Sixteen adults from Chittenden County received certificates Monday night after completing a six-week court interpreting course at the Community College of Vermont’s Winooski center.
The course was the third of its kind, funded by the Vermont Judiciary, but the first one held at CCV.
Sarah Reed, an experienced public defender, was chosen to teach the course, which educated students via extensive group work about the ins and outs of the judicial system.
“There was a focus on teaching through different scenarios, like role playing, with the students,” Reed explained. “They were given scripts and would act them out as a certain role and then switch so they were experiencing both sides.”
Although the class was conducted in English, students were provided ample opportunity to interpret scripts to fellow students who spoke similar foreign languages to theirs.
For homework, students were given lists of legal jargon to both define and translate into their chosen language.Reed explained that although a good number of the students in the class had experience interpreting in medical and business fields, court interpreting is a different beast altogether that requires constant training and practice.
“It is so important for them to continue building that legal lexicon now that the course is over,” she said. “It’s incredibly tough to learn the terminology and then on top of that, the pace in a courtroom is so fast. It’s definitely challenging.”
Despite the challenging aspects of court interpreting, Reed said she felt confident in her students’ abilities after six weeks of instruction.
“I think they gained knowledge in what they needed to know and now they can continue to build their skills and be successful,” she said. “They are all so talented.”
One student in the class, Ghana Rimal, speaks fluent Nepalese.
Rimal moved to Vermont two years ago from his home in Bhutan. After receiving some information about court interpreting opportunities in the state from the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program (VRRP), he decided to pursue training in the field while simultaneously continuing his career as an assistant math teacher.
Rimal explained that there is a very prominent Nepalese community in the Colchester area and that he felt good about gaining the skills he would need in order to help his fellow countrymen feel supported in court.
“This class really increased my knowledge,” he said, “Now I can fill a need in the community.”
Victoria Johnson, originally from Spain, also completed the class. Johnson’s previous experience working as a business interpreter but always wanted to pursue a career in court interpreting. When she heard that CCV was going to be offering the class, she jumped at the opportunity to take it.
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Overall, Johnson said her experiences throughout the six-week course were “beyond positive” and she is excited to find a job in the field now that she’s done with the class.
“It’s given me confidence that I didn’t have before in this area but also showed me that I need to keep working hard to achieve my goal,” she said. “The best part was meeting experts in this field and learning from their experiences and taking away what they learned. It was all so valuable.”
In addition to Nepalese and Spanish, native Portuguese, Russian, and French speakers, among others, filled the class, as well as native English speakers who were fluent in a second or third foreign language.
Laura Dolgin, deputy director of planning and court services for the Vermont Judiciary said Monday that she was pleased with the diversity present in the class and that so many individuals were taking advantage of the newly forged relationship between CCV and the state.
“With every training, we have seasoned folks and new faces coming in and representing new languages and to me that is very exciting,” she said. “Their commitment to learning the craft is truly remarkable and I am delighted to see it.”
She added that she hopes the course will be offered again at the College, but it is all dependent on grant funding the Judiciary will apply for in the coming year.
Dolgin explained that unlike most other states in the U.S., Vermont does not offer a formal certification for court interpreters, which normally takes about two years to achieve, because the state doesn’t have a large enough non-English-speaking population.
As far as job outlook for the students, Dolgin said it really depends on the language demands in their respective communities and throughout the state.
“It’s good for the judiciary to cast their net far and wide,” she said. “Chittenden County is not the only county in the state in need of court interpreters. We need interpreters all over the state of Vermont. There are definitely opportunities out there.”
Reed is excited for her students to begin their careers and put their newly honed skills to the test.
“They were a fantastic bunch of students,” she said. “They had a real desire to be successful and this ornate understanding that they are helping to provide justice in their communities. I know they will be successful and I am so thrilled that I was given the opportunity to work with them.”