Which level of knowledge of a subject do you need to have to call it a specialism
Thread poster: Sonja Allen

Sonja Allen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:27
Member (2005)
English to German
+ ...
Feb 18, 2008


I have studied Business administration, worked in Business for many years before turning to translation. Although my studies have given me some background, in the translation jobs I get I surely draw more on the knowledge I gained working in Business and the one I get from reading the press or specialised magazines.
On the other hand, I also do legal translations (contracts, claim forms etc) but I do not have any formal qualification for it. There was some commercial law included in my business studies but most I learned from reading, self study and, of course, through investigating one or the other thing while doing a translation job. Therefore, I am a bit unsure where I stand and I find it hard to gauge if my knowledge is already enough to call legal translations my specialism. I feel that I got on all right in the translations I have done in that field so far, but maybe I was unaware of one or the other thing due to lack of knowledge. Especially in legal texts, a word can often look quite "normal" und unsuspiciously but in a legal context can mean something completely different than in a general text.

I am therefore generally interested in how you gained your specialisms, andif, for example, you only consider formal training or having worked in the field as a basis, if you think that knowledge at, lets say, A-Level is already a good basis or if you believe that only a university degree in that field would be the minimum.

I am looking forward to your input.


Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:27
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Depends.. Feb 18, 2008

Nobody can know everything - not even translators.
And I very much doubt that all the people who list numerous specialties here on proz have university degrees in all of them.
You would certainly need a good working knowledge of the special vocabulary of the subject you are dealing with (in both source and target language), and have an understanding of the subject itself before you can do a translation of it.
I will not hazard too much of an opinion about legalese - a subject I know next to nothing about.
But if you are interested in it, read about it in all your languages (specialist books and journals, not John Grisham...) and own a good legal dictionary (surely there must be such a thing?), I am sure you can do a good job, even without being a qualified lawyer.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:27
English to French
+ ...
Confidence in your knowledge Feb 18, 2008

I believe this depends mainly on how confident you feel translating specialized documents. It is always best to have hands-on experience (in my case, I translate technical documents and I have seen the parts of the machines whose manuals I translate up close for several years and know what they each do and what they are called). But there are also other ways to get that kind of knowledge.

In my opinion, you can start calling it a specialization when you are confident that most documents that deal with the subject will sound familiar to you and that you will not be at a loss when you read them. If you can read a specialized magazine with interest, that is a good sign - if you didn't understand the subject and know the terminology, not only would you be bored reading that magazine, you wouldn't touch it with a 39.5-foot pole. You also need to be confident at the same time in your language skills as they pertain to the specialization. If you don't know how to say a specific but common term in the target language, even lots of experience and knowledge in the field will get you nowhere.

I have never done legal translation, but from what I understand, there are very specific ways to say things and the financial risk associated with translated legal material is extremely high. If you have not studied law more than briefly, you may want to find a way to brush up on your knowledge before specializing. Not necessarily going back to school - but you could probably use some development. For pretty much all other fields, of course studies are the best, but you can pull it off without them as long as you are interested and have experience, whether at work or at play.


Deborah do Carmo  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:27
Dutch to English
+ ...
Suggestion Feb 18, 2008

No two people are the same and formal qualifications (or the lack of them) are no guarantee.

You have to master the subject-matter somehow though.

I know somebody who reckons that since she had done legal translations for two years, she was well within her rights to start calling herself a legal translator.
However, the sad fact is that the minute she goes beyond a simple employment contract or lease, she is completely out of her depth. I've reviewed her work, it is adequate with regard to employment contracts/leases etc, but I've frankly seen far better - she's hardly a specialist.

On the other hand, I know a translator who doesn't consider himself a "legal translator" and is doing himself an injustice as the legal translations I have revised for him are absolutely excellent.

Why not approach a legal translator in your language pair, who is a known specialist, and ask him/her to review a couple of your legal translations for a nominal fee. There are a couple of really good legal translators in your language pair and who knows, they may be looking for someone to outsource surplus work to now and again. That will give you a better idea of your current standard.

There are also some excellent courses for legal translators, or translators aiming to beome legal translators. Try the website for City University (in London) for starters. They offer your language pair.

Best of luck

[Edited at 2008-02-18 15:28]


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:27
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
The more mistakes you have made Feb 18, 2008

in the past the better you are. )-:
Even in a special field of knowledge from the time before you start out as a translator you will make mistakes at the beginning. Because as a translator you look at things from a different perspective than when acting in the field itself.



Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:27
English to Spanish
+ ...
No Rule Feb 18, 2008

Certainly there would be no absolute rule there; to call something your specialty would imply education, experience or a combination of the two in the field.

In my own case I consider myself a specialist in legal documents, yet I have never studied law, nor for that matter do I have any academic study at all in the field of translation or interpreting, yet I do both. It is all from experience and self-study.

It just depends on how well you can do it, by your own estimation and that of your clients. If you feel comfortable calling youself a specialist in certain areas, then do so.


Giulia TAPPI  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:27
French to Italian
+ ...
Education and experience Feb 18, 2008

If I just take my own case, I consider I am specialized in legal translations, because I have a University Degree (4 years study) in Italian Law. And I really think it makes a difference.
But on the other hand, I have fellow translators who have been working as barristers for some years, and I consider them more specialized than I am.
As far as technical translations are concerned, I have been working for the French Railways Company for 20 years now, so again I think I am specialized in this field, but that is just because of my experience, and I do not think I master engineering; I just know precisely which terms to use.
So there is no rule; but of course I do not consider very serious people who pretend to be specialized in too many fields, nor too many language pairs!


Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:27
Italian to English
It's not what you know... Feb 18, 2008

... it's the product that counts.

Hi Sonia,

The best advice so far in this thread so far has come from from Debs.

Get some professional help.

If you're not sure how good you are, let a native-speaking professional (preferably not a translator, though) in your particular field(s) take a look at your work. If it is up to snuff, fine: if not, do whatever you need to do to be able to produce work worthy of a native-speaking specialist.

Then make sure you get paid top dollar for your effortsicon_wink.gif




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