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How and why did you choose to specialize?
Thread poster: Anne-Marie Grant
Anne-Marie Grant  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:50
French to English
+ ...
Apr 6, 2009

We're frequently told about the importance of specializing as a translator and I am interested in hearing people's stories about how and why they specialized in a particular field. Was it the right decision? Do you feel pigeon-holed? Is it possible to make a living as a generalist in the freelance world or do you have to be a medical/legal/financial/technical specialist?

I am drawn to medical translation, but can find no way to get the necessary training in London. The only course I can find is a very expensive MSc. There seems to be nothing online.

I am within easy travelling distance of an institution that offers training as a legal translator but it just does not excite me very much.

I enjoy using a little creativity in my work. I am really interested in education and the social sciences. Can one make a career as a freelancer in these areas though? If so, how?!

Please share your experiences and advice.


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:50
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My opinion Apr 7, 2009

On the specialisation matter, I can only say that the kind of work I tend to receive from my clients more or less oriented me towards technical translation (machinery, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, etc.). I already liked any kind of engineering, machines and industrial setups when I was a child, so I like my situation. I like anything technical, and any technical translation makes me happy.

My suggestion is that you try to specialise in something you found interesting ever since you were a child. If fields like literature, social sciences, arts, etc. have interested you all your life, try to learn more.

Of course you must make a living and I must doubt that translation in the field of arts, education or social sciences can keep you in shape financially, so you might want to choose some other topic, like medical or legal translation, in which you can find proper training and reference information more easily.


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:50
Dutch to English
+ ...
Nuts and bolts do it for me Apr 7, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

On the specialisation matter, I can only say that the kind of work I tend to receive from my clients more or less oriented me towards technical translation (machinery, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, etc.). I already liked any kind of engineering, machines and industrial setups when I was a child, so I like my situation. I like anything technical, and any technical translation makes me happy.


My experience is similar to Tomás. I studied languages but also have a Math and Computer Sciences degree. I translate a lot of material related to software and hardware but also (mechanical) engineering since I've always wanted to know how everything worked. My favourite toy as a 4-year old was a crane, which I disassembled and put back together (I am female by the way). I never planned my career or what I specialised in. It just happened.


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Anja Weggel  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:50
Member (2007)
English to German
Another opinion Apr 7, 2009

First of all, I think a certain specialization is important because people (among them customers and PM's) like to put other people into categories. A PM may get a medical translation and will think "oh there is Anne-Marie doing medical" rather than just generally think about you.
Besides, I do not think that one can do ALL the fields that are out there (I know I can't) so certain fields just come up naturally. Usually these are the ones that your are interested in.

I agree with Tomás though, arts and social sciences will only feed a few people full time. So if I were you, I would find one or two additional fields. I do not think that you necessarily need a formal degree, take something that you are at least slightly interested in and read something about it. You will also always learn in the course of your translation career. I would love to do art and social sciences full time but do a lot of legal and IT to earn money.

Good luck!


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looby
France
Local time: 17:50
Build on what you already know Apr 7, 2009

Hi Anne-Marie,
I spent 10 years as an in-house translator working for a few different companies, including 6 years with a financial company. When I went freelance it obviously made sense to specialise in finance and business. For me it was definitely the right decision, given that there is a lot of work in this area. Without this experience I doubt I would have had the confidence to call myself a "specialist".

Looking at your profile I see you have got a medical background; if this interests you then I would try to build on it. I'm not sure a full MSc would be necessary, sometimes if you just immerse yourself in a subject area that can be enough, depending on the type of documents you translate of course.

I definitely think that you gain a lot in terms of credibility if you market yourself as a specialist rather than a Jack of all trades. But I would not specialise for the sake of it, I would keep away from legal translation if you're not attracted to it. Whether or not you can make a living as a generalist, I'm sure you can if you have the right clients. As Anja says, certain fields just come up naturally, so perhaps try to build on on two or three that you can eventually call specialisations.
Good luck!


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:50
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
So that's what.... Apr 7, 2009

Marijke Singer wrote:
My favourite toy as a 4-year old was a crane, which I disassembled and put back together (I am female by the way). I never planned my career or what I specialised in. It just happened.


So that's what your Spiderman is doing! I finally understand after all this time: he's giving a seminar on a big web offset printing machine!


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xxxAWa
Local time: 17:50
English to German
+ ...
The specialisation came first, then translating Apr 7, 2009

Like with Marijke and Tomas my specialisation is technology. I got a degree in mechanical engineering and while working as a technical desginer I was asked to write a manual for the company's products in English. Next I applied for a job as in-house technical writer/translator at a software company - and got it! It was after a year at that job that I decided to get formal translation training (besides working full-time).

I'd suggest to select a specialisation that you are comfortable with - not just language-wise, but, most importantly, when it comes to the subjects you'll be dealing with. Afterall, when things go well you'll be spending the majority of your time translating which it more of a bother - and more difficult - when you don't like the matter that the text is about.


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avsie  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:50
English to French
+ ...
2nd carreer Apr 7, 2009

Translation is a second carreer for me. I hold a Bachelor degree in Nursing and I worked as a nurse before I turned my life around and became a translator. So my specialisation as a medical translator is obvious.

But I'm also into everything IT and gadget-y, including video games, which then became other fields of specialisation. Of course it helps that I'm working in-house for a computer and consumer electronics company...

If you don't have another degree than translation, you might want to consider getting one. Of course, this costs time and money, but it could be worth it. And look at your interests, your hobbies, your passions, and find how you could transform these in fields of specialisation!


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xxxwonita
China
Local time: 11:50
Meet the market demand Apr 7, 2009

While many technical jobs in English to Chinese go to China, quite some German companies prefer to have their legal documents translated inside Germany, out of the confidential concern. I happen to be one of the few English to Chinese translators residing in Germany. My clients decide what I translate, and even which language I should translate. They normally ask me to do my translation from English, instead of German, in which the documents are originally written, to Chinese. The German documents are for domestic use only, whereas English is international, also for China.



[Edited at 2009-04-07 07:59 GMT]


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anca nicolau  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 18:50
English to Romanian
+ ...
My options Apr 7, 2009

Hello,
I am new to this group but I've been working as translator/interpreter for the past 5 years.
In my case, although I have a degree in foreign languages (meaning mostly literature and grammar) I became specialised in the terminology of industrial field, eg. steel making, mechanical engineering and maintenance methodology because this is the first job that I got after graduation. I must say I was lucky because I actually enjoy my specialization (I love going on site, and seeing all kind of industrial equipments in operation and trying to understand their functions), however since I became a freelancer I started looking for other fields as well and one of them was pharmacology.
I had zero experience or training in this area, but one day I had to translate some drug prospects. It was not easy at first and I had to do major researching, not to mention driving crazy all my doctor / nurse friends, but my client was quite content in the end and this gave me some support to continue. It is still an enormous field to explore for me but I am getting better day by day, with each challenge that I face and now I can say that although I am not a professional pharmacist or doctor or nurse, I am familiar with the terminology.
So my point is that you should not consider yourself restrained in pursuing your interest. You can either be trained or train yourself. As long as you like the subject you will continue to learn more and more.
Good luck in finding your way!


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Laurent KRAULAND  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:50
French to German
+ ...
Technical translations first and foremost Apr 7, 2009

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

On the specialisation matter, I can only say that the kind of work I tend to receive from my clients more or less oriented me towards technical translation (machinery, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, etc.). I already liked any kind of engineering, machines and industrial setups when I was a child, so I like my situation. I like anything technical, and any technical translation makes me happy.


Same for me here, although I also liked writing short stories, poems and novels when I was between 15 and 22. But I feel this creativity is better used in other (personal) fields, as the current - and past - state of mind of our trade doesn't make it possible to earn a decent living from translations with creative content.

Laurent K.


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Claire Cox
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:50
French to English
+ ...
Chance! Apr 7, 2009

Like others, I suppose I fell in to my specialisations by chance; I worked in-house for a major nuclear company in the 1980's and from there it made sense to continue with nuclear technology and power generation when I eventually went freelance and had ready-made contacts in this area. Looking at your profile, if you've worked in-house for Bayer and are a trained nurse, it sounds to me as though you've got a really good start as a medical translator anyway - you should really promote that in your profile and when you contact new agencies and take it from there.

I received details of a pharmaceutical workshop in London and Manchester from the ITI recently. It may not be relevant for you, but on the other hand it may provide useful opportunities for networking in this field:

http://www.nwtn.org.uk/view.asp?op=EV&id=149

“How the Drug Discovery Industry Works”.
A one day course that covers the discovery and development of medicines as well as explaining the jargon used in this process. This will help translators who deal with some of the massive amounts of documentation required for the regulatory approval and marketing of drugs; even those with a scientific background may have some difficulty in keeping up with this highly complex area without some guidance.
Delegates are given a clear explanation of technical jargon and concepts that cover the discovery of drugs in the laboratory and their development into commercial products via clinical trials. The session is concluded with a question and answer session to discuss items of specific interest to individual delegates. This part has been shown to be particularly useful for identifying websites and other resources of use to the freelance translator covering the life sciences.

Best wishes!

Claire


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Penelope Ausejo  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
Previous studies and experience Apr 7, 2009

In my case, before becoming a translator, I studied a BS in Business Administration and a Master's degree in Marketing and Sales Management. When I graduated from school, I worked for several years in banking (both investment and commercial), afterwards I took a Masters in Marketing and moved into Marketing for another few years. So...when I decided to become a translator, my main specializations were pretty obvious to me. However, thanks to my mentor and favourite client, I also work in machinery manuals... which I love most of the times

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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 12:50
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The most important: discovering your NON-specalties! Apr 7, 2009

It seems that nowadays I am an old hand in translation. The first one I ever did for money dates back from 1973 A.D., and it was an important part of my first full-time job.

As a sworn translator in Brazil, the law forbids me to turn down any such job on technical grounds. If I am overloaded, and thus unable to offer an acceptable delivery time, that's another matter.

So it's tempting for an experienced translator to be able to say, I specialize in A, B, and C, but I can translate most anything in my pair.

A couple of years ago I realized that some areas of human knowledge were simply off limits for me. That finally gave me an insight on translator specialization being rather a continuum than a list of subjects.

Of course, I have my key specialty, management development courseware. It's the area where it's least likely to find a translator who will outperform me. Following closely, either as a spinoff or a part of it, there is corporate communications, including policy manuals that are often part of new employee indoctrination programs. Some other areas follow, gradually fading to gray.

Then there is the gray area, where there is a game for all players. So far, nothing new. However it took me all this time to clearly define what was off-limits for me. After all, you never know what you don't know.

I began listing my non-areas when I met them. The first one was medicine. How can I translate something that I don't understand neither in source nor target languages? Later I noticed my shortcomings in accounting. So these two took the top of my no-list. Others will eventually follow, as soon as I eventually get introduced to them.

So I have my solution for it. I know personally two unquestionably competent specialized translators in each of these areas, and will unwaveringly refer any such request to them.

IMHO it's a sign of professional maturity in translation to define what you don't translate. No, it shouldn't be any translator's goal to build that list. Every one should give it a try, at least once, in anything. However when you find you are not good at it, either decide to invest time and effort in becoming so, or drop it like a hot potato.

Long ago one client invited me to take a shot at translating video for dubbing. My very first such video was dubbed exactly as I translated it, ad is still being shown. I found a natural talent, used in a different way than people who learned to do exactly the same thing by taking a course. So, if you don't try it at least once, you'll never know how good you are at doing something. Nevertheless, you'll often find translators working on things they shouldn't.

So the key is not only in finding your specialties, but also in discovering what you shouldn't be doing, ever.


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Anne-Marie Grant  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:50
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for the fascinating replies Apr 7, 2009

I have really enjoyed reading them. A big part of my problem is confidence. It is a long time since I worked in-house and my nurse training was as a mental health nurse, which was more geared towards psychology/social sciences. If you present me with a medical text or an engineering text though, it's immediately clear to me which I would prefer to translate, so that should offer me some clues!!

I will look into the medical workshops etc offered by the ITI (thanks, Claire) and I will continue to haunt the virtual corridors of ProZ. I am not actively looking for work at the moment as I am finishing an online refresher course in general translation, doing some voluntary medical translation and also doing a part-time job (unrelated to translation).

Many thanks again and if anyone else has something to add please do!

[Edited at 2009-04-07 11:01 GMT]


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