A Retrospective on the University of Arizona’s CITI Course

Last summer, I had the privilege of attending the University of Arizona’s renowned Court Interpreter Training Institute. Registration is now open for the 2021 session, and I wanted to provide my thoughts for anyone considering making the transition to court interpreting or looking for formal training in preparation for either the state or federal certification exams.

What is the CITI?

According to the University of Arizona website, “The ​CITI ​is ​an ​intensive ​professional ​development ​program ​for Spanish/English ​legal ​interpreters. Interpretation is both an art and a science, requiring very specialized training. Our federally certified and highly experienced instructors, combined with our extensive curriculum, offer a level of quality not easily matched. The CITI is committed to providing students with individual attention. The CITI program is also an ideal way to prepare for both the written and oral portions of the State or Federal Court Interpreter Certification Examination (FCICE).”

Who is the program for?

As stated in the description, the program is suited for both individuals from any state looking to transition to court interpreting and experienced court interpreters that work in the Spanish < > English combination who are looking polish their skills in preparation for state and federal exams. For those worried that the program will either be too remedial or too advanced, there’s no need to fret. The instructors will divide you into separate groups based on skills level determined by an interpreting diagnostic test. I was in the advanced group, which consisted of experienced court interpreters with state certification or EOIR approval, conference interpreters transitioning to the court room, a newly federally certified interpreter, university professors, and a veteran translator. We all had the goal of passing the federal exam or feeling ready to work in federal court, in the case of our colleague who had just passed that exam. I felt like we were all at a comparable level, had similar professional goals, and that I learned a lot from working with the colleagues in my group.

How has it changed in the past year?

The biggest change to the CITI since the pandemic started is that it is not being held in person, but fully online. Previously, the pre-course prep sessions in June were held online, and the two-week intensive portion was held on-site in Tucson, Arizona.If time and a limited budget kept you from traveling for the course in the past, you may want to take advantage of the fact that the course will be held strictly online for the second year in a row.

Has the course adapted well to the online format?

Yes. The Class of 2020 was the guinea pig class. Despite having to make the format switch relatively quickly, the CITI team was extremely well-prepared. The platforms to access interpreting exercises, materials, and colleague recordings were well chosen. The tutorials provided were informative and user friendly. There were almost no technical snafus, and any tech issues were quickly resolved by the support team, Paul Gatto and Kate, last summer’s student assistant. The instructors also adapted well. Class time was still engaging, and the built-in breaks did help stave off Zoom fatigue. I can only imagine that the 2021 session will improve, based on lessons learned and student feedback.

What should I expect?

What prospective colleagues need to keep in mind is that the CITI is very intensive, and what you get out of the course is fully dependent on your level of time and commitment. Make sure that you’re ready to set aside the time needed to attend the pre-workshop seminars, to do the readings, go to class, and complete the homework assignments.

Before the pre-session officially begins in June, you’ll take a brief, live, interpreting assessment. The support staff will put up the sight translations on the screen and play the audio files for you. The students are in charge of recording their renditions on their devices (phones, computer, etc.) and uploading them. If you’ve taken a court certification exam, then you know what you’re in for. It follows the exact same trajectory: sight translation exercises, consecutive, and then simultaneous exercise in the criminal court context. Because they’re assessing individuals aiming for state and federal certification at different levels, there is only one simultaneous exercise, an attorney’s opening or closing argument. Shortly before the two-week session in July, you’ll receive a score report, with rater feedback. You’ll be able to compare this score report with the diagnostic exam you’ll take at the end of the course.

June will be spent taking different seminars where students learn about the fundamentals of court interpreting, note-taking skills, best practices, and introductions to the main areas of specialized vocabulary that pop up on the job and on the certification exams. These are hybrids of live sessions and pre-recorded videos that students must view to receive their certificate of completion in the program. If you’re already certified and working in the courts, some of it can feel a bit repetitive, but in all honesty, I appreciated going back to basics. In my opinion, it’s never too late to get a refresher. The instructors are all great and experienced in their respective fields. Several of our most renowned federally certified peers lead these seminars.

There is also interpreting homework! You’ll be given certain exercises to complete and will also be asked to provide feedback to two students for each exercise. Be prepared to encounter renditions that vary in levels, as you’re not yet in your groups for the two-week session. These exercises will also help to familiarize you with the platform the CITI uses for uploading renditions and leaving feedback. June is less intensive than July, so you can still work full time, but be prepared to set aside a few hours a week for the assignments and seminars. July is when you need to be ready to buckle down. Classes last all day, so I would advise against working full time during those two weeks. Either take those two weeks off or, if your time zone allows, only work in the morning. I blocked off those two weeks completely, save for one emergency, last-minute assignment from a longtime client.

Classes are divided into three sessions. First, you’ll all meet together with one of the instructors to go over the lesson on best practices for that day. Prepare your questions on the material ahead of time so that the session can be as productive as possible. Then, there’s a quick break before breaking out into your assigned group, where you’ll do two sessions with a lunch break. Once you’re in your group, it’s straight into interpreting practice with the instructor in one of the three modes. How renditions are evaluated is mixed. Sometimes, you’ll be asked to record your rendition of the exercise with the Zoom mic off and then analyze it. Other times, you’ll be picked to do a live rendition that your classmates and instructor will listen to. They’ll then provide feedback. Instructors will also divide you into breakout groups to work in small groups, with the instructors popping in at random to take notes on how you’re performing. Instructors also leave plenty of time aside to analyze passages and discuss vocabulary. Similar to June’s homework, you’ll also be required to upload a rendition of your choice for certain exercises and to provide feedback to your colleagues on their interpretations.

There are two instructors that oversee the course in July. Last summer, the class of 2020 worked with Carmen Patel and Carlos Rodillo, both experienced federally certified interpreters. I enjoyed both of their teaching styles and felt that they really complement each other. One instructor will work with Group A one week and Group B the following, so you’ll get the opportunity to work with both of them.

Aside from the intensive interpreting practice, you’ll also get a 15-minute one-on-one session with each instructor to get their feedback, ask any questions, and help you strategize your next steps to continue developing your skills.

At the end of the two weeks, you’ll take the exit exam and have a “graduation” ceremony to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. A few weeks later, you’ll receive the results of your exit exam, with stats on how much you’ve improved, and final notes from the instructors.

Is it worth the investment?

The CITI Course costs $2,595. It’s a hefty investment, but overall, I feel that it’s well worth the money. I signed up, because I had achieved state certification on my own but felt that I needed more formal instruction and guidance to know how to prepare for the federal exam. It also gave me a much-needed morale boost after I failed to pass the federal exam on the first try. Having veteran instructors honestly evaluate me and tell me that I do have the aptitude to succeed on the exam has given me the push to keep working. The fact that I boosted my diagnostic score by 35% also didn’t hurt, because it showed that putting in the work does help you improve.

Keep in mind that not everyone who passes a certification exam has attended the CITI. It’s not mandatory to achieve professional success, but for me it’s been invaluable. I believe that the CITI will set you up to best take advantage of the practice material and courses available specifically to prepare for the certification exams. You’ll have a better understanding of how to study smarter so you can reach the professional growth needed not just to pass these exams, but to be prepared to work in state and federal court. There are many state and federally certified interpreters who will tell you that the CITI was instrumental to their successes.

Given the over 100 hours of instruction, top notch materials that I’m still using to prepare for the federal, and amazing instructors, it was worth every penny. I honestly believe that a course like the CITI should be implemented nationally for interpreters who want to work in the legal field. I also hope that, in the future, more courses modeled after the CITI will be developed for other working languages in our court systems.

On top of that, I have to mention the wonderful colleagues and friends I made. We meshed so well, I’m convinced the stars aligned for us to meet. Immediately following the course, we created our own WhatsApp group, which I’m happy to report is still incredibly active. Some colleagues have formed their own study group for their exams, and others have gone on to do other courses together. We regularly consult the chat for terminology and best practices. They’ve also been a great support group as I prepare to go back to graduate school. Getting to meet them was an invaluable part of the CITI, and I’d do it all over again just to meet them.

If you’d like to sign up for the Summer 2021 session, you can use the code “citi-alum” at checkout to receive 10% off.

Note: This is not a sponsored post nor will I make any money off of the code. This is just an overview from one happy alumna.

An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 3: Study Mode

We’re now in the Spring of the Written Exam cycle, about three months out from the testing window. You’ve already got your FICE mindset in place and have done all your language skills building over the past nine months. Now, it’s finally time to get down to business and prepare for the examination.

This is where standardized and aptitude testing skills come into play. If you were born on or after 1980 and raised in the US, congratulations on being a millennial. We haven’t had the best hand dealt to us and are constantly berated in the press as entitled children (even though the older millennials are pushing 40…), but here’s where being a US millennial is to your advantage. For better or worse, we are the generation that had standardized testing drilled into us since kindergarten. Without getting into the merits debate on testing, we’re the generation that knows exactly what test prep mode means: knowing what the examiners want, studying smart around their goals, and being able to do it in a timed testing environment.

If tests send you into a panic, don’t worry! This exam, unlike the SAT, is still 80% knowledge, 20% test taking skills. You already spent 9 months focusing on the knowledge part. The test taking part is extremely teachable. Your goal from now until the testing window is to hone in the skills that will make you feel confident when you walk into your test.

Note: If you deal with crippling testing anxiety, especially with aptitude testing, I highly recommend seeking mental health services well before the exam to work with a professional on cognitive strategies and medication to overcome this anxiety.

From my experience with the Written FCICE, here’s what you need to know:

Continue reading “An Autopsy of the Written FCICE, Part 3: Study Mode”

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”