New Internship Uses CUNY Students As Court Interpreters

Hunter students work with court interpreters in a new and exciting internship program. /

Bilingual students across CUNY are working in New York courts as interpreters as part of a new internship program.

The CUNY system has teamed up with New York State’s court system to begin an internship program designed to address the quickly growing demand for qualified language interpreters. The internship, known as the Unified Court System Internship Program in Court Interpreting, offers introductory 20-hour and semester-long 100-hour internships. The 100-hour program currently has six Russian speakers from Hunter College and four Spanish speakers from John Jay College enrolled and is expected to grow significantly in the Spring, drawing twenty-five to thirty more students.

The New York State court system requires interpreting services in all proceedings of all types, for all participants that may require them. This policy extends beyond the court into clerical offices and all points of contact. With five million New York State residents speaking a language other than English, two million of whom are not fluent in English, this policy is a significant challenge to meet, especially in suburban rural areas, where interpreters for a given language may be far less available than in the city. As thirty-nine percent of students enrolled in CUNY speak a language other than English, and a total of 174 languages are spoken within the system, the CUNY system is a natural fit to fulfill this need.

The Unified Court System Internship Program in Court Interpreting began in the Spring 2017 semester to address this need. The initial round included forty-two students from LaGuardia, Hunter College and John Jay College, and continued this semester with thirty-seven students. LaGuardia, Hunter and John Jay were chosen as the initial participating for their language interpretation and translation departments, but the program is expected to expand to further campuses in Spring 2018.

Interns thus far have given positive feedback to the program. Speaking to, Maria Vanessa Maldonado said, “I never knew this could be a career, and I love it. Now when I get dressed up to go to court, my 12-year-old daughter brags about it.” Maldonado arrived from Argentina at the age of 16 and graduated John Jay last May as a Law and Society major with a minor in Anthropology. She is now finishing a certificate program in legal translation. “This is an amazing program, and the mentors are amazing. They are willing to share so much of what they know,” added Aziza Babae, who came to the United States at age 9, speaks English as a third language after Russian and Tajik, and is now a Russian translation major at Hunter College.

CUNY students with proficiency in a language other than English may apply for the internship at the website. Those accepted will be encouraged to apply for the interpreting exams, which constitute the first step in becoming a qualified language serviceperson in New York State courts. Those who pass the exams could qualify for $170 for a half day and $300 for a full day translating.

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