Introduction to Court Interpreting in Iowa
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 “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 on the pages and links above. 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) A high school degree or its equivalent.
2) At least 18 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 15 of the Iowa Court Rules). See Forms section for the official application.
5) Pass a criminal history check. 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. Interpreters must complete a "release/waiver" form to authorize the Office of Professional Regulation staff to conduct the criminal history search.
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 state court administrator. 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.
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 Consortium's oral interpretation exams for court interpreter certification, which are available in 14 different languages. The oral exams will be conducted each year in Iowa 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) and
2) Pass Exam 3 - a written translation exam, which is offered at the same time as the other written exams.
For more information on the written translation exam and 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 how to become obtain certification 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 a score of at least 65 percent on each part of the exam
C - Roster
Noncertified, but meets basic Roster requirements
C - Non-roster
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