Hawaii courts top nation with support for non-English speakers


Hawaii ranks in the top three states when it comes to accessibility to its justice system.

A report by the National Center for Access to Justice also ranks Hawaii as number one in the country for providing support for people with limited English proficiency.

Since December 2015, there are 382 interpreters in 46 languages in the court interpreter certification program.

Interpreters have to complete an application process and finish a certification program before they can be placed on the state interpreter registry.

You work on a freelance basis and pay ranges between $25 to $55 an hour depending on your certifications.

The Hawaii State Judiciary provides interpreters for people who need it.

Suzanne Zeng has been a court interpreter since the ’90s. She speaks Mandarin and translated some of the court forms several years ago.

“The number-one ethic would be accuracy,” she said. “You have to speak everything that is said, even if it’s foul language, sexual terminology, everything needs to be said.”

Chuukese, Ilocano, Marshallese, Spanish and Korean were the top five languages requested for court interpreters in fiscal year 2014.

“Whether they call the courthouse and have a question, come to a self-help center and need information, or… they are even witnesses to a case. They will be guaranteed a court interpreter free of charge,” said Tammy Mori, Judiciary spokeswoman.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in to help after receiving complaints about state court language services.

Last year, the department issued a letter after closing its review of the program and services were updated.

Today, Hawaii is ranked in the top spot in the country for providing support for people with limited English proficiency.

“Statistics from fiscal year 2008 to 2013 have increased more than 25 percent over the past three fiscal years alone,” Mori said.

With the growing demand for interpreters in different languages, Mori says all staff members are trained in language access services.

Court forms translated in the top 14 languages will also be completed in the next few months.

Mori says translators from Hawaii are requested to go to the mainland to interpret there on that court’s dime.

She says it is very rare to have a court case delayed because of a lack of interpreters here.

Click here for more information on how to become an interpreter for the Hawaii State Judiciary.

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