An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 2: The Language Learning Legwork

(Or Why Federally Certified Interpreters Always Tell You to Read, Read, Read)

Previously, we discussed and determined that Written FCICE Candidates will need roughly one year to prepare for the exam. If you haven’t read that post, start there and then come back to this discussion. Now, we’ll start diving into the substantive work candidates will need to do.

In order to understand my recommendations, it’s important to know what the FCICE Written Exam is testing. The FCICE wants to evaluate candidates’ bilingualism and language comprehension to ensure that only those with the highest proficiency and true bilingualism make it through to the oral exam. This differs from most state written exams, whose language components only evaluate high school graduate level English. We have to have true bilingualism under our belts in order to learn the material and skills being tested on the oral exam.

As interpreters, even as interpreters who have achieved state court certification, we need to come to terms with the fact that having the ability speak Spanish and English fluently is not the marker of true bilingualism. Language is not solely an oral tradition and spoken communication is not the only component. We must be proficient in our ability to write, read, and truly comprehend our second language. Think of all of the factors that inform and shape language.

This is why Federally Certified Interpreters are always telling you to read, read, READ. Of course, I don’t think it’s as simple as devouring a bunch of the most influential novels in both languages. But the point that they’re making is that we as interpreters need to have as much exposure as possible to what shapes language. Unless you’re someone going into this with a PhD in your second language, each candidate will have shortcomings they will need to work on, including in their mother tongue, to get to the level of bilingualism that the AOC demands of its interpreters.

As I go into a deeper discussion of how to tackle your shortcomings, it’s only fair to reveal my own, as my own language background affects the tips and strategies that I will be offering.

Quickly, here’s my background:

  • I was born in Lima, Peru into a highly educated family. My parents immigrated to the US when I was a toddler, and I grew up and received my entire education in the US. I am what we in the US call a “native speaker”.
  • My parents kept Spanish in the home and I was taught to read and write in Spanish before starting kindergarten and I was sent to Peru each summer to spend time with my extended family and be exposed to Spanish. However, once I was in school I did not resume formal Spanish education until high school, where I completed Spanish III and AP Spanish.
  • In college, one of my majors was Spanish. As a part of my major, I took advanced grammar, literature, phonetics and history classes and studied abroad in Spain. My college education was heavy on peninsular literature and cultural content.
  • I have a law degree from the United States and had internship opportunities abroad and with the US Latino community.
  • I completed a Graduate Certificate in Translation at Georgia State University in both Spanish > English and English > Spanish translation.

From my background and the scores I shared in my last post, my tips will be from the perspective of someone whose A language is English, but who has had the opportunity to strengthen her Spanish B language. If your situation is flipped, you will still be able to benefit from what I share. But you may want to talk to federally certified colleagues whose A language is Spanish for more insight.

Now, let’s break down what you’ll need to work in these coming months.

Continue reading “An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 2: The Language Learning Legwork”

An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 1: The Mindset You Need

I wanted my first post on here to be an introduction to my blog, but given that the latest testing window for the Written FCICE just closed, this topic takes priority.

Three years after passing the state court interpreter’s exam in Alabama, I decided to take the first step in becoming a Federally Certified Court Interpreter. I’m happy to report that on Memorial Day I was able to pass the written exam on my first try, scoring a 92% on the English portion and an 80% on the Spanish. Despite a familiar exam format (this exam is essentially a bilingual GRE with a legal focus), I learned a lot about how to best prepare for this test. Outside of the exam manual, there isn’t a lot out there to guide prospective candidates on what they should anticipate and the timeline they’re looking at during a regular exam cycle.

I’m an attorney by training, which means that the instinct to dissect what went right and wrong, what methods worked, and where improvements can be made is deeply engrained in me. I want to offer any future candidates and colleagues my reflections as a way to help them prepare to study for this test. It’s not as simple as registering six weeks before your test date and using that time to cram. This is not the state exam; we’re in a different league.

This topic will be divided into three parts. In this first part, I will talk about something that is not really touched on in the forums or in the test prep courses offered by exam coaches: the mindset and realistic test prep timeline a candidate will need.

Part Two, which I will post separately, will look at what candidates need to do to make sure that their language abilities are at the level necessary to pursue federal certification.

Part Three will go into the materials and strategies candidates can employ in those last three months before the testing window to ensure that they can tackle the exam.

Continue reading “An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 1: The Mindset You Need”