Honored to help

The first set of students in the legal interpreting program will complete their certificates this week, and for that, they have their own hard work and the Honorable Karen Arnold-Burger to thank.

Judge Arnold-Burger was instrumental in helping start the legal interpreting program. She saw a need in the courtroom for more legal interpreters and knew just where to go to address that need.

“I have had a long relationship with Johnson County Community College and its excellent faculty and staff,” Judge Arnold-Burger recalled.

“First, I was a student there in 1975. Next, I was a member of the Paralegal Advisory Board working with fellow attorney, professor Anita Tebbe,” she said.

From that connection, Arnold-Burger knew the staff and educators at the college would want to provide training for interpreters the courts so desperately needed.

She also was sure JCCC would be able to prepare the appropriate curriculum and certify those who had successfully completed the program.

“I knew that judges, who have the responsibility to make sure that translators meet the statutory criteria, could trust in the quality of the skills associated with that certification of completion from JCCC,” she said.

Indeed, it was JCCC’s Tebbe, professor and chair of legal studies, that Arnold-Burger first contacted.

“Judge Karen Arnold-Burger and I have been professional and personal friends for many years,” Tebbe said. “As a municipal judge, she was aware of the growing need for Spanish interpreters in all Johnson County municipal courts. Judge Arnold-Burger was definitely the driving force behind this valuable and much-needed program.”

The legal interpreting program started in spring 2013, so the first cohort finishes their certificates in the spring of 2014.

The legal interpreting certificate program at JCCC consists of 20 credits and combines law classes with interpreting instruction.

The program is structured to be completed in three semesters, but it can be taken at a slower pace as long as prerequisites and co-requisites are met.

Students enrolled in the legal interpreting program learn three types of interpreting:

  • simultaneous (interpreting verbatim as the person speaks)
  • consecutive (interpreting once the person is done with vocalizing a thought)
  • sight translation (verbally interpreting the contents of a printed document).

“It has certainly helped fill a need that will only grow,” said Judge Arnold-Burger, who now serves on the Kansas Court of Appeals.

And the need for legal interpreters is not only local, but national as well.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates a much-higher-than-normal demand for interpreters from 2010 to 2020, with an average salary of $24.33 an hour nationwide and $19.65 in Kansas.

For more information on the legal interpreting program, email Christina Wolff, assistant professor of foreign language, or call her at 913-469-8500 ext. 3513.