With immigration booming, interpreters are more in demand than ever. Judith Zerdin talks to three based in London about crime, asylum, health and politics.
Yılmaz Duzen, 42, came to Britain when he was nine and studied languages at the University of East Anglia before becoming a medical interpreter and then joining New Scotland Yard's official interpreting list. He also interprets for the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Department for Trade and Industry. His wife, too, is a Turkish interpreter and they live in Woodford with their two children. Yılmaz says:
One of the most exciting cases I've had was the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands in 2000. I was one of five Turkish interpreters called to interpret evidence given by the Turkish baggage handler at Frankfurt airport who [unwittingly] put the baggage containing the bomb onto the plane.
We were behind a glass screen, 20 metres above the court. We couldn't see the baggage handler's face as he had his back turned slightly, but every word had to be interpreted precisely.
It felt great. Not only were we treated like VIPs the whole time, but it was great opportunity to facilitate communication between two different cultures and languages, which is our job - and that gives me a huge buzz.
Security was unbelievable, with the SAS guarding the surroundings. The two Libyans who were on trial never saw the light of day. A tunnel was built to bring them to the courthouse underground from their cells.
I also worked for CNN in the aftermath of the US invading Afghanistan. I interpreted from their London studios for Colin Powell when he visited the Turkish Prime Minister. In those situations you don't have time to think; there's no time to look in a dictionary.
I always loved languages, so at university I studied French and linguistics with Russian. In my fourth year I specialised in interpreting and translation. After graduation I became a medical interpreter in Turkish, and in 1990 I got on New Scotland Yard's list of official interpreters. From there I branched out into the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the DTI.
An interpreter has to be completely emotionless and unbiased. When I was a medical interpreter, people died almost next to me, and I had to interpret for their families, who were highly emotional. But I had to remain calm. If you don't switch off and you take your work home, it would cause stress, sleeplessness and pain.
You never know what your next job will be, so you live in a world of constant surprises. It's a hugely enjoyable, very flexible life and very rewarding. Monotony just doesn't exist.