Latest from the blog

Posted on25 March 2013

Warzone interpreters

Many interpreters out there will be familiar with high pressured assignments, but few will be able to relate to the hazardous nature of the work carried out by interpreters in war zones and crises. The 10 year anniversary of the British and US invasion of Iraq is this month. Since March 2003, some 300 interpreters have been killed in the country, either as incidental casualties to military action, or as victims of retribution.

In 2008 the US repealed a controversial policy which banned the use of ski masks, worn by Iraqi interpreters to protect their identity. The decision to ban these in the first place was made in light of what appeared to be an improved security situation; however the threat to these interpreters, seen as traitors by many Iraqi people, remained as real as ever. And herein lies the tragedy; that native war interpreters who, by the nature of their work attempt to improve communications and relations between civilians and an invading army, are labelled turncoats by their own communities and often face persecution for their role. As one Iraqi interpreter said: “We have to remember that these forces are leaving one day and we are staying here”.

Since the outbreak of war in 1939 the importance of having trained interpreters has been increasingly recognised by armed forces around the world. In anticipation of the USA’s entry to the Second World War US intelligence officers set up a school for the training of people with basic levels of Japanese, to turn them into skilled field interpreters. By the end of the war the school had trained 6,000 men. This shows a distinct difference from the attitudes of armies towards the importance of interpreting since the First World War, when the BEF left Britain for France with just 300 basic French speakers in their ranks. Thankfully, training for field interpreters is improving even more today. However it is still the case that many, if not most wartime interpreters are not professionals, but civilians who find themselves in this role because of their knowledge of the languages involved.

Fundamentally these linguists have the power to save lives by communicating better intelligence to both civilians and soldiers alike, and can prevent casualties with the provision of information. Their work is rarely acknowledged yet the role they play in conflict is essential. Unfortunately it remains that the perilous task of warzone interpreters is much like war itself; thankless and without victor.

For more information about the role of interpreters in warzones please visit for Jesús Baigorri-Jalón’s informative paper on the subject.

Have you or anyone you know had any experience of interpreting during difficult circumstances? We’d love to hear from you.

ATC – Full membership of the ATC (Association of Translation Companies).

CIEP – Corporate membership of the CIEP (Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading) since 1993.

Corporate membership of the ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting) since 1994. Corporate Member of the Year 2021.

ISO 17100 – ISO 17100:2017 for Translation Services (since this standard began, in 2008, externally audited annually).

ISO 9001 – BS EN ISO 9001:2015 (certified since 2003, externally audited annually).

Living wage employer – As a living wage employer, we believe our staff deserve a wage which meets every day needs.

Mindful employer

Mindful employer – We are a mindful employer, working toward achieving better mental health at work.


Disability confident committed – We are Disability Confident Committed, ensuring our recruitment, communications and support are inclusive and accessible.

4-day week

4-day week employer since 2019


Good Business Charter Member since 2022

The Slator Language Service Provider Index (LSPI) is a ranking and an index of the world’s largest translation, localization, interpreting, and language technology companies.


The Patient Information Forum promotes access to trusted and high-quality health information for the public and healthcare professionals.

Federation of Small Businesses and the Self-Employed

Member of the Federation of Small Businesses and the Self-Employed

Prompt Payment Code

Signatory of the Prompt Payment Code since 2023.

Accredited with the Fair Tax Foundation since February 2024