters.

In this article, we’ll shed light on the requirements and processes of federal and state interpreting certifications, as well as the main differences between them.


Why is Certification Important for Court Interpreters? 


Certification serves as a validation of an interpreter’s professional competence. It demonstrates that the interpreter has undergone a rigorous evaluation process.

Having a state or federal certification is like having the key that opens the doors to working as a court interpreter at the state or federal level.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the state and federal certification processes.


State Certification: A Three-Stage Process 


Most states have their own certification process for court interpreters, which typically involves three stages.

It all starts with an orientation that gives an overview of court interpretation and outlines the certification requirements.

After the orientation, candidates take a written English proficiency exam. This exam evaluates their understanding of English grammar, vocabulary, legal terminology, and knowledge of the court system.

The final and most challenging step is the oral interpretation exam. This exam tests candidates’ skills in sight translation, consecutive interpretation, and simultaneous interpretation.

Passing the state court interpreter exam can be tough, especially for first-time test takers without prior training. The passing rate for them is estimated to be only 15% (it’s important to note that not all states publish their testing results).


To find out your state’s specific certification requirements, check out our Court Interpreter Requirements by State.

Ready to begin your journey towards getting state certified as a court interpreter? Start your learning path now.


Federal Certification: Setting National Standards 


The federal courts offer a comprehensive and nationally recognized certification process, but currently, it is only available for Spanish language interpreters. The federal certification exam consists of two phases: a written examination and an oral examination.

The written examination, which can only be taken once per testing period, is a computer-administered test that assesses English and Spanish proficiency. A passing score on the written exam qualifies candidates to proceed to the oral examination.

The oral exam evaluates interpreters’ ability to effectively perform sight translation, simultaneous interpretation, and consecutive interpretation. It tests proficiency in both formal and informal language, legal terminology, technical vocabulary, and specialized language used in the federal judiciary.


Already state certified? Get prepared for the federal certification with our FCICE Written Prep and FCICE Oral Prep courses.


Key Differences between State and Federal Interpreting


Language availability

State certifications often cover a range of languages based on the specific needs of the state’s population. In contrast, federal court interpreter certification primarily focuses on Spanish, as it reflects the primary demand within the federal judiciary.


Examination phases

Both state and federal certifications follow a similar structure, both using written and oral exams. However, the state certification process has its own unique specifications. Each state sets its own requirements, including the number and nature of examination phases. Additionally, candidates pursuing state certification usually participate in an orientation program that familiarizes them with court interpretation and the certification process.



One notable difference is the recognition at the national level. State court interpreter certifications depend on individual state requirements and may not hold universal recognition. In contrast, the federal court interpreter certification is widely accepted across both state and federal courts, opening up broader opportunities for interpreters.




Court interpreters play a crucial role in ensuring equal access to justice for individuals with limited English proficiency. Certification processes for court interpreters, whether at the state or federal level, aim to uphold professional standards and ensure the highest level of competence.

Understanding the processes and requirements for state and federal certification will help you prepare for a successful career as a court interpreter.


Whether you are new to court interpreting or a seasoned professional, we have the skill building tools to get you to the next step in your career! Check out our courses catalog.



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