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How to specialize in a certain area
Thread poster: Iulia Cosma

Iulia Cosma  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 18:47
English to Romanian
+ ...
Aug 29, 2008

Hello. I am beginning to wonder how come there are so many specialists in IT, technical field, medicine, legal translations etc. ?
I really admire these people, but how did they do it? I wouldn't dare to accept translating a contract, let's say, because I'm not familiar with the terminology. Is there a possibility of learning (besides reading specialty books) such terms?
How did you manage to specialize in certain fields?
I'm talking to those that are translators only, and not engineers or doctors.
Thanks for your answers.

Iulia


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 16:47
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Nothing like work experience Aug 29, 2008

To become the best in a specialty, there is seldom anything to match actual work experience. For law, I doubt you'll find a better translator than one who is a trained lawyer or someone who has dealt with the details of particular legal documents over a period of many years. There are many "IT specialists", but it's one thing to translate a glossy brochure on some high-priced enterprise resource planning system and quite another to translate something like instructions for an application programming interface. I would never bet my reputation by using someone who wasn't a programmer or systems consultant for the latter. Having someone who is "just a translator" (I presume you mean having studied translation and nothing else) do standard operating procedures for industrial chemical processes is an invitation to trouble. A few semesters of auditing courses in some "specialty area" will give only the bare bones of what one would need to handle advanced texts in that specialty - those bones must be fleshed out with years of experience, reading professional literature and interaction with practicing professionals. No shortcuts worth taking as far as I know... that's probably another reason why many of the really good translators tend to be a bit older. If you're good at 25, just wait to see what you'll do in 10 or 20 years

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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
Italian to English
+ ...
10 years in chemical industry Aug 29, 2008

... plus getting on for another 10 years working side-by-side with Italian medical professionals on their scientific articles for publication, correspondence, minutes of their scientific societies and ethics committees... That's how, for me at least.


I'm talking to those that are translators only, and not engineers or doctors.


Not sure what you mean by this... I am a translator only, now. If you mean people who qualified as translators, I can only agree with Kevin - there's nothing like hands-on experience. I think most of the specialists you'll see around here started off in another industry altogether and came to translation at a later date.


[Edited at 2008-08-29 13:02]


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 16:47
Finnish to English
Depends on the language pair Aug 29, 2008

If you are translating into Romanian specialisation may be irrelevant. Just how much work would you get in one or two specialised fields in that pairing? Those offering 'rarer' combinations generally wind up becoming generalists by default.

best

spencer


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Sara Senft  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:47
Spanish to English
+ ...
I agree Aug 29, 2008

I agree. One of my specialty areas is Education. Orignally, I studied to become a Spanish teacher. Instead, I'm also a tutor to ESL kids....many of them are native Spanish speakers.

Kevin Lossner wrote:


To become the best in a specialty, there is seldom anything to match actual work experience. For law, I doubt you'll find a better translator than one who is a trained lawyer or someone who has dealt with the details of particular legal documents over a period of many years. There are many "IT specialists", but it's one thing to translate a glossy brochure on some high-priced enterprise resource planning system and quite another to translate something like instructions for an application programming interface. I would never bet my reputation by using someone who wasn't a programmer or systems consultant for the latter. Having someone who is "just a translator" (I presume you mean having studied translation and nothing else) do standard operating procedures for industrial chemical processes is an invitation to trouble. A few semesters of auditing courses in some "specialty area" will give only the bare bones of what one would need to handle advanced texts in that specialty - those bones must be fleshed out with years of experience, reading professional literature and interaction with practicing professionals. No shortcuts worth taking as far as I know... that's probably another reason why many of the really good translators tend to be a bit older. If you're good at 25, just wait to see what you'll do in 10 or 20 years


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 16:47
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Second career Aug 29, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:
I think most of the specialists you'll see around here started off in another industry altogether and came to translation at a later date.


I think this will apply here or anywhere else, at least for the really good ones with damned few exceptions. My daughter (who had game localization credits at age 11 or 12) expressed an interest in translation as a career on a number of occasions. That's understandable given that both her parents and step-parents are translators as well as various cousins, aunts and other relatives. But all of these people are good at what they do not only because they are decent linguists, but because they did a lot of other things first, which gave them a good understanding of their translation specialties. I told her to get a "real education" in the sciences or liberal arts and do something else for 10 or 20 years and then think about translation after that, and she'll be a lot more effective, earn better and have other alternatives if she gets fed up with translating after a while.


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:47
German to English
+ ...
Translation in the genes? Aug 29, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:

My daughter (who had game localization credits at age 11 or 12) expressed an interest in translation as a career on a number of occasions. That's understandable given that both her parents and step-parents are translators as well as various cousins, aunts and other relatives.


What a fascinating story, Kevin!

Whilst I do not wish to give anyone a 'patent recipe' about what to do, I can but say that I discovered hands-on experience to be invaluable.

This need not only concern what you study (cf Kevin's recommendation to his daughter), but can also be about which areas you have worked in - or would be interested in working in. What interests you in life? Think about either studying or getting work experience in a related field.

Good luck.


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Venkatesh Sundaram  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 21:17
Member
German to English
Its a second careeer for me too! Aug 29, 2008

Kevin Lossner wrote:

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:
I think most of the specialists you'll see around here started off in another industry altogether and came to translation at a later date.


I think this will apply here or anywhere else, at least for the really good ones with damned few exceptions. My daughter (who had game localization credits at age 11 or 12) expressed an interest in translation as a career on a number of occasions. That's understandable given that both her parents and step-parents are translators as well as various cousins, aunts and other relatives. But all of these people are good at what they do not only because they are decent linguists, but because they did a lot of other things first, which gave them a good understanding of their translation specialties. I told her to get a "real education" in the sciences or liberal arts and do something else for 10 or 20 years and then think about translation after that, and she'll be a lot more effective, earn better and have other alternatives if she gets fed up with translating after a while.


I am one of those who worked in another industry / profession for 18 long years - before becoming a free lance translator!
I agree with Herr Lossner - that "To become the best in a specialty, there is seldom anything to match actual work experience. " (not that I claim to be the best - but years of experience in any field do matter.
But I have met other colleagues who are very good learners - and have been able to master the terminology of other fields, by making special efforts to interact with people from those fields, besides reading, of course. One of them - who studied languages but is now an expert a translating automobile - related texts - even took a part time course in engineering to help him understand concepts.
There is however no short cut to success in this field!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
Work Experience Aug 29, 2008

Experience in the fields involved is what gives you specialist know-how. I have always been a generalist first, translating anything that came along in both directions. In the beginning it was a daunting task, involving much research with little resources, especially in the pre-Internet days. It has taken time.

Among the fields in which I have developed specialized competence is legal. I am not a trained lawyer and have not studied law for one single day. Yet I have dealt with many kinds of legal documents from specific countries over a period of many years and have worked on learning the systems behind them. Moreover, I am first and foremost a translator and with the experience acquired I have been able to perfect the art.

It is the same with many other areas in which I work. I have seen them so many times in both languages that translating them is no longer a chore. But I can assure you that years ago it was.


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RNAtranslator  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:47
English to Spanish
+ ...
Understanding the subject vs terminology Aug 29, 2008

I do agree with Kevin and Marie-Hélène. I am not able to explain it better than them.

iuliacosma wrote:

I wouldn't dare to accept translating a contract, let's say, because I'm not familiar with the terminology.


Terminology should not be a problem. There are specialized glossaries out there. No; the actual problem is that you should be able to understand the source text. The best glossary will not help you very much if you lack specialized knowledge on that subject. The same as if you don't understand the source language.


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Andrea Incarbona
France
Local time: 17:47
English to French
+ ...
It depends on what you call specialization Aug 29, 2008

I agree with the previous posts, but I don't think it is the only possible career path to become a good specialized translator even though it's probably the best way.

I studied foreign languages and translation for 5 years at the university, I can't start all over again and enroll in another study program to get a "real education". At the beginning of his/her career, a translator with my profile has probably no other choice than being versatile to secure some contracts but it's possible at the same time to begin to specialize in a certain subject field.
For instance, I am currently specializing in renewable energies, meaning I read (and listen and watch) a lot about this subject in my languages and I am getting more and more used to the vocabulary and concepts it involves. I am also considering completing an online degree to specialize better and faster. I don't pretend I know what an engineer was tought during his/her studies and profesionnal experience, but I am conscious there are several levels of specialization. I would not accept a specialized text if I felt I could not do it, but I think I have enough knowledge of photovoltaics for example to complete some rather technical translations about the subject (and being proofread by an experienced specialized translator). I just know and accept my limits.

I believe the translation market needs people like me because not all specialists want or can become translators (even for a specialist it's not good to say translation does not imply a real education, not any specialist who knows two languages can start a translator career).
Plus, a specialist may be a good specialized translator but some fields are not enough in demand to occupy a fulltime translator career and a specialist may have to turn to other fields to be able to live from translation. And several subject fields are sometimes (often?) intricated in one same text.

In the end, I am absolutely not contradicting the previous posts, just bringing some nuance...and hope for translators like me!


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Isaac A
Hebrew to English
+ ...
I agree... Aug 29, 2008

I agree absolutely. It eventually happens. In Hebrew we say, "With the food, comes the appetite", (probably "stolen" from elsewhere )

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Richard Bartholomew  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:47
Member (2007)
German to English
Work experience vs formal education Aug 30, 2008

I agree that actual work experience in a field is the best path to specialization. Examining some of the qualifications in job descriptions will show you can see how formal education stacks up against work experience. For example:

"Applicants must either have five years of library experience and a Bachelors Degree or two years of library experience and an MLS."

"Minimum Education: Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science, Engineering, Information Systems, or related discipline. In lieu of a Bachelors Degree in a relevant field, 4 years of additional experience in software development may be substituted."

And these are rather generous in favor of formal education.


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Felipe Gútiez  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 17:47
German to Spanish
+ ...
Hands-on in the matters you like Aug 30, 2008

You have to consider your mother language. That is a fact and you cannot do much about it.
Well language A (best proficiency in a language other than your mother tongue, in most cases English for people not having English as mother tongue) can be a choice. In Germany it is quite common that not mother tongue translators translate into other languages. If you specialised very much this could be an option.

Then you have to have fun. If you like IT go for it. If you like ecology, go for it. If you loves literature, go for it.

Then you can consider other aspects:

-Main branches of the countries where your A, B or C languages. Example machinery producers: you have good chances of succeeding if your source languages are English, Chinese or German.
-New technologies. In the biotechnology, nanotechnology, energy, healthcare sectors will be a hugh need of high-quality well-paid translations.

On the other hand, in your case I would also specialise in Internet research and CAT tools.


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Iulia Cosma  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 18:47
English to Romanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Final conclusion Sep 1, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:



I'm talking to those that are translators only, and not engineers or doctors.


Not sure what you mean by this... I am a translator only, now. If you mean people who qualified as translators, I can only agree with Kevin - there's nothing like hands-on experience. I think most of the specialists you'll see around here started off in another industry altogether and came to translation at a later date.


[Edited at 2008-08-29 13:02]



Since I don't have the hands-on experience, the only thing that seems left for me now is to read as much as possible in the field I'm interested in and do what I've already done-only translate with the help of the specialist (a lot of my neighbours and friends are doctors).
Many, many thanks to all of you who took time to reply. It was great to read so many answers!


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