In Italy if you don't speak the language... too bad
If you go to see a doctor in France, Germany and Poland, nobody will provide you with an interpreter. I was talking to my sister about this the other day.
She lives in Italy and says if you go to a doctor there and you speak the language, fine. If not, well too bad. You communicate with your hands. The situation in Britain regarding translators must be unique.
I have been a Polish translator in England since 2008. When I started it was really, really busy. I would have three cases a day. I was working day and night. I have less work now, but I think that’s mainly because there are so many more interpreters.
In some ways it is surprising that more Poles than any other nationals require interpreters here. Most Polish nationals – specially the younger generation – learn English at college.
Some hospitals or GP surgeries use telephone interpreters but from my experience it doesn’t really work. Take NHS cases. Patients sometimes want you to be there when they are given local anaesthetic. I’m next to the patient and the doctor with the scalpel, so sometimes you see things that could make you faint.
For me the most exciting projects are crown courts. A year ago we did quite a big murder trial in Carlisle – it lasted for a month and a half, lots of defendants. We had all those reports, pathologists’ reports, so this was very demanding stuff.
I was born in Poland. My great-great-grandfather was British. He moved to Poland.
When I was in high school I went to America, then finished my degree in Poland and came here, completed an interpreting diploma and started my career. I am a freelance, self-employed interpreter on the books of Capita. The pay is £16 to £22 an hour.
There is no guarantee of work – we wait for an email or phone call with a job offer. There are weeks when there is work every day. We never know, it’s such an unpredictable profession.
When Poland joined the EU in 2004 I knew there would be a huge wave of Poles coming here: it’s hardly surprising when you think about the economic situation in Poland, the low wages. People who do manual labour or work in factories can live comfortably here even if they earn the minimum wage, whereas in Poland this is impossible. Britain is still such a wealthy and prosperous country.