Eau Claire County faces lack of rare language interpreters

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Wisconsin courtrooms are dealing with a lack of certified court interpreters in rare languages and Eau Claire County is no exception.

In this case rare languages mean anything besides Spanish.

Spanish has been the most frequently used language in the state court system and the county says it has enough interpreters to meet that demand.

However clerk of courts Susan Schaffer says there are no certified Hmong, Burmese or Pompeian, among other interpreters, in Wisconsin.

“This year alone we've had 10 different languages besides English and that includes Spanish and Hmong so it can definitely be a challenge to find interpreters,” said Schaffer.

Schaffer says not having rare language interpreters locally can mean paying extra to have them come from other states.

She explained, “If you're looking at an interpreter coming from the cities, like our Hmong interpreter does, you're looking at $300-400 depending on how long they're here. So, yes, it's definitely a challenge

Using interpreters by telephone is something Eau Claire County Court does if necessary, even sending for interpreters as far as Hawaii, but that can come with its own set of issues.

“It's a challenge because when you're talking about interpretation to have somebody on the phone and do the interpreting versus in person can be a night and day difference for both the person and the court,” said Schaffer.

Schaffer also says the process to become certified can take about a year and requires them to complete a two-day training and pass two examinations, both written and oral.

“It's a very difficult process and it's expensive I believe in total its $500-600,” added Schaffer.

With the court already spending nearly $15,000 on court interpreters Schaffer hopes to see a greater interest in local interpreters becoming court certified.

“I'd say we're not in a huge crisis, but we're definitely in need of interpreters,” she said.

The court says in the past interpreters have called in about becoming state certified but very few have followed through.

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