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New specialist area vs. New language pair
Thread poster: Jeff Henson

Jeff Henson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:02
Member (2015)
French to English
Jun 22, 2015

Hi all,
Considering some further education and wanted to take a small survey before deciding which way to go. I was wondering what the majority of you feel would be a more worthwhile investment of time and ressources; adding a new specialist area to an existing language combination, or adding a new language pair to an existing specialist area.
Take for example a German to English translator specializing in Medical translations. Would it be more marketable for him/her to add German to English legal translations to his/her repertoire, or rather to stick to medical translations, but add Spanish to English to the mix ?
Thanks for your input,
Jeff


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:02
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Neither Jun 22, 2015

A German to English translator with a medical specialism shouldn't need extra languages or specialisms. I'd invest in more medical courses to deepen the specialism. Or in marketing courses, writing courses or activities to brush up on the existing source language. Adding more options just means spreading yourself more thinly.

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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:02
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Massive investment; maybe negative return Jun 22, 2015

Jeff Henson wrote:
Take for example a German to English translator specializing in Medical translations. Would it be more marketable for him/her to add German to English legal translations to his/her repertoire, or rather to stick to medical translations, but add Spanish to English to the mix ?

To a great extent, it would depend on what this hypothetical translator already has in his/her toolkit, IMO:
a) If a medical specialist already has considerable experience translating legal texts but no qualification (it happens), then it might well be worth studying law or legal translation.
b) If s/he already has intermediate level Spanish, then it might pay to study Spanish in more depth, paying particular attention to medical terminology, e.g. by relocating to Spain to take medical courses.
c) If the translator has no real knowldege of legal matters, and/or is a beginner in Spanish, I think it would probably be a poor investment to try to add one or the other. I suppose a full degree course in legal studies (bilingual, of course) could be feasible for a complete starter, but it would mean an awful lot of work and leave precious little time for freelance earnings. And learning a language from scratch to source language level takes years of study and at least some immersion in the culture. Depending on age, it can take forever - believe me, I know.

I totally agree with Rachel. If I wanted a DE>EN technical medical translation, I'd go to someone who specialised in medical texts, preferably someone with translation experience, qualifications and a medical background. If they had recently taken on CPD in that area, that would be a plus. If they also offered legal translations due to a recent qualification, I'd be less inclined to choose them. And if someone had learnt two source languages from an early age or through relocation, then that's absolutely fine. If they'd simply added one as an afterthought by taking some courses, I'd be very wary.


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:02
Member
Italian to English
Agree with Rachel Jun 22, 2015

If the translator in question already specialises in a given field, I think it would be more profitable and more satisfying to further specialise in that given area. Taking medicine as an example, the translator could choose to concentrate on a certain field within that speciality, say cardiology or nephrology, making him or her better equipped to work with direct clients. It takes a long time to truly specialise in a given field, or to achieve competency in a new language - why spread yourself thinly and put yourself in a position where you will be competing with many other translators?

So much depends on individual preferences and capabilities, of course, but that would be my advice.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 01:02
English to Polish
+ ...
... Jun 22, 2015

Rachel Waddington wrote:

A German to English translator with a medical specialism shouldn't need extra languages or specialisms. I'd invest in more medical courses to deepen the specialism. Or in marketing courses, writing courses or activities to brush up on the existing source language. Adding more options just means spreading yourself more thinly.


Agreed. Though a medical translator could perhaps expand into med law/biz/marketing and get some credentials for it (e.g. Diploma in Copywriting; a medical LLM available to non-lawyers, if feeling really bold). However, the better choice would be to get more credentials in the existing pair and field, especially those that confirm academic degrees or professional titles, which are the most tangible credentials for clients to appreciate, especially if they're constantly reminded by your e-mail signature or business cards. In other words, do some intensive rather than extensive agriculture on your little farm.

If your problem is with client intake or targetting (can't get get enough clients or good enough ones, don't know where to find them or how to appeal to them or even which ones you want etc.), then you might rather want to consider getting some training or coaching in business and marketing, Marta's for example.

[Edited at 2015-06-22 10:54 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-06-22 10:54 GMT]


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Andrea Halbritter  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:02
French to German
+ ...
Agree with Rachel Jun 22, 2015

I agree with Rachel as well.

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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 01:02
German to English
+ ...
law and medicine are vast areas Jun 22, 2015

I agree with Rachel. Law and medicine are vast areas with lots of sub-sectors. If you specialize in medicine it is impossible to also specialize in law. Anyone who specializes in law and who translates into/from English has to study not only the legal system of civil law countries but also the legal system of common law countries. The legal concepts are not the same. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes there is no equivalence for the legal concept of one system in the other system. So if you are already specialized in medicine you better spend your time, money and energy on specializing in one sub-sector of this very vast area.

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Jeff Henson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:02
Member (2015)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Maybe my hypothetical examples were badly chosen. Jun 22, 2015

Hi All,
Thanks for all the input, but please know that I chose the fields of "Medicine" and "Law" strictly at random as examples, just as I chose the language pair "German to English" as a hypothetical example. I realise that both "Law" and "Medecine" are vast fields with many, many sub-sectors to specialize in. I was not asking (at least not intentionally) for advice specifically for those fields. Perhaps my question would have gotten different replies if I had given a hypothetical example of someone specializing in "Wine/Oenology" ?

[Edited at 2015-06-22 14:25 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-06-22 14:26 GMT]


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:02
German to English
+ ...
New (related) specialist area - but I am sort of doing both Jun 22, 2015

I would lean toward adding a related specialist area rather than a whole new language pair, but both could work depending on the circumstances. I'll give you my example. I am a native speaker of English and heritage speaker of Latvian specializing in German>English business/financial texts. These fields quite often intersect with legal, and I was feeling somewhat stagnant after doing the same stuff for 15 years, so I went back to school for a paralegal certificate to boost my credentials in legal translation. In addition, I already had Latvian skills in my pocket (read, write and speak on a daily basis and have my whole life, but have not lived there for an extended period), so I am also adding more Latvian>English work to my pipeline as it comes along. I have mainly done personal documents and some interesting one-off projects like a genealogy report and documentary subtitles, which is a great break from German financial/legal. So, I think the key is picking something that grows organically from the skill set you already have and is something you enjoy in case you don't get the expected ROI out of it.

[Edited at 2015-06-22 16:50 GMT]


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:02
Italian to English
Since you ask... Jun 22, 2015

Jeff Henson wrote:

Perhaps my question would have gotten different replies if I had given a hypothetical example of someone specializing in "Wine/Oenology" ?



Well here you go then, Jeff.

I derive a big chunk of my income from IT>EN wine translations. By and large, there's plenty of work but if I was thinking of diversifying I would first of all look at wine translation from other languages I already know well rather than dabble with specialisations that are totally new to me.

Either way, I don't think I could get up to speed in a new language (say ZH>EN wine translations) or a new specialist area (such as IT>EN medical translations) in the short term but I'm pretty sure it would be more fun to have a go at the former

[Edited at 2015-06-22 15:24 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:02
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Branching out from wine to what? Jun 22, 2015

Jeff Henson wrote:
Perhaps my question would have gotten different replies if I had given a hypothetical example of someone specializing in "Wine/Oenology" ?

Wine to gastronomy or luxury goods would be a logical move. Wine to anthropology, maritime/shipping or zoology would receive the same response from me as I made above.

Why the hypothetical questions? Do you have a real question?


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:02
Member
Italian to English
Intriguing Jun 22, 2015

I'm always intrigued as to WHY people ask these questions in the forums, as I'm pretty sure that deep down you know the answer you are seeking.

To me, given the huge investments needed to add a new language pair or specialism, plus all the time you will hopefully be dedicating to the subject area once you're competent, you have to LOVE the language or subject area in question. It has to be a subject area that you're passionate about, or a language whose nature and culture move you enough to want to immerse yourself in it. Otherwise it becomes a bit soul-destroying.

Perhaps if you give us a little more info we could help you more.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:02
English to Spanish
+ ...
Broaden specializations, yes; add languages NO Jun 22, 2015

With further study you an always broaden your areas of specialization, and that plan has merits. However, I have seen people here who propose to add languages, and to that I would say NO. You must be reminded that there are many people out here who are educated native speakers of the languages they deal with, and are you ever going to be able to compete with them? NO, NEVER. It would take another lifetime you do not have.

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Jeff Henson  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 01:02
Member (2015)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Re: Intriguing Jun 23, 2015

Fiona Peterson wrote:

I'm always intrigued as to WHY people ask these questions in the forums, as I'm pretty sure that deep down you know the answer you are seeking.



I sometimes find it beneficial to take into account others' opinions and experiences in making decisions. "Deep down" I may know which of the two options I would ENJOY more (language study), but this is a long-term, business decision and short-term enjoyment is far from being my sole (or even primary) criterium in making that decision.

[Edited at 2015-06-23 05:14 GMT]


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 05:32
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Where is the like button? Jun 23, 2015

Fiona Peterson wrote:
To me, given the huge investments needed to add a new language pair or specialism, plus all the time you will hopefully be dedicating to the subject area once you're competent, you have to LOVE the language or subject area in question. It has to be a subject area that you're passionate about, or a language whose nature and culture move you enough to want to immerse yourself in it. Otherwise it becomes a bit soul-destroying.


I personally subscribe to the view that new languages cannot be learnt as an adult. To learn languages you need exposure to them in your younger days. If you have that exposure, then it is remotely possible to pick up from where you left at a later stage in life and improve your frozen skills in that language. But learning a new language from scratch when you have crossed twenty or twenty-five is impossible.

Anyone can verify this by looking at families that have migrated to a new language area. Look at the proficiency levels achieved by different members of the family after say five years. You will clearly see that children have picked up the language to native levels of proficiency, young adults under twenty five have managed some proficiency but still can easily be identified as having not reached native level proficiency, especially in speech, and most of the past twenty-five members have acquired little or no proficiency in the language.

The situation would be more or less the same even after ten years.

The passion element is also crucial. You can't just see which language pair is generating maximum translation work and then decide to learn those languages. You need to feel for the language and to levels approaching insanity to internalize the language. It is not like acquiring an engineering or medical or legal degree at all. Some biology and psychology also goes into it, and these cannot be faked nor can they be overcome by the exercise of hard work.


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