Legally Speaking: The December General Meeting

By Raffaella Buschiazzo

The December 1st NCTA General Meeting had a bit of everything, from a celebration of our most active volunteers to a presentation on how to become a California Certified Court Interpreter to a lively and pleasant hour of stuffing envelopes, sticking stamps, and general all-around schmoozing as we discussed our plans for the imminent holidays.

NCTA Vice President Yves Avérous opened the General meeting at 1:40 p.m. with a few announcements of upcoming events, and a call for volunteers to replace Alison Dent as manager of the online extension of our magazine Translorial ( The site will include the full archives of Translorial from its first issue 30 years ago; Alison did a tremendous job putting content online and managing it, and we will all be very sorry to see her move back to Europe. Yves continued his introduction by drawing attention to the fact that 2008 will be a special year for our Association. We will celebrate NCTA’s 30th anniversary with a major event. Suggestions are welcome!


NCTA gave free one-year memberships to four members who distinguished themselves in 2007 by their contributions to the Association’s activities. Karen Tkaczyk played an instrumental role during the ATA Conference in San Francisco by working at the NCTA table and providing a storage place in her hotel room for all the association’s collateral materials. Patricia Ramos, who served as a board director from 2000 to 2002 and hosted the board retreats at her house several times, made the trip to San Francisco to attend the ATA Conference from Spain, where she currently lives, and helped at the NCTA hospitality table every morning. Tatyana Neronova has managed all the Translorial mail meticulously for a long time. And last but not least, Paula Dieli was presented with the Volunteer of the Year Award for her involvement in the ATA Conference and for setting up and maintaining the NCTA wiki page on the Conference.
Interpreting in the Courts

The NCTA board wanted to have a presentation giving an overview of the role that court interpreters play in the court system, and what is required to become a certified or registered court interpreter in California. The goal was to offer specific information to those translators interested in expanding their careers and to interpreters who are thinking about adding this specialization to their resume.

The two speakers selected for our presentation by the San Francisco Judicial Council of California complemented each other thanks to their different profiles. Cannon Han is a Court Services Analyst with the Court Interpreters Program. Prior to joining the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), he was an attorney in the non-profit sector and in private practice. As an attorney, Mr. Han addressed language interpretation and quality of care issues in the mental health system and assisted low-income clients on a wide range of legal issues, ranging from public benefits to patients’ rights violations. Dr. Patricia Kilroe is a Linguistics Analyst for the Court Interpreters Program. Prior to this position she taught linguistics, French, English expository writing, and ESL for many years. Her degrees are a B.A. in French, an M.S. in linguistics, and a Ph.D. in Romance-language linguistics.

Mr. Han opened the presentation by quoting from the California Constitution’s mandate that “[a] person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.” For this reason courts must provide specially trained language interpreters whenever a party involved in a proceeding understands little or no English. The Judicial Council is the organ responsible for certifying and registering court interpreters. Currently, court interpreters can be certified in 12 languages: Arabic, Armenian (Eastern and Western), Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and register with the Judicial Council are considered as “certified court interpreters.”


Part of the examination tests writing skills in English and in the target language for vocabulary, reading comprehension, and grammar. The written examination consists of 155 multiple-choice questions to be answered in four hours and 20 minutes. If the candidate passes, he or she goes on to the oral component to test skills in simultaneous and consecutive interpreting and in sight translation. Interpreters of spoken languages for which there is no state certifying examination are called “registered interpreters of non-designated languages.” They must pass an English proficiency examination which consists of oral and written tests. In both cases, after passing the examination, the interpreter must submit an application to register with the Judicial Council and pay an annual fee. To maintain the certification, the interpreter must attend a Code of Ethics workshop in the first two-year compliance period, and submit proof of 30 hours of continuing education and 40 recent court interpreting assignments for every two-year period.

Dr. Kilroe explained what kind of knowledge, skills, and abilities are needed in court interpreting. She distributed a very long list of linguistic, speaking, listening, reading comprehension, interpreting, and behavioral skills required for this profession. These include language fluency and interpreting skills, such as the ability to concentrate and focus, to process linguistic information and choose terminology quickly, to think analytically, to conserve intent, tone, style, and utterances of all messages, to reflect register, and to self-monitor and self-correct. There are several colleges that provide training, but Dr. Kilroe offered some tips on how to prepare the for the exam with self-study techniques: expand your vocabulary, develop your own glossaries, develop interpreting techniques for consecutive and simultaneous interpretation and sight translation, develop memorization techniques and practice effective listening. She suggested the exercise of “shadowing” to improve one’s interpreting techniques. This consists of having somebody record passages from magazines and newspapers on tape and repeating everything the speaker says including writing out any numerals from ten to 100. We tried this exercise in groups of two people. For more information on becoming a court interpreter or on official workshops, you can visit

Thank you to Mr. Han and Dr. Kilroe for their very comprehensive presentations and for staying with us until the end of the general meeting to answer our multiple questions. They certainly provided a lot of information and good suggestions for those courageous enough to follow their path!