By Sandra Dejeux and Marco Hanson
Sandra Dejeux: For years, I had thought that court interpreter training to prepare for state and federal exams was essential, but not enough. We needed more. Texas was in dire need of a comprehensive course that went beyond the six-hour orientation required by the state to qualify candidates for testing. The goal would be to help aspiring court interpreters become acquainted with court procedures and good practices for court interpreters — especially for those with no testing available for their language pair.
As a staff interpreter developing a language access plan for the county that employed me, I had included mandatory quarterly training for all contract and freelance interpreters working at county and district courts. Unfortunately, the language access plan was never fully implemented. A couple of years later, after I went back to freelancing, I was asked to become an instructor for a medical interpreter program offered by the Center for Professional Education (CPE) at the University of Texas’s Houston campus. I accepted immediately. It was an excellent opportunity to give back to the community, and in the back of my head, I had the idea that I just might find a way to propose a class for legal interpreters, too.
When I had the opportunity to share my thoughts, the program coordinator was very interested and decided to present the idea to other stakeholders. To my surprise, I was soon informed that the CPE was posting a bid for proposals to create the course syllabus and materials for a new legal interpreter certificate program. When asked if I knew anyone that met the requirements to be an instructor at a second location, the first person that came to mind was Marco Hanson. We share a passion for court interpreting, work well together, and he is an excellent teacher. He was offered the position and accepted. The next step was preparing a proposal and hoping that I would win the bid. I was so excited! Regardless of who created the materials, being part of the team meant the world to me. Thankfully, my proposal was accepted, and I had the opportunity to develop the curriculum with everything that I believe is vital knowledge for aspiring court interpreters: https://professionaled.utexas.edu/legal-interpreter.
The program is a hybrid online and in-person, 40-hour training, tailored to Texas court procedures; it offers the students the possibility to learn the theory component in the comfort of their homes while practicing interpreting skills in a classroom setting under the supervision of an instructor. During ten weeks, we teach our students topics related to federal and state regulations, the code of ethics, the three modes of interpretation, and court procedures that take place in municipal, county, and district courts. We invite guest speakers to our last class and offer students the opportunity to observe actual court proceedings and visit with attorneys, judges and court staff. In addition, Marco Hanson has been kind enough to volunteer to guide tours through the Judicial Branch Certification Commission (JBCC), the state agency that administers our credential. Marco will also share his experience with this project.
Marco Hanson: Anyone who has been a teacher knows how energizing it is to work with motivated, engaged students. This is my third time teaching this class and I am always impressed by the group that signs up. The tuition cost and the fact that candidates have to demonstrate a certain level of bilingual skills to apply filters out the more casual learners. During the summer, the class is offered as a five-day boot camp, which attracts larger groups (about 20) and more public school teachers; during the school year, the class meets one night a week and get a mix of paralegals, educators, realtors, journalists, and other adults seeking a new career as they return to the workforce. So far, most students have been Spanish-speakers, but Sandra’s course materials are now translated into several other languages and we have had French, Arabic and Vietnamese-speaking students. With so few opportunities for this level of training in such a big state, several students have been willing to make a six or eight-hour commute each week.
The university uses the Canvas online platform for readings, quizzes and other content. Students bring laptops or tablets, as well as smart phones and earbuds for exercises. Sandra has created consecutive scripts for a variety of case types: divorce, child abuse, deposition, police interview, etc., which students practice in small groups to reinforce the theoretical material covered during the lecture. Sandra has also gathered a number of sight translation exercises using actual Texas court documents, in addition to creating recordings for simultaneous training. Students are often overwhelmed by the realization that they have so much to learn and practice, so I spend a lot of time helping them develop confidence and practical study skills. The class is held at the UT School of Law, which has mock courtrooms available for practicing. This has been helpful in teaching protocol, like where to stand and how to identify the other people in court, as well as reducing the anxiety that naturally accompanies beginners walking into their first courtroom.
The passing rate on the state exam (developed by the National Center for State Courts) is between 10-20%. Some students already have years of interpreting experience, and are ready to take the exam as soon as they finish our course. Others leave having decided that they are better suited to another specialty, like translation or medical interpreting. But most students share in their end-of-course feedback that they feel inspired to put in the daily effort for months or years if needed to strengthen their memories, hone their skills, build their vocabularies, and pass the exam to join us in this rewarding profession.
About the authors
Sandra Dejeux holds a BA in International Studies and an MA in Spanish Translation and Interpretation. She is also a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter and a Certified Healthcare Interpreter. Sandra provides freelance interpreting and translation for courts and law firms in the Houston metro area and offers online training for legal and medical interpreters. She can be reached through https://sdtranslations.org.
Marco Hanson is a Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Texas and New Mexico) and ATA certified translator (Spa>Eng), and holds an MA in Spanish. He has served as statewide Language Access Coordinator for the Texas Office of Court Administration and has been active on the boards of the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators and the Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association. Marco can be contacted through www.TexanTranslation.com.
Image credit: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash