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Specializing whilst translating
Thread poster: Daniela Ciafardoni

Daniela Ciafardoni  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:03
Italian to English
+ ...
Sep 9, 2006

Hello everyone!
I have been working as a generalist translator for a couple of years and am looking for a few tips on how to specialize and what fields are the best to go for.
I translate from Italian into English and vice versa and from French and Spanish. I have an MA in translation Studies and a degree in languages. I understand that it is important to gain knowledge in specific areas in order to guarantee quality and I am curious to know how other translators have gone about it.
- Did you study for a second degree?
- Did you build up experience by focussing on a specific type of text?
- Did you build on subject knowledge just through personal study without qualifying?
- How many domains should you specialise in?
I understand that specialising and concentrating on specific subject areas at the moment would reduce my chances of getting work, any suggestions/ideas?
- What areas do you find being the most in demand?
I would really appreciate any advice or comments you might have on this matter.


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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 22:03
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Area(s) of interest Sep 9, 2006

Hi, Daniela!

I believe many translators who have specialized in one or more areas are those that come from such academic background in the first place and, on top of those specific fields, also have a strong knowledge in languages and started working as translators while studying or even before they started their academic careers.

That's exactly what happened to me, since I started working as a freelance translator the same year I was about to graduate from technical high school. Therefore, I specialized in Computers & Technology because, apart from my language-related studies, I also had a degree in Computer Sciences, with a major in Data Processing. Then I spent some time working as a freelance translator and an ESL teacher, until I got to college to major in Journalism. So my other specialization as far as translations are concerned is in the Social Communications field.

Regarding your case, you specialized in languages first, so now I would suggest you consider the area you feel more comfortable with. If you like working with medical documents and you were great at Biology, Chemistry, and Physics at school for example, you may look for some extension courses in the scientific area. You don't have to go to med school or try to become a nurse practitioner, but you may find some great courses that explore different aspects of medicine, health, and sciences. This will allow you an extra knowledge in that field, which can be combined with your linguistic background in order to provide your clients with a higher-quality specialized translation.

In other words, if I were you, I'd specially look for those courses that somehow combine communication skills or professional writing with a specific area. In my case, I feel strongly interested in the ones that are aimed at business majors who are seeking to improve their communication skills in the field.

I also believe that one can always improve their specialized knowledge by reading and studying a lot. So if you're trully interested in one area, go ahead and try to get your hands on all the specific literature you can. It's a lot easier if you can dedicate yourself to something you like, instead of choosing A instead of B simply because of the current demand. Demands may change due to so many aspects, but if you can offer great services in one field, you're more likely to have a constant flow of projects in that area.

Well, I hope my two cents help you!

[Edited at 2006-09-09 16:37]

[Edited at 2006-09-09 16:40]


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
endless possibilities .... Sep 9, 2006

Hello, Daniela! There must be a zillion ways to approach specializing, but my suggestion is that you consider your "passions"-- what subjects do you read about in your spare time? what countries do you love most (Italy? if so, why? what aspects of Italian life appeal the most to you?) What are your hobbies or what concerns you about the "state of the world"?

It would be good if you could devote the time and money to getting a master's degree in a subject that fascinates you. (Or if it is, for example, cooking that is your passion--attend a school for chefs for a while.)

I wish that I had more formal training in translation (I only took three courses). I specialize in Latin America (Mexico, in particular) and in the social science fields. This came about very naturally as I had an undergraduate degree in Anthro and had lived in Mexico for 3 years plus doing some extended fieldwork there as an undergrad. Later I worked for 2 research centers (on Mexico and on Latin America), and ended up with an MA in Latin America Studies.

Before I ever thought of translation as a career, I got to edit 7 volumes (in English) on Latin America in comparative pespective with other regions. While doing that multi-year project, I had to translate some of the contributions to the books, and that was when I became hooked on translation. I use my editing skills as a "value-added" product that comes included in with all my translations--so in a sense, that's another "specialty" for me: producing texts that need only the lightest of copy edits before going to print.

You say that you know you won't have as much work if you specialize. You could do work in the area you specialize in, but fill it in as needed with more generalized work. From my point of view, specializing brings you far more work, and work that is far more interesting, too!

Good luck!


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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Rafa is so right! Sep 9, 2006

Rafa Lombardino wrote:


I also believe that one can always improve their specialized knowledge by reading and studying a lot. So if you're trully interested in one area, go ahead and try to get your hands on all the specific literature you can. It's a lot easier if you can dedicate yourself to something you like, instead of choosing A instead of B simply because of the current demand. Demands may change due to so many aspects, but if you can offer great services in one field, you're more likely to have a constant flow of projects in that area.


Just want to say that I 100% agree with everything Rafa said, esp. what I'm quoting here...


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Rafa Lombardino
United States
Local time: 22:03
Member (2005)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Agree Sep 9, 2006

Patricia Rosas wrote:
You say that you know you won't have as much work if you specialize. You could do work in the area you specialize in, but fill it in as needed with more generalized work. From my point of view, specializing brings you far more work, and work that is far more interesting, too!


As Patricia said, I also believe you don't get less work with specialization, since nobody said you can ONLY work in that one field as a translator. When I say I specialize in Computers & Technology and in Social Communications, it doesn't mean that I only get projects in these areas. If I did, I'd definitely have one "dream project" coming my way after the other!!!

Of course these are the subjects I work with the most, but I've also been translating a lot of documents related to business administration and, especially, EHS standards and policies. I actually enjoy this area as well and that's why I'm looking for a good business communication program, so I can take some classes and learn more about the area. However, finishing my extension course in Spa - Eng translation & interpreting is more important to me right now.

Well, just wanted to share this idea and give Patricia a big thumbs up!


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 03:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
No way! Sep 9, 2006

Patricia Rosas wrote:

There must be a zillion ways to approach specializing,


No, no and no.

The only way to specialize in something - ANYthing - is to study it full-time and practice it full-time. For a minimum of, I'd say, 10 years.

Then if you still can't make a living out it, for whatever reason - redundancy, pregnancy, sickness, workplace accident or simply 'cos there's too many people active in the sector - take 'it' as a field for specialist translation.

And charge a minimum of USD 0.25 / EUR 0.20 per source word. Why? - because you know - perhaps better than the source text author him/herself - what that author is trying to explain!

So, specialize first. Then switch to translation and go straight for the top end of the market. The alternative is ... oblivion.

MediaMatrix


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:03
Flemish to English
+ ...
Study and life-experience Sep 9, 2006

Did you study for a second degree?

Years ago, I had the "honour" of doing a boot-camp at the truck repair division of the Belgian Army. You could choose your unit (either Dutch, French or German-speaking unit). I choose a German-speaking unit, but these turned out to be elite soldiers. Not my piece of cake, so I choose a French- speaking unit. It was active in the field of vehicle maintenance, so I learned a lot of vehicle terminology being a Dutch speaker.

In the 90-ies, I attended vocational courses of international trade (Incoterms), transport (road-,sea, air-), VAT-regulations, cost-calculation and sales. Being p.t.employed at one of the three mayor courier-companies taught me a great deal about "the importance of doing things right first time" while one of their "priviliges" taught me a lot about aviation. Some courier companies are (invisible) IATA-airlines.

Because I wanted to save on car-repairs, I attended a course of car engineering. I wanted to be able to perform maintenance and minor repairs myself. It taught me automotive terminology. You would be surprised how many famous brand-names are under the bonnet/hood of a car.

After that I did the same for computers. Courses of Hardware, so that I don't panick when my pc-breaks down or can built a no-brand pc-myself for half of the price of a brand-pc- networking (client-server), databases, office-package and an attempt at Flash MX.

An at the moment: I earned 5 credits towards a postgraduate in management: marketing, overview of datamining and IT-organisation-UML-programming, accounting and finance. Still 5 to go before graduation.


Before that:
- Did you build up experience by focussing on a specific type of text?
Yes and no, when I was an inhouse at a telephone company, I received a lot of administrative texts and text related to telecommunication (devices) as well as international treaties with regard to telecommunication.
Where I worked one of the translators moonlighted from 12 noon until 22 in the evening and had been doing this for years. He was a real polyglot, but specialized in telecom and construction specifications. I inherited his construction specification material-glossaries and made a glossary of about 8500 terms myself. I've put all my glossaries on Proz.com, except for that one. It is a small market niche with direct clients, who built megalomaniacal projects (example: the European Parliament) and a few players/translators.

- Did you build on subject knowledge just through personal study without qualifying?
Yes

- How many domains should you specialise in?

IT : having and mastering certain packages which others don't have can be a competitive advantage too.

Money is the name of the (this) game, so I like finance and to a lesser extend accounting, which is the follow-up and registration of money-flows.but why not add :
The fields my "technology savvy engineering friends" are specialized in: i.e. hydraulics, construction and electronics as well as the fields of the other specialists I met in life or while attending courses are specialized in : being dentistry, pharmacology, medicine, vet.medicine. This only for certain language-combinations.
One of the principles I learned was : People Service Profit. Not "I Service Profit".






[Edited at 2006-09-09 20:33]


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Daniela Ciafardoni  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 06:03
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Sep 10, 2006

I would like to thank you all very much for sharing your experiences with me and for your useful advice. It is great to know that there are endless possibilities and to gain some insight from other translators. Sometimes it is hard to find perspective when there are so many different areas to choose from and so much to learn, I think the secret is to take it step by step and enjoy the ride rather than stressing on what should or should not be done next. I am just about to start a leisure web design course, which I am looking forward to and which will enable me to gain useful skills. Then my idea will be to focus on two particular areas to build up my knowledge. It’s great to hear that self-study can help you specialise and that you do not only have to concentrate on those particular subjects, but that it is okay to carry on with more generalised work. Even though it sounds obvious, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by translators only offering a certain type of translations and wondered how they would manage build their clientele. Thanks very much!

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Hilary Davies Shelby
United States
Local time: 00:03
German to English
My experience Sep 10, 2006

Hello Daniela,

I just wanted to add my experiences to this very interesting topic. I gained my specialisation (software and SAP) by taking a job as an in-house translator for SAP in Germany once I had finished my degree. When I started working there, I knew nothing about SAP - in fact, I didn't really know one end of a computer from the other and could barely send an email! All i knew was how to translate general documents, such as newspaper articles and environmental texts- the kind of general topics we were given for practise at university.

SAP provided me with 3 months of extremely specialised training, and basically "apprenticed" me to a more senior translator, who answered all my questions and proofread everything I produced. As a young, impatient graduate, I often found this frustrating. I now realise that this was an invaluable experience. I then spent 2 years translating software interfaces and help documentation for SAP. This experience gave me what would later become my specialisation (SAP documentation), my Trados experience (again, an invaluable skill now) and helped greatly in my next job, which was working as a technical writer for an Internet company. THIS was where I really learned my computer skills. I learned all about working with the Internet, gained a great deal of marketing and PR experience, studied usability and picked up HTML. I also honed my technical writing skills and can now translate print-ready press releases and produce concise technical documentation.

I also became an expert in video games.

Once I began freelancing, I realised that I didn't just have to stick to the specialisations I had *TRAINED* in. I could apply my translation skills to any field in which I had knowledge or an interest. I love video games - and who better to translate them than someone who spends hours playing them and knows the style and genre? I love to cook and to read about food - who better to translate a menu or recipe than someone who knows their basil from their bay leaves? I have an interest in alternative therapies and I enjoy translating articles about new methods of healing and websites for treatment centres. I am concerned about environmental issues and can now use my translation skills to help raise international awareness of these.

Of course, there are days when all that comes your way are newspaper articles, but as you discover more and more things that you enjoy translating, and prove to more and more clients that you know what you're talking about, you'll get more and more jobs that you enjoy.

I hope this helps!

[Edited at 2006-09-10 16:00]

[Edited at 2006-09-10 16:02]


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Gianfranco Zecchino  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:03
German to Italian
+ ...
You're not the only one.. Sep 11, 2006

Hi Daniela!
Sometimes it helps to know that you're not the only one "in trouble". I am in a similar situation: degree in languages (English and German), but no translation degree nor any other specific one. Still, I've gained experience and knowledge in the PC/Internet field and, as a personal interest, in environmental issues. That said, being still in the phase of building up a career as a freelance translator, I'm accepting assignments in several fields to be able to make a living out of this job. In the meanwhile I keep on reading and learning so as to be able, one day, to concentrate on the fields I "love". Love, or a least a rather strong interest, gives you the energy and motivation to learn-learn-learn and spend time and energy on a specific activity without burning out. In the end, after so much sowing, you'll start reaping..
Ciao e tanti auguri!


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