See our new Language Access video!
Vídeo en español sobre el acceso lingüístico en los Tribunales de DC
The District of Columbia Courts are committed to ensuring access to justice for:
- Individuals with a limited ability to speak, read, or understand English
- Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing
Language access is and has long been a top priority of the Courts. We understand that language access results in meaningful access to the judicial process and court services.
Through the Office of Court Interpreting Services (OCIS), the Courts provide a full range of language assistance services at no cost to the court user. Services include:
- Interpretation services for court proceedings and events
- Translations of court forms, orders, notices, summonses, and informational material
- Information on the Courts' website and mobile app in multiple languages
- Signage in English and Spanish throughout the courthouse
- Bilingual (Spanish-speaking) employees who are available at public service counters to help
In a typical, non-pandemic year, the Courts provides language services in over 50 languages for an average of 6,000 interpretation events. 70% of all language assistance requests are from Spanish-speaking court users. Other frequently requested languages include American Sign Language, Amharic, French, Arabic, Korean, Tigrinya, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. All court interpreters and translators satisfy our strict standards, which include certification and the completion of mandatory training.
To ensure that judicial officers and court staff know their responsibilities to ensure language access for the diverse population we serve, language access training is required for all employees.
Language access for non-English speakers is an important priority at the DC Courts. For this reason, the DC Courts appreciate your time in providing feedback on what we are doing well and about any problems or difficulties you may have encountered while working with an interpreter or trying to access court services in your language.
Do you need an interpreter?
If you have limited English skills or are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the Courts will provide an interpreter at no cost for you in your court hearing.
You can ask the Courts for an interpreter by:
- Informing the clerk’s office in the division in which your case is pending or
- Completing an interpreter request form online at
You may request an interpreter for yourself, another party to the case, or for a witness who will testify in your case.
Make sure to request an interpreter as soon as you know you need an interpreter and as far in advance of your trial or hearing as possible to ensure the availability of an interpreter.
Please read this document here for important tips on how to work with an interpreter. A Spanish version is available here, and an Amharic version is available here.
If you wish to privately retain the services of an interpreter, you will find a courtesy list of interpreters here. Please contact the interpreter directly to inquire about their availability, rates, and qualifications.
Do you need a translation?
If you would like a translation of a court order or other document you received from the Courts, ask clerk’s office in the division where you filed your case. The Courts will provide the translation free of charge.
Please note that all case filings including but not limited to complaints, petitions, and motions, must be filed in English. The Courts will not provide translations of case filings. Official court forms that are available at the courthouse or on the Courts' webpage in languages other than English are to be used only as guides for people who cannot read the English-language forms.
If you need help filling out a court form, you may receive assistance at one of our self-help centers, or, if you qualify, free assistance at one of the civil legal service providers listed here. The Spanish version is here and the Amharic version is available here. If you wish to privately retain the services of a translator, you will find a courtesy list of translators here. Please contact the translator directly to inquire about their availability, rates, and qualifications.
Do you need help communicating with Courts staff?
When you approach a public service counter, you can point to an I Speak Card to inform the court clerk of your language preference. The court clerk will then call a telephonic interpreter to assist with communication. You may see the I Speak Card here and download it if you wish. If you are deaf, an ASL interpreter will assist you in person or remotely. Assistive technology is also available if needed.
If you are Spanish-speaking, you will also very likely be able to speak with a Spanish bilingual clerk at the public service counters. You will see bilingual Spanish and English signs court-wide to guide you around the building.
If you speak Spanish and qualify for a court appointed attorney, you will be appointed a Spanish speaking attorney to represent you. If you speak a different language or you are deaf, your court appointed attorney can retain the services of an interpreter through the Web Voucher System.
Language access is important to the DC Courts. You can provide feedback on language services by visiting https://www.dccourts.gov/services/language-access-services#language-access.
Please note that OCIS does not schedule real-time captioning, or CART, services, nor does it provide assistive listening devices. To arrange for those services, please see the contact information at the bottom of the page.
Does your client need an interpreter?
Request an Interpreter
The Office of Court Interpreting Services (OCIS) maintains an Interpreter Registry of freelance certified and qualified interpreters to provide interpretation services for all proceedings and court events at no charge.
Please submit your request for an interpreter as soon as you know your client or witness needs an interpreter and as far in advance of your trial or hearing as possible to ensure the availability of the interpreter. Click here to request an interpreter.
If you are a private attorney and wish to retain the services of an interpreter for attorney/client consultations, you may refer to the courtesy publication of the DC Courts Interpreter Registry here. Please contact the interpreter directly to inquire about availability, rates, and qualifications
Working with an Interpreter
Court interpreters are language experts and trained to render linguistically equivalent interpretation from one language such as English into another language such as Spanish. Court interpreters work solely for the Courts; they are not parties to a case; they do not have any interest in the outcome of the case; and they remain neutral in all matters. Please see here for Interpreter Etiquette & the Do’s and Don’ts of Working with an Interpreter.
Please note that OCIS does not provide translation or transcription services of evidentiary materials. This includes interpreting audio or video recordings on the record. Please see here for the OCIS Policy on Interpretation of Audio and Video Recordings.
If you are a CJA or CCAN attorney who wishes to take the OCIS Spanish Attorney Panel test, or if you simply wish to improve your Spanish language skills in court, you may find practice materials below. Please email the interpreters [at] dcsc.gov for suggestions on more study materials.
Please note that OCIS does not schedule real-time captioning, or CART, services, nor does it provide assistive listening devices. To arrange for those services, please see the contact information at the bottom of this page.
The DC Courts have established an Interpreter Registry that lists certified and qualified freelance court interpreters for contract on an as-needed basis.
- To join as a certified interpreter, see this page for the requirements and steps you’ll need to follow to be added as a certified interpreter on the DC Courts Interpreter Registry.
- For languages in which a court interpreter examination does not exist, interpreters who wish to work at the DC Courts may be registered as a qualified interpreter on the DC Courts Interpreter Registry. To join as a qualified interpreter, see this page for the requirements and steps you’ll need to follow to be added as a qualified interpreter on the Interpreter Registry.
- All interpreters who wish to work at the Courts and gain inclusion on the Interpreter Registry are also required to watch a video presentation and pass a quiz on the Interpreter Code of Ethics.
- As a final step to join the Interpreter Registry, all interpreters must complete an Orientation Workshop for New Interpreters in the DC Courts.
- To remain on the Interpreter Registry, interpreters shall complete 12 hours of Continuing Education courses bi-annually.
OCIS hires freelance interpreters on an as-needed basis. OCIS gives priority to certified freelance interpreters whenever possible. Interpreters who demonstrate professionalism, arrive on time for their assignments in professional attire, and abide by the Interpreter Code of Ethics will also be given priority.
To cover an immediate need of the Courts, exceptions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Changing Status on the Registry
If a qualified interpreter fulfills the requirements to be deemed a certified interpreter, the interpreter’s status on the DC Courts Interpreter Registry will be changed to certified.
DC Courts Information Brochure Translations:
|Information Brochure: Amharic||Download|
|Information Brochure: Arabic||Download|
|Information Brochure: Chinese||Download|
|Information Brochure: English||Download|
|Information Brochure: French||Download|
|Information Brochure: Korean||Download|
|Information Brochure: Spanish||Download|
|Information Brochure: Swahili||Download|
|Information Brochure: Vietnamese||Download|
The Office of Court Interpreting Services of the District of Columbia Courts offers the Amharic court interpreter certification exam to certify Amharic interpreters in June annually.
To be eligible to take the Amharic court interpreter certification exam, candidates are first required to complete the following steps, in order:
- Pass the National Center for State Courts written English court interpreter exam, which is offered by the DC Courts and other surrounding jurisdictions. The written examination covers a) comprehension of written English vocabulary and idioms, b) common court-related situations and vocabulary, and c) knowledge of ethical behavior and professional conduct.
- Pass an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) in English and/or Amharic. Candidates will be permitted to take the OPI in English and/or Amharic only if they pass the written exam. The OPI measures how well the candidate speaks English and/or Amharic, not interpreting ability. It is a one-on-one telephonic conversation with an interviewer conducted in English and/or Amharic.
To pass the Amharic court interpreter certification exam, interpreters must possess a mastery of English and Amharic equivalent to a highly educated native speaker and have a thorough understanding of legal concepts in both languages. Interpreters must also be able to convey messages accurately, completely, and promptly.
The exam tests for the three modes of interpretation most commonly used in court: Sight Translation, Consecutive Interpretation, and Simultaneous Interpretation.
Sight Translation: The candidate is asked to read a document written in English, while interpreting it aloud into Amharic, and to read a document written in Amharic, while interpreting it aloud in English. Each document is approximately 225 words in length. The candidate is given 6 minutes per document to review the content and perform the sight translation while being recorded. This is a timed exercise. Total time allotted: 12 minutes (6 min. per document). Time for instructions is not counted as part of the 12 minutes.
Consecutive Interpretation: The candidate listens to a recording of an English-speaking attorney who is questioning an Amharic-speaking witness. The candidate must interpret aloud the English questions into Amharic and the witness’s answers from Amharic into English while being recorded. The questions and answers are of various lengths ranging from one word to a maximum of 50 words. A candidate may request a maximum of two (2) repetitions during this portion of the exam. This is a timed exercise. Total time allotted: 22 minutes, including repetitions, from the time the recording begins.
Simultaneous Interpretation: The candidate listens to a recording in English of an attorney’s opening statement or closing argument to a jury or judge. This passage is recorded at a speed of 120 words per minute and is approximately 900 words in length. The speech continues for about 7 to 10 minutes without stopping. While listening through headphones, the candidate simultaneously interprets aloud all statements into Amharic while being recorded. This segment takes about 12 minutes all together, including instructions and equipment preparation.
Exam Dates and Registration
The Amharic court interpreter certification exam is normally administered in June annually. Registration will open at least 2 months in advance. Please check this page for updates.