Choosing a specialization
Thread poster: Meerburg TS

Meerburg TS  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Dutch to English
+ ...
Mar 9, 2012

Hello everybody,

I am fairly new to translating, and am wondering how to go about choosing the right field to specialize in.

I would like to do translations from French->English, Spanish->English, Dutch->English on a part time basis, alternating with running a small but popular bed-without-breakfast, doing construction work on my house and art work for myself.

As a daughter of Dutch diplomats I was spending my youth in various countries, languages and international schools, graduating with an International Baccalaureate in English. Here, I started voraciously reading books, to which I accredit many of my language skills.

I did both my Bachelor's and Master's degree in California, where I lived for 12 years. I did bronze casting, human and animal anatomy, ceramics, drawing, painting, neon, welding and forging. I researched and wrote many papers about the theory, practice and interpretation of art in English, which became in effect my native language.

Fascination with casting, welding and metalworking took me to working at an important art bronze casting foundry in the Bay Area, where I worked in the wax department and the metal working department. I worked for a carpentry company, a fork lift repair company, metal workers, and had a small lamp making workshop for a while.

When I moved to Barcelona in 2002 I worked in a variety of jobs such as waitress, telephone interviewer in three languages, stage decor production and some other odd jobs until I became first the metalworker and then head of the maintenance department of a sailing and windsurf school. Here, I dealt with boats and windsurfers, reparations of parts and equipment and also the facilities: plumbing, electrical, sewage, construction, etc. I picked up quite some Spanish marine and boating terminology here, as well as materials, construction etc.

Then I went back to the Netherlands for a bit, worked briefly there in armored vehicle assembly, and am now going back and forth between The Hague and Barcelona, where I am running the bed-without-breakfast.

I became interested in translating remotely, and have already been doing work for a client in London translating mining and gas documents from French to English.

So now I am buying a new laptop next week and hopefully a few CAT tools. I have so far been using Wordfast Anywhere for most of my translations and I like the interface, so I'm contemplating buying Wordfast Pro or one of their other products. When I get some more income I will try to get Trados as well (which seems to be the industry standard) and learn how to use it, but that's all in the future.

Now I am wondering about how to pick and concentrate on a specialization. I was contemplating literary (as I love to read) but from what I gather it is not paid well and more a labor of love. So I am thinking about the following possibilities: art history and criticism (is there a market?) or a technical specialization (marine and boating, technical manuals, geology etc).

Can I get away with home study or should I go back to school? The main prohibitive factor right now is money, but I liked the look of this Masters program:
http://www.solocursos.net/master_en_traduccion_cientifico_tecnica-slccurso2699442.htm?id_busqueda=2699442

Then again, I am happy to start buying some second hand books on Amazon and going from there...

I would love to get some feedback from people on how they picked or were channeled to their specialization, as well as useful hits as technical online (or otherwise) dictionaries, links etc.

Thanks!


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Richard Foulkes  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:22
German to English
+ ...
No hard and fast rule... Mar 9, 2012

Hi. The thing about the translation industry is that there are no 'rules' as such when it comes to things such as specialising.

I have a degree, industry experience and professional qualification in my specialism of property after changing career for a while. This makes me feel suitably qualified to claim to be specialised but it's not the only route. Others may have a translation accreditation such as ITI / ATA but no qualifications or experience of fields in which they choose to specialise. Others may have both...

It seems you already have a lot of academic qualifications so if I were you, I wouldn't necessarily be in a rush to do another degree, but if you want to then why not? Maybe you can seek to specialise in the arts field by marketing yourself on your qualifications and in tourism using your business experience. This would also allow you to compare the different approaches for yourself and see which works best for you. I don't know much about translating for the arts but I would imagine that tourism would be more lucrative for you owing to the more commercial nature of the field.

If you don't have a degree or professional experience in your specialist field, I think you can build your profile by other means such as smaller courses, seminars, networking, reading books, industry journals, websites etc. and keeping up with developments.

Good luck!



[Edited at 2012-03-09 10:37 GMT]


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 13:22
Spanish to English
+ ...
Some thoughts. Mar 9, 2012

Meerburg TS wrote:

So I am thinking about the following possibilities: art history and criticism (is there a market?) or a technical specialization (marine and boating, technical manuals, geology etc).

Can I get away with home study or should I go back to school? The main prohibitive factor right now is money, but I liked the look of this Masters program:
http://www.solocursos.net/master_en_traduccion_cientifico_tecnica-slccurso2699442.htm?id_busqueda=2699442


Since it takes quite a while to get established, I'd suggest you concentrate on an area that interests you. You could start to build up a ProZ profile by keeping an eye out for questions asked in your specific area and gaining points for answering them. You might also contribute a Glossary (you'll probably want to start building one for your specialty area in any case). And put some sample translations on your Profile.

Re the above Master's, won't that be EN->ESL, FR->ESL? And hence outside your language pairs.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:22
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Specialise in language, not subject Mar 9, 2012

You have remarkably wide experience in many areas. Be a generalist, not a specialist.

But I would strongly recommend specialising in one language combination rather than three. What is the point in offering anything but your strongest language combination?


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 14:22
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Why to English? Mar 24, 2012

Apart from wondering which specialisation(s) to concentrate on, you might want to rethink your language direction.

You write very good English, but there are a number of mistakes that a native speaker would not make, and which frankly will not pass muster if you work for any quality-conscious agency or end client. Of course there are many who are not quality-conscious, so you may be OK. Alternatively you could team up with an English native proofreader to get those few issues ironed out before submitting your work.

However, I am curious as to why you have chosen to work into English rather than into what I assume is your native Dutch?


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:22
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I agree with Jane Mar 24, 2012

JaneD wrote:

Apart from wondering which specialisation(s) to concentrate on, you might want to rethink your language direction.

You write very good English, but there are a number of mistakes that a native speaker would not make, and which frankly will not pass muster if you work for any quality-conscious agency or end client. Of course there are many who are not quality-conscious, so you may be OK. Alternatively you could team up with an English native proofreader to get those few issues ironed out before submitting your work.

However, I am curious as to why you have chosen to work into English rather than into what I assume is your native Dutch?


I agree with Jane; your English is not 100% fluent and you would certainly find yourself in difficulty translating complex language. A translator should only translate into their mother tongue (in your case, Dutch).

You have a fascinating CV and in it, I detect a number of general areas in which you might specialise. But not into English !


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 20:22
Chinese to English
On the "native language" thing Mar 24, 2012

On the "native language" thing: I actually think you might have trouble in any of your languages. Dutch may be your native language/mother tongue, but it's not that simple. It sounds like you weren't educated in Dutch, in which case you may not be a good writer in that language. In interpreting terms, you may not have an "A" language, and that can count against you as a translator.

Think of it this way: a translator is a professional writer. You will be expected to produce documents, in whatever language you work into, of publishable quality. Similarly, translators are often asked to edit, and you need to have sufficient knowledge of your target language that you can do what a professional editor does.

If you can't do that then you have a problem. However, it's not insurmountable. One way around this issue is precisely what you're asking about: specialisation. If you know one particular subject inside out, and have a deep understanding of how the terminology works in your languages, then clients will often forgive you the odd grammar error.

But generally, a specialist area like that comes about through a degree, or time spent working in the industry - and you've been such a generalist that I don't know whether that's possible. Art translation might be possible, I guess, but artists sometimes have a thing about aesthetics: can you write beautifully? In which languages?

However you choose to go, investment of time and effort will be necessary. Do you really want to be a translator? Or did you just think it would be fun, because you're multilingual, in addition to your other activities.

Sorry for sounding a bit negative. I hope you can find a niche that works for you.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:22
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Technical translations? Interpreting? Mar 24, 2012

Meerburg TS wrote:
I did bronze casting, human and animal anatomy, ceramics, drawing, painting, neon, welding and forging.
...
Fascination with casting, welding and metalworking took me to working at an important art bronze casting foundry in the Bay Area, where I worked in the wax department and the metal working department. I worked for a carpentry company, a fork lift repair company, metal workers, and had a small lamp making workshop for a while.
...
plumbing, electrical, sewage, construction, etc.
...
armored vehicle assembly
...
mining and gas


These all look like possible areas of specialisation. I hear what others have said about your native language and I agree that it would be unwise for you to translate art, literature, marketing etc into English. However, I think you might be OK in these technical areas, as long as you study the terminology in each of your languages. Perhaps your best bet would be to work with a mentor (there's a programme here on ProZ.com, for a start) who will point out translation errors, but also any grammar errors.

I wonder whether interpreting might be a good area for you. I'm sure you're a totally fluent and native-equivalent speaker in both your main languages and so could probably interpret either way, plus from your other languages. Of course, interpreters aren't quite so free to travel (something you are keen to do, according to your profile).

Another thing I noted from your profile is your desire to add at least two more source languages. I would advise you to specialise in what you've got and become an expert in something before you branch out into a zillion other things. However good you are at learning languages, getting to the level of a working language takes an awful lot of time and multiple language pairs isn't necessarily seen as a positive attribute.

Sheila


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Meerburg TS  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Dutch to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everybody for your input! :) Mar 25, 2012

First, let me get clear about why English is my primary language.

I effectively stopped using Dutch as a teenager (more than 25 years ago).

My father (scientist/diplomat) has hundreds of fascinating books (both fiction and non-fiction), most of which are in English. As a fairly solitary, quiet kid, in order to read and understand them, I had to master the language.
I started with Winnie the Pooh, a entire shelf of National Geographics and Agatha Christie. Endlessly fascinating was the 1968 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

On moving to Switzerland the second time, I went to the International School in Geneva, whose language was English. It was a good school, with a strong emphasis on reading and writing English clearly, correctly and eloquently.

In the History class, for example, we had to write a 5-page essay every week on a topic of history we were studying: the scramble for Africa, the variety of minorities of Lebanon, whether it was really necessary to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, the impacts of colonization of India, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs were but a few of the topics I remember researching and writing about.

I read English, spoke English, thought in English, calculated in English (much easier and logical to say ninety seven rather than zeven en negentig, or, heaven forbid, quatre-vingts dix-sept) and I still do, 25+ years later.

Then I moved to the United States and stayed there for 12 years, and this sealed my language choice.

In college, I corrected my American friends' term papers. I wrote many more papers myself, and some fiction and poetry too. I got good grades, too.

I continued reading like mad: Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Simmons, Lawrence Durrell, Umberto Eco, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera, Tom Robbins, Ursula K. LeGuin were authors I was discovering then.

Upon moving to Barcelona, I discovered a rather chaotic second-hand English bookstore that served tea, coffee, home-baked cookies and cheap wine in a little side street of Poblesec. It was not a touristy place, being off the center, and it was sometimes difficult to enter the shop, due to the amounts of books standing around in boxes.

There was a mental home across the street and the patients there, whose cheeses fell off their respective crackers in some way or another, but were rather inoffensive, were let out during the day and some of them would endlessly pass the time drinking a few cups of coffee across the street. None of them spoke English, of course, nor ever bought a book. They would bicker in Spanish or Catalan about their mental home, politics, football or the mess in the bookshop.

The other group (the one I favored) that had claimed this little establishment included a variety of English book junkies, many of them English teachers. After the closing of the bookshop, with the day's catch of books in the bag, they would stroll down to a bodega on c/Blai to continue the wine drinking and get some tapas. We discuss books, the English language, try to outdo one or the other with clever puns, attend events in Barcelona etc.

When the bookshop went belly-up a few years ago this little group had grown into a network of English book junkies. By this time, we had all discovered Facebook and started organizing book swaps/pot lucks at peoples' homes. These still continue today, even though a few members have now started to Kindle

In any case, the main language stayed English all these years. Of course, I learned Spanish and Catalan too, and feel better at home in Spanish all the time.

One of the reasons why I am interested in doing that course (though it is EN-SP rather than SP-EN) is that I will learn better Spanish as well. Even if the terminology is vice-versa rather than direct, I don´t think it will matter. As long as it's there.

My Dutch is bad. I notice each time I go to the Netherlands. I've been gone 25+ years. I speak it, but anything technical I use English words. I can not write Dutch correctly, nor can I proofread it. My vocabulary is limited. I use foreign sentence structures.

I sure as hell could not translate into Dutch.

So English it is.

I got the new computer and am pleased as punch that I was able to install most of the programs in English.

I got some more CAT tools and I am learning how to use them.

We had the new-laid fiber optic cable installed in my bed-without-breakfast, and it rocks! 50 mega is a big step up from the 6-7 mega we had before.

For most of my translations I have still been using Wordfast Anywhere.

I have a fairly regular client and translate documents FR-EN regarding mining operations in an African country, which is rather interesting. I am currently building up a glossary of technical terms and am researching mineralogy and the country in question.

Translating will for me be a part-time activity (as I am doing a variety of other things), but an important one, and I intend to take it seriously.

As I take English seriously. Despite all it's quirky exceptions and irregularities, it is an easy, logical language with an amazing vocabulary. I love working with it, and I intend to craft some fine, readable texts with it in the future.

Enough for the day: I have to translate! Deadline Monday morning!

Have a great Sunday y'all!


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