Introduction to Court Interpreting in Iowa
Continuing Education Form and FAQs are Available!
The reporting form for continuing education credits is now available. Court interpreters who are on the official roster must post 6 hours of continuing education, including one hour of ethics. The fee is $10 and the filing deadline for the form is May 15, 2017. Only interpreters who are on the roster must file the continuing education report. The report and further information can be found at:
The Iowa Supreme Court
recently adopted substantial amendments to the rules governing court
interpreters (chapter 47). One change is
that interpreters seeking to get on Iowa's Roster for Court Interpreters must
take an oral proficiency interview (OPI), ALTA's speaking and listening test,
and score at least an 11 on a scale of 12.
The Court added the OPI requirement to ensure all interpreters on the
Roster are skilled in their non-English language. Class C interpreters who are already on the
Roster must also pass that test to stay on the roster. Class A and B interpreters on the Roster do
not need to take the OPI to stay on the Roster.
For information on how to register for the ALTA OPI, please access the
The registration form for the ALTA OPI may be found at the
Knowledgeable and skilled court interpreters are an essential part of the Iowa Judicial Branch's mission to provide high quality justice and services to all people. However, being bilingual is not sufficient to be a competent court interpreter. Court interpreters must be able to completely and accurately interpret everything that is said in court, without adding or omitting anything. To achieve this level of expertise, an interpreter should have:
1) Native-like mastery of both English and a second language
2) Wide general knowledge -- characteristic of a person with at least two years of college
3) Extensive vocabularies - including legal terms and slang -- in two languages
4) Excellent memory skills, plus mental and verbal agility
5) At least some training and experience
To help ensure high quality interpretation services in Iowa's courts, the Iowa Supreme Court adopted Chapters 47 and 48 in the Iowa Court Rules to govern the qualifications and appointment of court interpreters. The “Court Rules” and “Code of Ethics” tabs above provide links to those rules.
Almost everything an interpreter needs to know about interpreter qualifications, appointments, training, testing, certification, and compensation in Iowa can be found through the links on the this page. If you have questions after reading all these materials, you may contact:
B. Basic qualifications to be a court interpreter in Iowa
All court interpreters must meet the following minimum qualifications:
1) Equivalent of two years or 48 credit hours of college courses or have completed the requirements to qualify for the Iowa Roster of Court Interpreters.
2) At least 21 years old.
3) Complete an official Application to be an Oral (or Sign) Language Court Interpreter - where interpreters will provide information on their qualifications to be court interpreters. See the Forms section for the official application.
4) Sign an oath to abide by the Code of Professional Conduct for Judicial Branch Interpreters (Chapter 48 of the Iowa Court Rules). See Forms section for the official application.
5) Pass a criminal history check. Interpreters must complete a "release/waiver" form to authorize the Office of Professional Regulation staff to conduct the criminal history search. NOTE: Persons convicted of a felony, or convicted of any less serious crime that involves dishonesty or moral turpitude, are prohibited from interpreting in Iowa's courts unless the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) determines otherwise.
Court interpreting is a very important and demanding job. We encourage all court interpreters to regularly study and practice to expand their vocabularies in English and their other language and to improve their interpreting skills. To help court interpreters improve their knowledge and skills, we strongly recommend that they use an excellent reference list developed by the Consortium for Language Access in the Courts (Consortium).
C. Requirements for being on the statewide roster of court interpreters
Under the Iowa Court Rules, an interpreter who is on the statewide roster of court interpreters and who is reasonably available will be appointed before a non-roster interpreter. To be listed on the statewide roster, interpreters must meet the basic qualifications for court interpreters in part B (above), and complete the following steps in the order listed below:
1) Attend a two-day court interpreter orientation program approved by the OPR. You should do this as soon as possible after submitting an Application to be a Court Interpreter (see part B., above). Interpreters must attend the orientation program before they can take the written tests for court interpreters (below). Those who previously attended an orientation program in Iowa have met this requirement.
2) Pass two multiple-choice exams for court interpreters:
Exam 1 - The Consortium's standard multiple-choice exam with a total of 135 questions. It tests an interpreter's knowledge of general English vocabulary, slang, legal terminology, and court-related issues.
Exam 2 - Multiple-choice exam (25 questions) on court interpreter ethics.
These two exams are offered as two parts of a single multiple-choice exam. For more detailed information about the multiple-choice exams, click on the "Tests" link on the top of this web page.
Exam 3 - Pass an oral proficiency interview (OPI), the ALTA speaking and listening test.
D. Certification for Court Interpreters
Under the Iowa Court Rules, the courts will appoint a certified court interpreter, if one is reasonably available, before they will appoint a noncertified interpreter. Certified court interpreters also receive a higher hourly fee than noncertified interpreters. The Iowa judicial branch administers the National Center for State Court's oral interpretation exams for court interpreter certification, which are available in 20 different languages. The oral exams will be conducted each year in Iowa, usually in May and September.
Before interpreters can take the oral exam for court interpreter certification in Iowa, they must:
1) Meet the requirements to be listed on the Roster of Court Interpreters (see C., above)
For more information on becoming a certified court interpreter for oral or sign languages, click on the link titled "Tests" at the top of this page.
For information on the testing required to be certified as a court interpreter of sign language (specialist certificate: legal), see the website of the Deaf Services Commission.
E. Classification of court interpreters
Iowa's Court Rules identify four classes of court interpreters based on the level of testing and training successfully completed. The courts must appoint the interpreter with the highest rank among those who are reasonably available - giving preference within each class to interpreters on Iowa's Roster of Court Interpreters. The table below summarizes the priority given to each class of interpreter.
Court Interpreter Classifications in Iowa
Level of Training & Testing
Certified: Meets Iowa's requirements for certification (see D., above)
Noncertified: Meets basic Roster requirements (see C, above) - AND:
ü Is certified in another state by meeting less stringent standards than Iowa's - or –
ü Completed an approved court interpreter training program with a GPA of at least a 3.0 - or –
ü Took an approved certification exam and achieved an average score of at least 65 percent
C - Roster
Noncertified, but meets basic Roster requirements
Noncertified and does not meet basic Roster requirements
F. Additional information for court interpreters on the judicial branch website
Interpreters should review the information provided on this website by browsing the tabs above including: Guide, Rules, Code, Tests, Training Programs, Roster, Forms, and Compensation.
Frequently Asked Questions about Court Interpreting