New Court-Interpreter Internship Harnesses Students’ Language Skills

New Court-Interpreter Internship Harnesses Students’ Language Skills

November 17, 2017—The New York State Unified Court System is teaming up with LaGuardia Community CollegeHunter College, and John Jay College for Criminal Justice, all part of The City University of New York, to expand training of future court interpreters.

The expansion is prompted by findings in the 2017 “Ensuring Language Access” report, which noted a growing need for qualified language interpreters in the New York State judicial system. The lack of interpreter services in Spanish as well as other non-English languages is significantly problematic given the diverse linguistic needs of new and recent immigrants from Latin America, South Asia and Middle East. According to the NYS Court System, well-trained court interpreters are especially needed in Albanian, Arabic, ASL, Bengali, Bosnian, Burmese, Cantonese, French, German, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Karen, Korean, Mandarin, Nepali, Pashtu, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Twi, and Vietnamese.

The Unified Court System Internship Program officially launched in Spring 2017. This fall semester included 39 students from LaGuardia, as well as additional students from Hunter and John Jay — all schools with language interpretation and translation programs — to their internship programs in Fall 2017. The internship program is scheduled to expand to more CUNY campuses in Spring 2018. The program provides multilingual students with a 20-hour or 100-hour internship training to prepare them for the state’s Per Diem court-interpreter screening exams—the first step in qualifying for a well-paying job as a court interpreter. Pay for a full-day (more than four hours) per diem interpreting service is $300; pay for a half-day (four hours or less) is $170.

“Working as a court-interpreter has allowed me to contribute to NYC’s Nepalese community, where the English language has become a barrier. I’ve seen cases of miscommunication, and of incorrect information getting passed on, because of a lack of understanding,” said Sandhya Lama Tamang. “This internship has prepared me for a job as a court-interpreter where I get to use my fluency in both Nepali and English. I’m grateful for the experience.”

How did this partnership begin?

Several years ago, a New York State Court was urgently in need of an interpreter for Berber, a language spoken in North Africa, Egypt and the Sahara Desert. After months of searching, causing significant case delays, they found Habiba Boumlik, associate professor of English Language Acquisition (ELA) at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY. Not only was she able to provide Berber-English interpretation, but she is also trained to provide interpretation for French and Arabic—so the court began regularly requesting her interpretation services.

Noting this demand for interpretation and the scarcity of highly-trained interpreters for languages other than Spanish, Professor Boumlik linked up with colleague Tomonori Nagano, associate professor of ELA. As coordinator of LaGuardia’s Modern Languages and Literatures Program, Professor Nagano works with a large number of bilingual students who speak a second language with their families and community—giving them conversational aptitude, but a lack of training in how to use their home language in a professional setting.

“When I heard about the interpreter internship opportunity at the NYS Court System, I immediately thought that LaGuardia, as we’re not only a Hispanic-Serving Institution but we also educate speakers of nearly 100 non-English languages, could make a major impact on the critical shortage of court interpreters,” said Professor Nagano.

“Given the large numbers of minority and new-immigrant students here at LaGuardia, we’re thrilled to help maintain fair and impartial access to our state’s judiciary system for these communities,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow. “And court-interpretation is a great job path for our multilingual students.”

For Fall 2017, Professors Boumlik and Nagano have recommended 39 LaGuardia students to the 20-hour (entry-level) internship program. The first cohort successfully completed their internship and some are planning to take the Per Diem Court Interpreter examination in December. The diversity of their languages mirror that of LaGuardia, including Arabic, ASL, Bengali, Cantonese, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Nepali, Pashtu, Polish, Punjabi, Spanish, Thai, and Urdu.

“We are excited about this new relationship with the NYS Court System and hope to extend our students’ participation in the full-semester internship in the future,” said Professor Boumlik.

Students interested in applying for this program should email their resume, cover letter and unofficial school transcript to: courtinterpreterinternship@nycourts.gov.

Read more about this new program.

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Media Coverage:
Campus News: CUNY hosts new court-interpreter program