Interpreter Certification

All interpreters currently working and those who would like to work with the Pennsylvania courts and in administrative hearings held by state and local agencies must register and become qualified through the certification program.

What are the certification requirements?

Interpreters who wish to become certified by the Pennsylvania Interpreter Certification Program must complete the following requirements:

  • Program registration
  • Orientation workshop
  • Written examination
  • Oral proficiency examination
  • Pass a background check
  • Agree to uphold the interpreter rules of conduct and professional responsibility and follow program policies and regulations
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Pay any fees required by the court administrator

For what languages are full or partial oral proficiency exams available?

 

Full exam languages

  • Arabic (Egyptian and Levantine)
  • Cantonese
  • French
  • Haitian-Creole
  • Hmong
  • Ilocano
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Laotian

 

  • Mandarin
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese

Abbreviated Language Exam

  • Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian
  • Marshallese
  • Turkish

How is the oral proficiency exam administered?

Foreign Language Interpreters

Languages with full oral proficiency exam

The oral proficiency exam has three parts: simultaneous, consecutive and sight. Candidates must pass the simultaneous part first. Once a candidate passes the simultaneous part, the consecutive and sight parts must be taken within one year from the date the candidate passed the simultaneous. Candidates must achieve a score of 70 percent or higher on all three parts of the exam to be certified. Candidates who score 60 percent or higher on the simultaneous part will be allowed to take the sight and consecutive parts. If they score 60 percent or higher on the sight and consecutive parts, they are placed on the roster as otherwise qualified interpreters based on the combined score in all three parts of the test and will be allowed to work in limited types of cases while waiting to retest in order to achieve certification.

Candidates in languages other than Spanish (LOTS) who score 50 percent or higher in the simultaneous part of the oral exam will be allowed to take the sight and consecutive parts. If they score 60 percent or higher on the combined score of all three parts of the test, they will be placed on the roster as an otherwise qualified interpreter and allowed to work in limited types of cases while waiting to retest in order to achieve full certification.

Candidates may carry the score of any passed part of the oral exam for a maximum of two years. The same version of the test can be taken a maximum of two times and the test cannot be retaken more than once in a six months period.

Languages with abbreviated oral proficiency exam

Candidates must take the simultaneous portion of the exam first. If one does not exist, candidates must take the portions that are available, either consecutive, sight or both. The scores of any passed part of the exam can be carried for a maximum of two years. The same version of the test can be taken a maximum of two times and cannot be retaken more than once in a six months period.

Languages with no oral proficiency test

If a full or abbreviated oral proficiency exam does not exist in a given language, candidates are required to take an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI)—if one is available in their language— and the Versant spoken English language test no later than six months after passing the written exam.

The OPI was developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) for evaluating the language skills of speakers of foreign languages and is administered by Language Testing International (LTI). There are over 50 languages available. During a telephone interview, the candidate’s foreign language skills and fluency are evaluated by the rater. Candidates must perform at the superior level in order to pass the test.

Candidates must also pass the Versant spoken English language test.  This test evaluates the spoken English skills of non-native speakers. Administered by Pearson, this automated test is delivered over the phone and the candidate’s responses are recorded. It is approximately 15 minutes long and tests six areas: reading, sentence construction, vocabulary, fluency, pronunciation, and overall comprehension.  The passing score the candidate must achieve is 47.

Sign language interpreters

After passing the multiple choice part of the written exam, sign language interpreters must comply with the following requirements in place of an oral examination:

  • Be certified by the Register of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or the National Association for the Deaf (NAD)
  • Provide proof of RID or NAD certifications, including a copy of certificates and a valid active membership card or a letter from RID or NAD certifying the results of the proficiency exam and status
  • Hold a relevant RID or NAD certificate for legal interpretation as determined by the Court Administrator (See Schedule C of the Interpreter Program Regulations for the list of certificates)
  • Be registered and in good standing with the Pennsylvania Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ODHH)

How are interpreters classified?

There are two broad categories: certified and otherwise qualified interpreters. For certification purposes, interpreters are divided into three groups:

  • Those who interpret in a language for which a full or abbreviated oral proficiency exam exists.
  • Those who interpret in a language for which there is no oral proficiency exam.
  • Deaf and Sign language interpreters.

The interpreter classification table gives an overview of the different types of interpreter certifications. The classifications and certification criteria are subject to modification, revision and change based on developments, including the availability of performance tests, effectiveness of evaluation tools and reconsideration of skill level. Classifications should not be viewed as definitive or permanent.

If I fail any part of the oral proficiency exam, can I take it again?

Languages with full oral proficiency exam

Candidates who fail the simultaneous part of the exam may retake the test again but they must wait at least six months. Candidates that pass the simultaneous part but fail the consecutive or sight parts must retake whichever part they failed within one year, but must wait at least six months before retaking any part they failed. Candidates must pass all three parts of the oral proficiency exam within two years of the date they passed the simultaneous part, which is equivalent to one testing cycle. The testing cycle requirement is not triggered until the candidate passes the simultaneous part of the exam.

Languages with abbreviated oral proficiency exam

When candidates fail the simultaneous part of the exam, they must wait at least six months to retake it again. They must complete any available remaining parts within one year of the date they passed the simultaneous part. Candidates must take whatever parts are available within one testing cycle. The testing cycle requirement is not triggered until the candidate passes at least one of the available exam parts.

Languages with no oral proficiency test

Candidates that fail to pass the Oral Proficiency Interview at the Superior level, or the Versant spoken English language test may retake either test in six months. Candidates who fail to perform at the Superior level in the OPI may be placed in the roster as Approved for Administrative Hearings only as long as they obtain at minimum an Advanced Medium result in the OPI and pass the Versant English language proficiency test. Candidates that fail to pass the Versant spoken English test will not be placed in the roster.

Do I have to renew my certification?

Once certified, all interpreters must renew their certification every two years from the date they completed all certification requirements and were placed on the roster.

What are my renewal requirements?

To renew their certifications every two years, interpreters must:

  1. Complete 16 continuing education units within the two-year compliance period. Interpreters can do this by taking approved training or skill development workshops in person or online; by taking academic courses at accredited colleges or universities in areas relevant to court interpreting; by presenting as faculty in courses, workshops or seminars on topics related to interpreting; or by teaching an academic course at an accredited college or university on court-related subjects. All certification education units must be approved in advance by the program administrator. For a detailed description of the continuing education requirements, go to the Continuing Education page.
  2. Undergo a new background check. Interpreters found guilty of a major felony or crime are denied renewal of their credentials. Misdemeanor offenses are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if they violate the rules of professional conduct.
  3. Be in good standing with the program. Interpreters must not be in violation of the rules of conduct and professional responsibility or the disciplinary policy of Pennsylvania or another jurisdiction.
  4. Pay the $25 renewal fee.

Does Pennsylvania accept certifications from other states?

Interpreters who have successfully completed the qualification requirements and the oral proficiency exam administered in another state member of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) Conference of Language Access Coordinators (CLAC) may apply for reciprocity. Candidates must have obtained a minimum of 70 percent on all three parts of the oral proficiency exam and provide a copy of the results. The candidate must have passed all three parts of the oral examination within one testing cycle. A letter from the state's program manager certifying the results is also acceptable. Candidates must also attend an orientation workshop, pass a background check, agree to uphold the interpreter rules of conduct and professional responsibility and follow program policies and regulations, be at least 18 years of age, pay a $25 registration fee, and agree to comply with the continued education requirements to renew certification every two years.

Pennsylvania does not accept partial test results from other states. Candidates must complete their certification in the state where they started testing before being eligible to request reciprocity.

Does Pennsylvania accept the Federal certification credential?

Interpreters holding the Federal Court Interpreter credential are granted reciprocity under the same conditions explained above with regard to other states. They must attend the orientation workshop, pass a background check, agree to uphold the interpreter code of ethics, be at least 18 years of age, pay a $25 registration fee and comply with the continued education requirements to renew certification.