How to specialize without spending a fortune?
Thread poster: ad_alta89

ad_alta89  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:30
French to English
+ ...
Nov 18, 2011

I understand that specializing is important, but I'm at a loss as to how to do it without acquiring yet another piece of paper. I keep seeing very vague advice about reading as much as you can in your potential field of specialization, identifying your own interests and things you already know a lot about, and networking, and while I'm sure that all of these things will help me develop a specialized vocabulary, they are not going to help me convince potential clients that I have the necessary expertise to do specialized work.

I've considered the possibility of simply getting a second degree (I'm about to graduate with a BA) in a possible area of specialization. In retrospect, I very much wish I had done this to begin with, instead of making the mistake of getting a language degree which doesn't seem very useful now. However, the prospect of going back to school for another few years and paying out even more money before I've even begun to start a career is looking bleak.

Has anyone else struggled with specializing and managed to find alternatives to going back to school? Any advice or commentary would be greatly appreciated.


Annett Hieber  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:30
English to German
My personal approach Nov 18, 2011

I have been thinking about taking on another specialization for some time now, although I already have been working as a translator for 16 years. Due to "external" circumstances I translate mostly technical texts and I like it. However, I would very much like to translate topics which really interest me and have now longer considered the various options. In the meantime, I have taken a decision with regard to the topic/area, but how to go about it? I don't have the time and the means to go back to school/university to do some stylish course (which are almost unaffordable in my opinion).

So, I will start compiling specialized vocabulary, reading corresponding magazines and visiting related events (exhibitions in this case) and try that way to acquire specialized knowledge - step by step. Only when I feel safe to have acquired the necessary knowledge, I will start offering my services in this area.

I am grateful for further suggestions!



Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:30
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Look into distance learning Nov 18, 2011

These days there are lots of courses on line, and you should be able to find something you can work on at your own pace, while you are earning at least part time.

Tell your clients you are studying XXX with whatever university or seat of learning you have chosen, and it will show you are serious and have access to expert advice and reference material.

The reading up and compiling vocabulary, as Annett describes, will be indispensible whatever you do, but a course does give valuable systematic guidance and moral support. You also get that 'piece of paper' at the end.

Best of luck!


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:30
Flemish to English
+ ...
Study in Europe Nov 18, 2011

In the U.S., education is a commodity which costs big money.
In most European countries with the exception of the UK, it is not.
At the University of Geneva, two semesters cost about 2000 euros.
Some courses are in English, most are in French.
At the French-speaking university of Brussels (ULB, UCL) a B.A. would cost an American 3000 euros per annum. If you are an E.U.-national, it is 750 euros. Also for medecine, business-courses.


Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:30
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Why would you? Nov 18, 2011

Seriously, most of the specialized fields (medicine, engineering, law, etc) pay their practitioners more than translation pays, i.e., a doctor makes quite a bit more than a translator, so do engineers, lawyers, architects, etc., so why would you study a degree and then use that to make less money? Plus the amount of time it will take you to get the degree means you won't see an advantage in your translations for a long time, plus a degree only gives you the terminology for one language you will still somehow have to learn the terminology in the other language, plus let's face it a university degree requires a lot of study, time which you won't spend getting experience translating and making money.

In my opinion you would be much better off dedicating that time to the things you already mentioned

reading as much as you can in your potential field of specialization, identifying your own interests and things you already know a lot about, and networking, and while I'm sure that all of these things will help me develop a specialized vocabulary

they are not going to help me convince potential clients that I have the necessary expertise to do specialized work.

Your clients aren't going to expect you to be an engineer to translate engineering texts they will expect you to prove your knowledge of the field, which are two different things.


The Misha
Local time: 21:30
Russian to English
+ ...
Seeing that you are in the US, Nov 18, 2011

yet another degree in this occupation will matter precious little. From my experience - and I've been at it awhile - no one gives a hoot. What does matter is that you demonstrate, convincingly and consistently, that you are up to the job.

Specialization becomes almost automatic if it is something you truly like. Personally, I do have a second degree (finance), but my timing (post-NASDAQ bubble) was all wrong, and I never made it to anywhere near Wall Street (which, in retrospect, might have been a blessing). Instead, I came back to my original trade and - surprise, surprise! - developed me a specialization. Since for the most part you can't do finance these days without dabbling into law, I gradually went into that as well. Then one fine morning I woke up and knew I wanted to oil paint. And I did. Guess what, art texts followed. See where I am going with this?

As commonplace as this may sound, at the end of the day it all does come to having a keen interest and reading, reading, reading ...

Good luck to you.

[Edited at 2011-11-18 14:05 GMT]


ad_alta89  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:30
French to English
+ ...
thanks everyone Nov 18, 2011


That is a good idea, and I have been looking into some European programs. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot available distance ed, and moving to Europe is just not an option for me right now. You're very right thought that education is a commodity here in the US and that is a huge part of the problem.


You're right that it wouldn't make any sense to get a law degree or a degree in the medical field and then work as a translator. I'm thinking more along the lines of "smaller" credentials, not anywhere close to what it would require to be a full blown expert or practitioner in those extremely complex fields. Plus, I simply don't want the stress associated with being a doctor or a lawyer. I understand that translation is very stressful as well, but I feel better equipped to handle "behind the scenes" stress, so to speak.

As far as proving my expertise to clients, that is exactly what I don't know how to do without getting additional credentials. And it may not be possible to do it without more credentials. I'm just wondering if anyone knows of a cheaper way.icon_razz.gif


It looks like I will probably end up doing distance ed courses. I hadn't thought of simply telling clients I'm taking classes or receiving training, that's a good suggestion.


Claudia Brauer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:30
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Experience cannot be improvised Nov 18, 2011

Almost any serious company will require "experience" before hiring you. That is why "internships" and "apprenticeships" exist at all, for example. In accordance with Wikipedia, internship "is a system of on-the-job training for white-collar jobs... provide opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, create a network of contacts... provide employers with cheap or free labor for (typically) low-level tasks. Some interns find permanent, paid employment with the companies in which they interned. Their value to the company may be increased by the fact that they need little to no training." Likewise, apprenticeship "is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices (or in early modern usage "prentices") or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade, in exchange for their continuing labour for an agreed period after they become skilled. "

My point is that you cannot skip that step between acquiring the theory and having the required experience to be hired or contracted. Every profession has that in-between stage where you have the knowledge in your head but cannot prove that you know what you say you know. So, internships, apprenticeships, volunteer work, community work are some of the only ways you will be able to gain that practical-world knowledge and experience.

I recommend my students to get a job -any job- in the trade or profession they want to specialize in. This means, if you want to become a healthcare interpreter or translator, for example, get a job as a clerk or a secretary in a hospital, at least for some time. If you want to work as a legal interpreter, get a job in an attorney's office, even if in the mail room. What you really want is to "get your foot in the door" in that environment where you want to practice or from which you want to learn. Not only will it allow you to understand the underpinnings of that specific "world", but it will allow you access to individuals who are "already there". Remember that networking is one of the most important tools to getting a job or a contract.

On the other hand, my very personal opinion, it is with experience - and with experience only - that you acquire the knowledge that you require to be a professional. I have often worked with translators and interpreters who have PhD in languages and specialize in a specific field and all the works, and really are not good at either interpreting or translating, because the technical knowledge of a field does not give you, for example, empathy or the ability to improvise and be creative as an interpreter. On the other hand, I have also worked with individuals who have practiced for decades without any formal training and are some of the best in the industry because they love what they are doing. So, becoming a professional is a combination of both, learning AND experience. And you only gain experience by DOING. And you only do doing by .... doing.

Good luck.


Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:30
Swedish to English
+ ...
Language specialisation Nov 18, 2011

ad_alta89 wrote:
I understand that specializing is important, but I'm at a loss as to how to do it without acquiring yet another piece of paper.

I agree with most of the suggestions made, but I would add one very unfashionable specialisation – specialise in one language.

You offer French and Spanish. You are probably better at one of them, and more importantly you are probably better at writing in one of them. And it is writing skill that is such an important attribute for a translator.

By specialising in one language, you free up time to increase your knowledge of that language, to compile detailed glossaries, to visit the country of your source language, and to specialise in small areas. Specialise, for example, in things like pensions, trademarks, patents, invitations to tender and suchlike.

I am well aware that most translators offer more than a single language, but it has always struck me as perverse to offer anything but your strongest language.

In short, better to be a master of one language than a jack of several.


XXXphxxx (X)  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:30
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Nothing wrong with offering more than one language Nov 18, 2011

Peter Linton wrote:

In short, better to be a master of one language than a jack of several.

Sorry Peter but I'm not sure I'd agree. I cannot say which is my strongest source language any more and I am glad that I have not dropped my French, Spanish or Portuguese. I use all three of them regularly. In fact my degree and M.A. were both in Russian. However, because there wasn't much call for translation in that language when I first started out, my Russian fell by the wayside and it is something I deeply regret. So, on the contrary, I would say stick with both your source languages.


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