Advice on legal/scientific translation as a career
Thread poster: nickice
nickice
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:05
Jan 27, 2010

Hi guys,

It would be great if someone could take the time to help me with my questions. I have a little translation experience translating Spanish web pages into English for my old Spanish teacher, but,other than that I am a complete newbie.

1) Can I do a DipTrans without any formal qualifications in the language I want to translate from? I already speak Spanish better than BA level (I lived in Spain for two years) and am not far off that with French (my fiance is French and we are planning on moving to France this year). I did read that "extensive knowledge of the language would suffice".

2) I'd like to specialise in legal English (Spanish/French-English). I hold an undergraduate degree in law and am currently completing an LLM in Human Rights Law so I have a wealth of legal knowledge in areas of UK domestic law/EC law and Public International Law. Is this a realistic option, or would it merely be something I might get work in occassionally?

3) I also hold a BSc in Molecular Biology. Are scientific (Biology/Chemistry) translations in demand?

4) I have been a qualified ESL teacher (language schools and universities) for the past 3.5 years. Could this aid me in any way in my search for work?

I know it may seem strange that I am considering this as a career given the time I have committed to law. The thing is, I am 29, do not want to be a lawyer, am really not at a level (although I get good marks) to enter academia and have become a little tired of my job as an ESL teacher (which was only really ever an excuse for travelling and now just pays the bills while I finish my LLM). I love languages and would like to be my own boss. I also found the previous translation work I did quite interesting.

I know it'll take time to build a career but I just wanted to know if I am being realistic in doing this? Please tell me if you think I am not be! I feel I have already wasted enough time and don't want to start something that doesn't work out.


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Paul Skidmore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 00:05
German to English
legal translation Jan 27, 2010

Hi Nick,

I can't speak for scientific translations. However, there is certainly in my language pair (German - English) demand for legal translation done by translators who are legally qualified and/or have studied law at university. This is the way I came into translation.

I cannot comment on your skills in Spanish or French - but to be able to deliver good legal translations not only do you need to know the correct English terminology and have a good feel for legal writing in English (which you probably do) but you also need to understand how legal writing/court judgments/contracts etc are constructed in your source language. In my experience, this takes time. Living in Spain for 2 years does not necessarily mean that you are familiar with court judgments of the Tribunal Supremo or Tribunal Constitucional.

I would encourage you to develop an understanding of Spanish legal language and concepts. This would be the ideal complement to your British qualifications and set you up nicely for legal translation Spanish - English.

HTH

Paul


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nickice
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:05
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jan 27, 2010

Hi Paul,

Thanks very much for the help. You're right: I would need to improve my knowledge of the Spanish and French legal system. I am not a complete novice as I have had to research European domestic legal systems as part of my LLM in Human Rights Law. I don't have any experience of contract law outside the UK though.

Do you think a translation qualification would be necessary for this specialisation? I'd be quite keen to do it anyway but, like all things in life, it costs money!


Cheers,

Nicky


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Alan Frankel  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:05
German to English
Reaction to "being your own boss" Jan 27, 2010

Just a little reaction to your note that you would like to be your own boss:

When you provide a service, your clients effectively become your pseudo-bosses. They cannot dictate quite as many of the parameters affecting your work as a full-time boss can, but they are free to tell you beforehand "You need to finish this by tomorrow or we won't work with you." They are also free to delay your payment, constrained only by relatively indirect actions on your side (nagging, appeals to their moral/ethical/professional sensibilities, threatening to post negative feedback about them on a board, threatening to bring legal action against them).

So working for yourself does not mean that you get from under people's thumbs. It simply means that you trade being under the direct command of one person for continuous negotiation with multiple people, each of whom has some ability to tell you what to do and some ability to ignore what you ask them to do. This may seem obvious to you, but it's worth considering explicitly.

It's also fairly safe to say that translating will not make you rich. From what I've seen, even the people who are most financially successful at it watch their expenses carefully, live in inexpensive countries, and/or have spouses who make more money than I do. In particular, from what I understand, Spanish-to-English translation is not particularly lucrative.

Have you considered working within government? I would think there would be lots of demand for people who know law as well as you do but don't want to be lawyers. In government, you could also be effective in improving the situation of people, which could be important to you seeing that you have studied human rights.

I think translation can make a good second or interim career. But as an initial, primary career, I think your youthful energy is better channeled into something else. I say this as someone who also loves language but wants to make sure you have no illusions about the field of translation.





[Edited at 2010-01-27 21:36 GMT]


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nickice
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:05
TOPIC STARTER
Cheers Alan Jan 27, 2010

Alan Frankel wrote:

Just a little reaction to your note that you would like to be your own boss:

When you provide a service, your clients effectively become your pseudo-bosses. They cannot dictate quite as many of the parameters affecting your work as a full-time boss can, but they are free to tell you beforehand "You need to finish this by tomorrow or we won't work with you." They are also free to delay your payment, constrained only by relatively indirect actions on your side (nagging, appeals to their moral/ethical/professional sensibilities, threatening to post negative feedback about them on a board, threatening to bring legal action against them).

So working for yourself does not mean that you get from under people's thumbs. It simply means that you trade being under the direct command of one person for continuous negotiation with multiple people, each of whom has some ability to tell you what to do and some ability to ignore what you ask them to do. This may seem obvious to you, but it's worth considering explicitly.

It's also fairly safe to say that translating will not make you rich. From what I've seen, even the people who are most financially successful at it watch their expenses carefully, live in inexpensive countries, and/or have spouses who make more money than I do. In particular, from what I understand, Spanish-to-English translation is not particularly lucrative.

Have you considered working within government? I would think there would be lots of demand for people who know law as well as you do but don't want to be lawyers. In government, you could also be effective in improving the situation of people, which could be important to you seeing that you have studied human rights.

I think translation can make a good second or interim career. But as an initial, primary career, I think your youthful energy is better channeled into something else. I say this as someone who also loves language but wants to make sure you have no illusions about the field of translation.





[Edited at 2010-01-27 21:36 GMT]

Hi Alan,

Thanks very much for your reply and your honesty. I know you're trying to make sure I go in with my eyes open but I am not naive: I have worked as a freelance English teacher in Spain and here in Scotland and I know the pitfalls of being self-employed. I know that there is always a boss and certainly don't think I can turn down requests and expect the work to keep coming. In saying that, not having a direct boss breathing down my neck is a real plus to me. Part of the reason I chose ESL is that I have usually given a free hand and have any boss at arm's length. I am not claiming to know everything about what being a translator will entail, but I am used to anti-social hours, demanding clients and irregular work. It goes with the territory in ESL teaching and I imagine it goes with the territory in translating also.

The main point of my query was whether there was a demand for legal English. I know that Spanish isn't a lucrative market but I was hoping to do French as well. I have also been studying German, but I know any translation work doing that is way off. My basic idea was to continue teaching English and hope to gradually move into translation, maybe starting a small language-teaching business also.

Thanks for your other employment tips. I really have considered and looked into everything already. Times are tough; I recently sat an exam an treaty bodyand I was one of 143 candidates competing for one position. I still keep a lookout but I am beginning to look at other options like translation.

Thanks again for all your advice.


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Sarah Puchner  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:05
French to English
"Legal" is an excellent specialty Jan 28, 2010

Hi, I live in the USA so a different context but I am also getting started as French to English translator. So far, I have heard several times "oh, we don't get much call for French into English, but what we DO get is either legal or business..."

So, ignoring the bad news in the first part of that sentence, stick to "legal" and I think you'll be fine, esp. with your background.

Can't comment on science but I have read that as much as 90% of the world's translation output is technical, so there again, good choice!

Good luck!


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Richard Delaney FCIL CL
Germany
Local time: 00:05
German to English
Legal Translation Jan 29, 2010

1)
Yes- the DipTrans is an 'open' exam, so anyone can take it. It is usually recommended to do some preparatory work for it, and various universities offer preparatory courses, but that is not a requirement. It costs about £500 to sit the exam & details can be found on the CIOL website: http://www.iol.org.uk/qualifications/exams_diptrans.asp

2)
Yes, legal translation is a realistic area of work, particularly if you have the legal background to go with it. However, having the legal knowledge and language skills alone, do not necessarily make for a good translator, so some sort of translation qualification may be useful. There is an interesting discussion on a very similar topic here:
http://www.proz.com/forum/translators_associations/155989-usefulness_of_membership_in_german_and_british_translator_associations.html#1311646

That said, I have rarely had customers ask about my translation qualifications- usually the legal qualification and experience was all they were concerned about. Nevertheless, translation is a competetive field, and, particularly when starting out, it is useful to have another job too, so that you are not wholly reliant on translation income (I used to work as a lawyer and translator, now I work as a lecturer and translator).

3)
No idea, sorry.

4)
I doubt that it would directly help; however, it may be useful insofar as it might pay the bills while you are trying to acquire customers.

Good luck,

Richard


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Tracy Greenwood  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 07:05
Japanese to English
Go for it! (as an interim career/supplemental income) Jan 29, 2010

Since you're not going to do Japanese > English legal translation, I say go for it! : )

The first thing I think when somebody says they do legal translation is, "What do you specialize in?" Lawyers are like doctors (there is a doctor for every part of the body). Since you have studied law, I do not have to tell you there are many different areas to specialize in.

I do Japanese > English patent translation. But I work full-time at a patent law firm, which pays the bills and gives me instant credibility with clients. Translation is a night/weekend job for me.

But here's why it's important to specialize. There are things about patents, for example, that are very particular. You have to understand antecedent basis. Clients will ask you to have an independent claim for both the method and apparatus claim. Can you claim an orifice? How? Does the specification enable the claims? Then you have Markush claims and Jepson claims, and what the patent examiner prefers in which country. No problem, right?

I do not say this to discourage you. I just want to say that it is very important to specialize. Be VERY good at one thing, and then be able to do a variety of other things.

Sometimes, your specialty will be decided by market demand. Pay attention to the types of translations that are in demand. Environmental law? Patents? Adoption papers? Obviously, it really helps if it's something you enjoy because you will spend a lot of time doing it.

Hope this helps! Oh, and if I forgot to say, specialize in one area.

THG


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Tracy Greenwood  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 07:05
Japanese to English
Multiple streams of income - highly recommended Jan 29, 2010

I recommend having different streams of income.

I once had a 'good' job until the economy slowed down. I got laid off. While looking for another 'good' job, I picked up several part-time projects. Before I knew it, I was making more money, but working fewer hours.

I would teach ESL while building my translator resume if I were you. I taught ESL for 5 years, and it gets old. But it pays the bills.

Here's what I do:
Patent law firm
Freelance translation
Adjunct professor of business law
ESL
Private legal services (wills, speeding tickets, litigation)

Here's what I've found. Each project drives work to my other projects. An ESL student gets a speeding ticket or gets caught driving drunk. Suddenly, I have $1500 on my desk.

But it fits my lifestyle. The biggest risk in my opinion is to have one stream of income. But that's just me. Others thrive in a 9-5 Mon-Fri job. The pay was good, but it sometimes drove me crazy.

THG


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nickice
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:05
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks again Jan 29, 2010

Hi Guys,

Thanks to everyone for your tips. This would obviously be a long-term project for me so it's good to know that there is a possibility that I can work in the area I want to and it would be VERY nice to get out of ESL eventually, or at least not do it full-time!

Tracy, I would love to work in law but the recession means I can't get a training contract in Scotland and as I am moving to France I am not qualified in that jurisdiction. Similarly with teaching law, things have become quite formalised here and you generally need a Phd to teach. However, I do have an opportunity to teach law (perhaps) at a private business school in France. I agree with you that it's good to have few different projects.

One more thing; Does anyone know of much demand for translation in Public International Law? That's what I am good at and would prefer to specialise in.

Cheers,

Nicky


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:05
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My feedback Jan 29, 2010

Hi there! I will try to be brief here.

nickice wrote:
1) Can I do a DipTrans without any formal qualifications in the language I want to translate from?

Yes, you can. However, I strongly recommend to do a preparatory course and practice, practice, practice... It is not an easy exam and you should prepare for it if you want to be in the 20% who pass.

nickice wrote:
2) I'd like to specialise in legal English (Spanish/French-English). I hold an undergraduate degree in law and am currently completing an LLM in Human Rights Law so I have a wealth of legal knowledge in areas of UK domestic law/EC law and Public International Law. Is this a realistic option, or would it merely be something I might get work in occassionally?

Makes total sense to me! However, please take into account that the legal system in Britain and in other English-speaking countries differs very much from the (Roman) legal system in Spanish-speaking countries. An introductory course is a must here.

nickice wrote:
3) I also hold a BSc in Molecular Biology. Are scientific (Biology/Chemistry) translations in demand?

Yes, indeed! There is a big demand in scientific translation, most especially in medical and environmental stuff, which should be fairly easy to grasp for you.

nickice wrote:
4) I have been a qualified ESL teacher (language schools and universities) for the past 3.5 years. Could this aid me in any way in my search for work?

I should think so. However, remember that translation is rather different from teaching languages. Many translators would be awful teachers, and many teachers would be awful translators. The mindset and attitude are different. Again, if you can afford it I would take courses in translation in general and in legal and scientific translation that can help you grasp what is required in our profession and whether you have what it takes!

So as a summary, yes and go ahead, but prepare, get training as the best way to start in translation! You will get rid of misconceptions and will learn a lot. And good luck! It will be nice to hear about your progress.

[Edited at 2010-01-29 19:48 GMT]


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