Volume 3 ~ November 2011

ISSN # 2150-5772 – This article is the intellectual property of the authors and CIT. If you wish to use this article in your teaching or in another format, please credit the authors and the CIT International Journal of Interpreter Education.

Fátima María Cornwall
Boise State University

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In the United States, according to
the rosters on the Idaho Supreme Court’s (2011) web page, at the time of
writing there are currently 24 certified court interpreters, but only 17 of
those are living in Idaho. Every year, many individuals sit for the certification
exam but fall short of the coveted 70% score mandated by the Idaho Supreme
Court. Many of these talented and assiduous individuals ask me—as one of the
in-state facilitators for the Idaho Court Interpreter certification program and
a professor at Boise State University—if there are any university courses that
could help them polish their linguistic and/or interpreting skills.
Unfortunately, there were not any specific classes in interpretation in the
state until spring 2008.

    In fall 2007, in response to these inquiries and
to a growing need in the community, I was awarded a grant by the College of
Arts and Sciences at Boise State University for the development of a remedial
program preparing students to participate more fully in the state’s program, as
students in the state program struggled with legal terminology, and this class
allowed them to expand their legal vocabulary and extend and polish their basic
interpreting skills. In spring 2008, Boise State University offered the subject
Spanish 381 (Introduction to Court Interpretation) for the very first time. The
class is now offered every spring as part of our regular undergraduate catalog
(typically, the state’s program starts in mid-May). To enroll, students must
have successfully taken English 102 (English Composition), Spanish 303
(Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition), and Spanish 412 (Advanced
Spanish Grammar and Syntax). Most the students are current undergraduates, but
the class is open to community members as well, provided that they can
demonstrate the equivalent knowledge and skills as those shown by students who
took all three required classes. In spring 2011, I had 27 students enrolled:
Eleven were native or heritage speakers, and 16 were Spanish-language learners.
The student population is usually composed of students who have tried and
failed to pass the certification exam or who are planning to initiate the
process of becoming certified. Furthermore, I have students who attend simply
because of what they call the “practicality” of the vocabulary. “Practical” is
the buzzword of choice because many of our elective classes are literature
based, and students become very familiar with literary vocabulary. However,
there are always a few students who plan to live and work abroad, yet they
greatly lack the terminology to carry out daily tasks in a Spanish-speaking

    The class curriculum focuses on vocabulary development and skill
building. Regarding vocabulary, each week students are assigned thematic lists
of about 30 words that they must memorize. We start with legal vocabulary,
clothing, car parts, and appliances. Later, we cover weapons, drugs, action
verbs, insults, and state-of-mind adjectives. To practice the vocabulary, we
use activities such as crossword puzzles, word searches, Pictionary, and

    One of my main challenges has been finding level-appropriate materials
for use in the classroom to practice interpreting skills. During the
class-planning stages, I reviewed several books and manuals published on the
subject; these publications were accompanied by CDs for oral practice. I was
already familiar with Holly Mikkelson’s The
Interpreter’s Edge
(1995), considering that the Idaho Supreme Court
requires use of the book during their skill-building workshops. Although all
books reviewed were excellent and provided ample opportunities for in-class
activities and self-study, all of them seemed more appropriate for a more
advanced class.

    Faced with the dilemma of what materials to use in order to make the
class a productive experience to inexperienced but enthusiastic prospective
interpreters, I decided to integrate activities that would require students to
create their own materials. This strategy would allow us to use only vocabulary
that had been introduced in previous class meetings versus vocabulary that had
not been covered in class. Reusing the vocabulary is paramount so that it
becomes part of the students’ active vocabulary, and it reduces the affective filter—a term
coined by Stephen Krashen in 1981 (Wilson, 2000). The hypothesis was that
anxiety lowered the language-learning students’ ability to retain
comprehensible input. Using student-created materials with vocabulary
previously covered “provides the necessary comprehensible input to those students
who are not at a level yet which allows them to receive comprehensible input
from ‘the real world’” (Wilson, 2000). Student-created materials also enable
easier assessment through mock oral certification exams. In my experience, if
in the exam I introduce a word that students have not learned in my class, or
in previous university classes, it creates unnecessary stress that negatively
affects the students’ performance.

    After the initial weeks, which are dedicated to
interpreting protocol and theory, we move on to simultaneous interpretation. We
start with the simultaneous mode because, in Idaho, the oral certification exam
is usually administered in two phases, starting with only the simultaneous
portion. If an examinee scores at least a 50% on this first portion, then he or
she may continue with the second phase of the exam. Idaho Administrative Court
Rule 52 (2008) states that “an individual who has received an overall score of
55 percent or higher on the certification exam without reaching the certified
or master level, with no single score falling below a 50 percent” will be
considered a Conditionally Registered Court Interpreter.

    Before students actually start interpreting simultaneously, they must
create scripts to be used by themselves and their colleagues. The first step in
creating materials for use in the classroom is to have each student draw five
flashcards from a pile that I previously prepared. Each flashcard contains a
word from the thematic lists. Then individually—and using the words that they
drew—students must write a short story (several paragraphs) in English using,
at minimum, all five words. (Students are encouraged to add more words from
previous assignments.) In this short story, they must pose as an eyewitness, a
defendant, or a victim. I ask the students to underline the five words that
they drew as well as any word that has been already covered in class. I remind
them once more that during our first class exam, they will be assessed only on
the words underlined. Figure 1 demonstrates some examples of students’ work.

Figure 1: Examples of students’ work


I was making the perfect meal for my husband one
night. It was really late at night and I was really tired, so after work I
changed into my 1) nightgown. I went to the kitchen and started to
prepare dinner. I put on my 2) apron and started to cook. All of the
sudden, I heard a loud noise outside and saw that my husband got into a wreck
and hit a tree. I ran outside in my nightgown and apron and saw that the car
was not ours. The police came soon after. There was so much damage to the car,
the 3) airbag went off, the 4) windshield was broken, and the
whole front 5) bumper was smashed in. I did not know what was going on.
The police took my husband away, and the next day he was charged with 6) grand
. He was sentenced to 5 years in 7) prison without 8) parole.

Every morning the 1) alarm on the 2) coffee
wakes me up for school. I pull the coffee out of the 3) freezer,
so I can make coffee for my mom. Personally I only drink tea, so I also take
out the 4) teakettle too. Today, however, I woke up late and didn’t make
my mom the coffee. She was pretty sleepy as she drove me to school in her 5) robe and 6) nightgown. Right before we got to school someone ran a stop sign and
hit us. Luckily the 7) air bag went off, but because of it we were
unable to see the person’s 8) license plate as they drove away. Now they
are being charged with 9) hit and run, which is a 10) misdemeanor.

    I then ask the students to type and submit their stories electronically
via Blackboard, a website-based course management system that enables students
and instructor(s) in the same course to share materials such as document and
audio files. Students also record their short stories using downloadable free
software such as Audacity. Students are given specific instructions on not only
how to use the software to record their voices but also how to make a recording
that can be used by inexperienced interpreters—that is, a recording with about
90–100 words per minute. These recordings are also shared through Blackboard
itself: The students’ recordings allow multiple opportunities for students to
use the same vocabulary that we have previously covered but in different

    After approximately 6 hours (or 2 weeks) of instruction, we move on to
consecutive interpretation. Once again, we create new scripts for this mode,
sometimes using the previous simultaneous scripts and converting them into
question and answers and at other times, using completely original scripts
integrating the vocabulary that has been introduced in the last 2 weeks. 

    At this time, I introduce the concept of scoring
based on the overview of the exam content by the National Center
for State Courts. “Scoring units are particular words and phrases that are
selected to represent various features of language that interpreters encounter
in their work, and that they must render accurately and completely” (National
Center for State Courts, 2005, p. 5). I refer back to the words that I had
asked them to underline as an example of general and technical vocabulary. I
then ask the students to try to incorporate a few more scoring units such as a
name, date, or number. Examples can be seen in Figure 2.

2: Further examples of students’ work

Q:         Could
you please state your name and address for the record?

A:         My
name is Maria Santos. I live on 355 Main St., here in Boise.

Q:         What
were you doing the night in question, that is, January 12th of the current

A:         I
was in the kitchen preparing a delicious meal for my husband Juan.

Q:         Did
anything out of the ordinary happen while you were in the kitchen?

A:         Yes,
yes indeed. I heard a loud noise outside.

Q:         And
what time was it?

A:         It
was about 11 or 11:15 at night.

Q:         So
you heard a loud noise. And what did you do then?

A:         I
ran outside in my nightgown, with my apron on and all, and saw
that                                                            my
husband had had an accident.   

Q:         What
kind of accident?

A:         He
hit a tree with the car.

Q:         So,
Mrs. Santos, while you were working the night of February 5th, did you
observe any suspicious behavior?

W:        Well,
I saw two teenagers standing by the teakettles and the coffee makers. They were looking all around them and then they hid something in their
backpacks. I knew they were trying to steal something, otherwise why would they
be in the appliances department?


                A:         Objection, your Honor, the witness is

                W:        Sustained. Mrs. Santos, please answer only the questions and                                                                         refrain
from giving your opinion.

     Once these scripts have been typed,
students again must submit them electronically via Blackboard. However, for the
recordings, students must now work in pairs to record the questions and answers.
The first semester in which the class was offered, I allowed students to work
alone, but the two different voices seem to ensure a better
rendition/interpretation. It appeared that when students heard two voices, they
could more easily interpret from Spanish to English and from English to Spanish
versus repeating what they heard in English.

    We dedicate the last 3 weeks of the semester to sight translation. Once
more, we either revisit the old scripts or create new ones with the vocabulary
introduced during the previous weeks. Students are asked to write a new script
or edit an old script but to type it as if it were an affidavit. In doing so,
students must incorporate some formulaic expressions such as “I attest,” “I
swear or affirm,” “ in witness thereof,” and so forth. An example can be seen
in Figure 3.

3: Example of an affidavit script


I, John Smith, 43 years of age,
domiciled in 357 Main St., Boise, Ada county, state of
Idaho, swear or affirm that on January 12th at about 11:00 pm I was
working in mygarage
when I saw a car hit a tree. Soon after that I saw a woman in her early
twenties runoutside
in her nightgown and apron. It appeared to me she knew the man in the car since she
started yelling at him. She was calling him a drunk, a looser. I immediately
called the police
fearing that this may be a drunk driving incident. I attest that the
foregoing is trueand
if I were to testify in court my testimony would be essentially the same. In
I sign my name below.

    Students submit the scripts for sight translation via Blackboard, but no
recordings are made. We do use them for in-class practice.

    In reflecting on these class activities, it is true that it provided me
with many scripts and recordings for simultaneous interpreting practice as well
as consecutive interpreting and sight translation practice. However, I did have
some doubts in working with this material. One of my fears was, for instance,
is it “accurate”? That is, could a person really be sentenced to 5 years in
prison without parole for grand theft auto? Or would an attorney object if a
witness were merely speculating? May a wife testify against her own husband? I
found myself in a quandary: Do I sacrifice content for vocabulary and skill’s
sake? Is quantity more important than quality? Would these scripts mislead
students as to what really happens in court? After much thought, I decided that
I need not  jeopardize content in
order to have an abundance of easy, short scripts for the class. I opted to
invite a guest speaker every semester to enlighten all of us. The first
semester, when I (as well as students) needed the most guidance, I invited a
judge, a prosecutor, and a defense attorney. The last two semesters, I have had
either a defense attorney or a prosecutor who helped point out all the legal
blunders the students made—blunders that I did not feel qualified to correct.
These experts have  been kind
enough to read through the initial 25 scripts and provide us with a wealth of
information that we probably would not have sought or received had we not come
up with questions of our own. In other words, all the legal inaccuracies of the
scripts become catalysts for discussion. In one particular  instance, a student mentioned that the
defendant had received his fourth charge of driving under the influence (DUI)—a
misdemeanor. The defense attorney jokingly said that most of his clients who
had been charged with a fourth DUI really would have hoped that was the case,
but in Idaho, the third DUI (not the fourth) becomes a felony (not a

    The course has now been offered four times. Although enrollment was
rather low the first 2 years, the class in spring 2010 had 24 students. Instead
of a final in-class exam, students take the written screening English exam at
the Idaho Supreme Court. In spring 2010, 11 of 24 students passed. Of those 11
students, 2 students decided to take the oral certification exam in fall 2010.
One of those students passed the first portion but did not pass the second
portion. I invited that student to a debriefing session for some feedback on
the class and classroom materials. Some of the questions I posed included “Did
the material help him prepare adequately for the oral certification exam?” and
“Were there any shortcomings?” The student stated that he thought more individual
practice was needed on his part—not only with student-generated scripts but
also with other scripts available for purchase. He added that he had continued
making his own scripts and recordings to memorize vocabulary, instead of using
only index cards. He thought it was very beneficial to memorize words in
context and to practice the skills, as well.

    In conclusion, creating our own classroom interpreting materials do
provide us with many learning and practicing opportunities. In my opinion, the
student-created scripts are not detrimental to the students’ progress. After
all, this class was originally designed, in part, as a remedial, 300-level
class. Although none of my university students have yet become certified court
interpreters, I have seen significant improvement between the first in-class
interpreting exam and the final in-class interpreting exam— not only in the
amount of vocabulary learned and retained but the in the accuracy and
completeness of their renditions. I have also observed that when students were
asked to simultaneously interpret one of the recordings from The Interpreter’s Edge (Mikkelson, 2011)—which had been recorded at 125 words per minute—the level of
anxiety and stress was minimal, and the delivery was much smoother than what I had
experienced while teaching straight from The
Interpreter’s Edge
during the Idaho Supreme Court’s workshops.


Idaho Administrative Procedure Act, 67 Idaho Stat. Ann. § 52 (2008). Retrieved from www.isc.idaho.gov/rules/icar52.txt 

Idaho Administrative Procedure Act, 67 Idaho Stat. Ann. § 52 (2008). Retrieved from www.isc.idaho.gov/rules/icar52.txt
Idaho Supreme Court. (2011, February 4).

Roster of master level certified court interpreters. Retrieved from www.isc.idaho.gov/ROSTER-MasterLevelCertified.pdf
Idaho Supreme Court. (2011, March 16).

Roster of certified court interpreters. Retrieved from www.isc.idaho.gov/ROSTERCertifiedCRTInterpreters.pdf

Mikkelson, H. (2011). The Interpreter’s Edge [Instructional CDs and manual]. Retrieved from www.acebo.com/edge3.htm

National Center for State Courts. (2005). Overview of the oral performance examination for prospective court interpreters. Retrieved from www.ncsconline.org/D_Research/CourtInterp/Res_CtInte_7OverviewoftheOralExam.pdf

Wilson, R. (2000). A summary of Stephen Krashen’s “Principles and practice in second language acquisition.” Retrieved from www.languageimpact.com/articles/rw/krashenbk.htm