Though the program officially launched as a 20-hour pilot in the spring of this year, Professor Aída Martínez-Gómez says that John Jay students had long been welcomed into the courts as observers as part of the College’s certificate program in legal translation and interpretation.
Now, that collaboration has been formalized into an internship that prepares students to take the rigorous exam to become per-diem certified court interpreters. Students María Vanesa Maldonado-Giordano and Brandon Martínez, who completed the 20-hour pilot and went on to complete the 100-hour internship this winter, have both recently taken the exam. “I’m excited to pass and starting working,” said Maldonado-Giordano, who graduated in May with a major in Law and Society and is currently finishing her Certificate in Spanish Legal Translating and Interpreting.
“It was real career experience,” said Martínez, who is graduating this year with a major in Spanish.
Throughout the internship, students also met regularly for classes and discussed the unique responsibilities of interpreting as well as some of the challenges.
“Sometimes people in court want to talk to you but you have to remember you’re there to translate, and not to communicate outside of that,” said Martínez.
Maldonado-Giordano agrees that interpreting came with a set of challenges, among them ethical responsibilities: “It’s a lot of work and practice to be able to listen to someone and reproduce what they’ve said. If you don’t do a good job you might be sending someone to jail.”
The internship allowed students to work with mentors in family courts, civil courts, and criminal courts, giving them exposure to the full range of their responsibilities as interpreters. Students also learned how essential interpreters are not just in the court, but at every step of the legal process. “Interpreters are needed from the first day when someone files a case all the way to the holding cell before appearing before the judge,” said Maldonado-Giordano.
At times, students needed to know highly specialized medical and legal terms. “For my exam, I had to interpret the testimony of an expert witness,” said Maldonado-Giordano. “I had to know the names of organs in the body, what direction gunshots went in and out of the body.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for interpreters and translators specializing in law is growing at a much higher rate than average for all occupations, especially for Spanish speakers. In New York City, where the population of Spanish speakers is increasing, the internship provides a significant opportunity for John Jay students.
“The courts are experiencing a higher volume of court users without English proficiency,” said Dr. Martínez-Gómez. “This internship is not only an enriching learning experience—it’s giving students a window into their future careers.”
Maldonado-Giordano is excited to make a career out of interpreting. “I find this to be the most rewarding internship I’ve ever done,” she said. “When I interpret, I get the feeling that I’m helping people.”
Martínez, who eventually dreams of joining the NYPD, says the opportunity to be supported through career-building internships like these is what he appreciates most about the College. “The professors at John Jay are always there for you,” he said, “especially if you want to find a job or internship.”