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How To Work With An Interpreter

General Info


Court interpreters are experts in language and trained to translate from one language into another without changing or adding anything. Court interpreters work for the Court. They do not have any interest in the outcome of the case and they remain neutral in all matters. Court interpreters cannot help you fill out or file your court forms and they cannot answer legal questions.


Below are some helpful tips when using an interpreter:

  • Listen carefully to the interpreter.
  • Wait for the interpreter to finish talking before you answer.
  • Speak slowly in your native language so the interpreter can hear everything you say.
  • Do not interrupt, even if someone in court says something bad about you. You will get a chance to speak.
  • Counsel, inform the interpreter if your client will require their services. Allow the interpreter to become familiar with the case and your client's speech pattern.
  • Counsel, make sure you verify your client’s native language. We often make assumptions based on country of origin or a surname.


Spoken language court interpreters translate in civil or criminal court proceedings (e.g., arraignments, motions, pretrial conferences, preliminary hearings, depositions, trials) for parties who speak or understand little or no English. American Sign Language interpreters interpret for parties who are deaf or hard of hearing. Court interpreters must accurately interpret for individuals with a high level of education and an extensive vocabulary, as well as for persons with very limited language skills without changing the language register of the speaker. Interpreters sometimes translate legal documents as well.

Yes. Court Interpreters obey the Interpreter's Oath and the Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibilities. Court Interpreters may not disclose information pertaining to the interpreted session nor its participants.

No. Court Interpreters do not explain, paraphrase, or give legal advice. A Court Interpreter translates what is said and does not add or change anything.

San Mateo Superior Court provides interpreters and other language services to people with limited English ability, so they can understand and participate in the court process.

The court assigns qualified court interpreters - at no cost - for all mandated case types:
  • Criminal
  • Traffic
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Juvenile Dependency
  • Unlawful Detainer (evictions)
  • Child Support cases handled by the Department of Child Support Services (Wednesday, 9:00 a.m. calendar & Thursday, 2:00 p.m. calendar)
  • Domestic Violence Restraining Orders - (Wednesdays, 9:00 a.m. calendar & Friday 9:00 a.m.)
  • Civil Harassment Restraining Orders
  • Probate:
    • Elder or Dependent Adult Restraining Orders (involving physical abuse or neglect)
    • Guardianship
    • Conservatorship
    • Mental Health Conservatorship (LPS)
Other Case Types

San Mateo Court is committed to providing language access to all parties. However, for all other civil or family law case types, interpreter services are subject to availability.

If you need an interpreter for a court proceeding for which the court does not provide interpreters, you may hire an interpreter, or bring a relative or a friend to interpret for you. If you would like to contract the services of a Court Certified/Registered interpreter who is authorized to provide interpretation services in California, you may visit the list of interpreters here: State Court Judicial Council (JCC) website.

Please note: you may not bring your child or any minor to interpret for you during a court hearing or family court services mediation session.

Certified Court Interpreters

State certification for court interpreters requires the ability to meet minimum performance standards in consecutive and simultaneous interpretation of both English and the foreign language of certification, the ability to perform sight translation of written material and knowledge of correct usage of legal terminology. The Judicial Council of California has designated fourteen languages as "certified" languages: Arabic, Eastern Armenian, Western Armenian, Cantonese, Japanese, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. To become a Certified Interpreter, an interpreter must pass the Court Interpreter Certification Exam and must fulfill corresponding Judicial Council Requirements. Only interpreters who pass the Court Interpreter Certification Examination and fulfill the corresponding Judicial Council requirements are referred to as certified interpreters. Certified languages may change periodically, depending on the results of studies of language use in the courts and other administrative factors.

Registered Court Interpreters

The court requires interpreters of languages for which there are no state certification examinations to complete an extensive questionnaire, provide letters of reference regarding their skills, submit a resume and demonstrate skills in simultaneous, consecutive interpretation, and sight translations. Registered court interpreters are required to pass the Written Exam, and the Oral Proficiency Exam in English, and an Oral Proficiency Exam in their non-English language. The Oral Proficiency Exams in English and non-English languages assess the candidate's functional ability to communicate in that language. All exams for both certified and registered status are administered under contract by an approved testing entity as required under Government Code §68562(b).

Provisionally Qualified Court Interpreters

Provisionally Qualified Interpreters are Non-Certified/Non-Registered interpreters who have been deemed qualified by the Presiding Judge to perform interpreter services when a Certified/Registered interpreter is not available. Interpreters must have completed the written exam, ethics training, and qualified under Rule 2.893 California Rules of Court.

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