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Cal State Fullerton to Aid Courts in Need of Vietnamese Interpreters

A severe language shortage has struck Orange County courts, and California State University Fullerton aims to fix it.

Orange County courts face a critical shortage of qualified Vietnamese interpreters. Even though Vietnamese ranks second only to Spanish as a language needing courtroom interpretation, Vietnamese interpreters have been few, and several are now on the verge of retirement, said Melem Sharpe-Kwon, University Extended Education (UEE) program developer.

“Four years ago, Judge Francisco F. Firmat, now the supervising judge of the Family Law Panel in Orange County’s Superior Court, proposed initiating Spanish-language internships for interpreters, which were in short supply,” said Sharpe-Kwon.

“A year-and-a-half ago, UEE started a collaboration with Orange County Superior Court to offer that interpreting program. Sean Lillywhite of that court and a California Courts Interpreters Association member, coordinates internships from the courts’ end and now teaches in our program,” Sharpe-Kwon said. “Based on the quality of the interns from here, the courts asked if we’d start one for Vietnamese.”

“The Family Law Internship Program has been a great success. Several of the Spanish-program students have already passed the state written examination for interpreter certification, and the public has benefited directly as a result,” Lillywhite said.

“We had hoped the next phase of the project could be to expand the program into Vietnamese, and Cal State Fullerton’s Extended Education responded,” she added. “The courts declared there is immediate need for certified Vietnamese interpreters in just about every courthouse throughout Southern California and similar demand for interpretation in health services, law offices and businesses.”

Registration began this month for the program, and will continue through the first day of class, March 14. All indications are that the preclass orientation will fill quickly, said Sharpe-

Kwon, with as many as 100 expected at the 9-11 a.m. Feb. 28 orientation in Cal State Fullerton’s Ruby Gerontology Center.

More than learning vocabulary awaits the Vietnamese-language certification hopefuls, she said. They will be taught how to interpret directly what is said, without embellishment or omission, and without adding feeling or emphasis. They also are taught how to interpret consecutively when more than one person talks at a time.

“It’s rigorous,” Sharpe-Kwon said. “Some people are surprised to learn they don’t know as much of the language as they thought when they learn how complex court interpreting can be. Interpreting isn’t what many people think. Whether it’s law, the health sciences or business, each context requires mastery of a distinct specialized vocabulary.”

Students who complete the course and want to work as court interpreters are tested by the Cooperative Personnel Services, which administers the test for the state.

“The state oversees certification,” she said. “We get them prepared for the test and to work in the field. Many people have just gone in and taken the test at CPS on their own, but it’s challenging. Latest figures I’ve seen show about one in five pass. Those in this certification preparation program ought to do far better than that.”

Media Contacts:
Melem Sharpe-Kwon, University Extended Education, 657-278-5232 or
Russ L. Hudson, Public Affairs, 657-278-4007 or