Precision is What my Education at MIIS Gave me to Prepare me for a Career as a Court Interpreter

Lesley Walker Headshot 022316

Lesley Walker (MATI ’05) currently works Spanish Court Interpreter for the Sacramento Superior Court. She recently sent me a number of job postings for the CA court system. She indicated to me:  “I am interested in seeing more very well-trained interpreters enter my field and I like giving back to MIIS any chance I get.”  Please read her heart-felt and insightful responses to my questions.

1. What does your typical day look like as a court interpreter?

First you’ll find out where you are assigned for the day. Depending on what county or federal district you work for, the scheduling is done differently. You might know a week in advance or five minutes in advance or you may go to the same assignment every day for your whole career (this is rare, though). Once you get to your assignment, you will either be waiting on call in an interpreters’ office or you will have to go straight to the courtroom that needs you. From there, your day depends on what kind of hearing it is you are assigned to. An arraignment, continuance, or pretrial hearing may be very brief. A trial lasts all day every day for anywhere from a couple of days to several months. As a court interpreter, you will have to be available whenever you are needed, and this may require a lot of waiting around. It is a very edge-of-your-seat job, I think. 2. What aspects of your work experience prior to becoming a court interpreter do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

I had many customer service jobs as I was growing up: video stores, restaurants, library, etc. Those were great experience for court interpreting because both require all day contact with the public. You will encounter and have to work with/for all types of people as a court interpreter.  And the varying pace of customer service jobs is also similar to court interpreting.

2. What aspects of your education at MIIS do you feel prepared you well for your current work?

Precision. My professors at MIIS were very demanding and over the course of my two years there I learned to be exact. In court interpreting, that is critical. You will not pass the test without it. And the people using your work in the courtroom to do their jobs (judges, attorneys, and court reporters) will notice and appreciate it.

3. What are the useful tips you would like to share with our students on how to prepare for the CA Court Certification?

Two things are key. Number one: study with Holly Mikkelson’s materials ( I am not being paid to promote her! I just think if you can do her exercises then you can pass the test. Number two: feel free to correct yourself about an interpretation during the exam. If you are like me, you sometimes think of the perfect interpretation of a word about three seconds after you’ve said out loud a not-so-perfect interpretation of the word. On the exam (and in real life), you can say, “That is…” or “Rather…” or “Interpreter correction…” and your last utterance will be taken as your answer. Don’t do it excessively because that affects your overall style grade. But you can correct yourself on the exam.

4. What are the things that you know now that you wish you had known when you were a student at MIIS?

During my studies at MIIS, I started having lots of random body aches and pains that continued once I started court interpreting. I think I was physically tense from trying to behave like a language machine. What I know now is that I am not a machine and it’s best if I don’t act like one–bring yourself, your personality, your flaws, and your strengths to every job you do. You will be taking much better care of yourself and your performance will be the same or better.


Winnie Heh
Career & Academic Advisor