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5 more languages for court interpreters; Translators will be tested, certified

The San Francisco Examiner - November 1, 2000, Wednesday

BY: Bob Egelko

In another sign that California is becoming increasingly multilingual, the courts are certifying interpreters in five more languages.

The state Judicial Council announced Tuesday it would approve interpreters in Armenian, Cambodian, Mandarin, Russian and Punjabi for court participants who speak those languages but little or no English.

Those are the first languages added to the certification program since 1993. It includes eight other languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

Certified interpreters, who number about 1,100 in the state, have to pass oral and written tests in the foreign language and English. For languages outside the certification program, interpreters can register with the state by passing an English test and then must satisfy the trial judge that they are qualified, based on their experience and training.

If neither category is available, judges can use non-registered interpreters, who get $175 a day compared with $265 for certified or registered interpreters.

That's a common practice in areas where immigration has outpaced the supply of registered interpreters; for example, there are only two registered Hmong interpreters in the state, both in the Fresno area, where immigrants from Hmong-speaking areas of Laos are concentrated, said Joseph Wong, the Judicial Council's chief of interpreter services.

The new certifications are based on a council study of language use in the court system. While Spanish remains by far the most widely used language for interpreters, the five newly added languages all ranked among the top 10 for interpreter service statewide in 1998-99, the council said.

The study cited U.S. Census Bureau reports that 224 languages were spoken in California in 1990, and that more than 4 percent of the 33.4 million residents as of last year spoke no English.