Becoming the Only Registered Arabic Court Interpreter in Florida

Somebody pinch me, because I think I am still dreaming.

A few years ago, I had a dream of becoming a court interpreter. It is no secret that my passion has always been interpreting. It never feels like I am working, and so it was only natural that I wanted this to be my main line of work here in Florida.

I set out to fulfill the requirements to become a court interpreter. After a little research, I found out that there was only one registered Arabic interpreter with the Florida state courts. I thought to myself “this guy has been on this registry on his own this whole time. I need to know what it’s like to be registered”. Mind you, I come from a different world of interpreting. While I know languages, I was fascinated with the American judicial system and the importance of court interpreters to bridge the cultural, linguistic and educational gaps between non-English speakers and the judiciary.

Then there came the pandemic in 2020. My dream was put on hold. No orientation workshop, no written test administration, no oral exam; everything needed to wait for the world to get rolling again.

Step 1: 2-day Orientation Workshop

Fast forward to the beginning of 2021, with the Court Interpreter Certification and Regulation Program (CICRP) announcing new dates for the 2-day orientation workshop – a prerequisite to becoming a court interpreter in Florida.

Without thinking twice, I signed up for the April 2021 workshop. After attending it, I knew that this was indeed something I want to pursue.

Again, my dream was put on hold. Orientation workshop: checked. Now what? With no announced dates for the written exam administration, I started to feel somewhat demotivated. Months passed by, and then, on July 1st, I received the long awaited email: written exam testing is now open again.

Step 2: Written Exam

It took me yet a few extra months where life was simply happening. While my first goal was for me to become registered by my birthday in November, my birthday passed and I was feeling crippled, stuck, confused: What if I fail? What if all of this is in vain? What if I get what I want, but it turns out it is not what I wanted? I wish I could try to put what I was thinking and how I was feeling in words.

Then my family came through. A little pep talk later, and again, without overthinking it, I signed up for the written exam for December 2021 and I thought to myself, “Hey, better late than never I guess. After all, I am only a few months late from my initial goal. That won’t matter on the long run”. Sometimes, you need impulsiveness to find clarity. And clarity I found after setting a date to sit for my written exam.

I knew nothing about the court system in Florida. I spoke Arabic and English, but I did not speak Legalese. And so, that is exactly what I focused on while preparing for my written exam. It is noteworthy that the latter is an English proficiency exam with 2 parts: (1) General Language Proficiency; and (2) Court-Related Terms and Usage, and Ethics and Professional Conduct.

December 10, 2021: early morning, my husband drove me to the written exam site after dropping the kids off at school. I’ve always been self confident, but on that day, I was shaking like a leaf. There is something about someone testing you that makes your stomach turn. I said a little prayer with my eyes closed, and then I opened my eyes and it was game time, thinking of my family’s words: what’s the worst that could happen? You not passing? You can just retake the exam, no biggie. It’s all in your mind; you got this.

I answered all 135 questions in less than 60 minutes. 5 short minutes later, I got the results: I scored an overall 83% on the written exam.

Step 3: 20-Hour Court Observation Requirement

I did it. I checked the 2nd box. Now time for a background check and fulfilling one more important requirement: getting 20 hours of court observation. Then there came another moment of doubt: How am I going to do that? Have courts even resumed normal operations?

A little research told me I could do online observation. What a relief! It took me 1 week to get my 20 hours in, and then I submitted my court interpreter registration application, and I had to wait 6 long weeks for an answer.

During those 6 weeks, I was on a roll: I also signed up for the oral exam in April 2022. With no prior experience as a court interpreter, and no time to even study, I had a feeling I wouldn’t pass this exam, but I needed to try to test the waters and know what to expect. This time, I was doing it with a completely different perspective. I was no longer focused on the goal; I was simply embracing this journey and enjoying the sweet ride.

Registered Status Attained

I joined a Whatsapp group chat for Florida interpreters. It was there that I learned, on March 27, 2022, that I had become the second registered Arabic court interpreter in Florida (and the first and only female interpreter, for that matter). I learned the news from Whatsapp before I could get an official email!

After quite a few minutes of disbelief and jumping (and tears of joy, of course), it kicked in: I had achieved my goal. I had fulfilled my dream, and now it was time to work. That was only the beginning.

Next Step: Certification

A month later, and with no preparation whatsoever (as I was going through a lot personally), I took my oral exam, which consists of 3 parts: sight translation, consecutive interpretation, and simultaneous interpretation. It had been years since I last got an interpretation job, and I had never interpreted in a court setting for that matter, but I aced the sight and consecutive parts, and knew that I wouldn’t score enough in the simultaneous part to become certified.

I had to wait another 10 weeks to receive an official letter telling me what I already knew deep down. I had certified scores on the sight and consecutive parts, but not on the simultaneous part, and it meant I will need to retake the oral exam again, scheduled for April 2023. After a few days of being totally devastated, I remembered that this was part of the journey and enjoying it, and to feel better, I vented to my colleague (the one who had told me I became registered) about my exam scores, and she reassured me that almost no one passes the oral exam the first time. That made me feel better, and then she hit me with the news: “Rania, you are now the only registered Arabic court interpreter in the state of Florida”.

What? How? When? I needed to check for myself, and I did, and she was right – yet again. I was indeed the one and only Arabic interpreter on the registry. For some reason, that guy’s name was no longer there., and I don’t know how it happened, but it did, and I’m still in shock.

So, dear readers, this is the news, and I keep pinching myself, because just a few years ago, this was only still a dream.

As I said above, this is only the beginning. My new goal is to become a certified Arabic court interpreter. But until then, I will enjoy every interpretation assignment I get, as it confirms that I will always have a passion for this profession.

You can check the court interpreter registry here.




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