On choosing a field of expertise and specializing - feedback needed
Thread poster: Kye Teshirogi

Kye Teshirogi
United States
Local time: 02:32
Japanese to English
+ ...
Jul 18, 2013

I've read countless times on this forum that having a specialty greatly increases the number of clients/jobs translators get.
Most of the (high-paying) jobs, I've found, are law or IT related.
I'm currently in high school, and I'm applying to a liberal arts university in Japan (I've already exceeded the requirements by a long shot, so unless something near-impossible happens, I'll probably be going there.)
I am familiar with programming and know enough to put together my own website, but unfortunately my knowledge of computer gadgetry (...I don't know) stops there. I don't know what IT entails, and I'm far from specializing in that field (or law, for that matter).

I am primarily interested in biology (especially biotechnology and agriculture). Although this may not be a highly demanded field in the translation world, I'd like to improve upon it, if only for my personal satisfaction and the occasional related job. I have an 800/800 on the SAT Biology, got partway through the AP Biology high school course (I moved) and I've started watching MIT OpenCourseWare biology courses for starters.

I could take biology courses in university, since it is a liberal arts college, but it is famed for its language arts department (not many people take science courses).

Is it possible to specialize in a subject without having a degree in it? I mean, no matter how much I study the subject by myself I won't have anything to prove in paper format.
Is specializing in biology worth the time? Would I be better off learning another subject from scratch?


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:32
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Medical Jul 18, 2013

Given your interest in biology, specializing in medical translation might be the way to go.

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:32
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Environment Jul 18, 2013

Environmental sciences are definitely a go in your case, and it is a field with plenty of work, I would say.

My main advice is: take as many courses as you possibly can in subjects you are personally interested in, since you are bound to produce good translations in those subjects. Do not specialise in something you do not enjoy learning about.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 15:02
English to Hindi
+ ...
IT translation does not mean programming Jul 19, 2013

Chiku wrote:
I am familiar with programming and know enough to put together my own website, but unfortunately my knowledge of computer gadgetry (...I don't know) stops there. I don't know what IT entails, and I'm far from specializing in that field (or law, for that matter).


IT translators do not do coding. Some of the tasks done by IT translators are the following:

- Localization of software interface strings. These are the lines that a software flashes at the user, such as "Do you want to save this file before exiting?"

- Translation of user manuals of software.

- Translation of training materials of software.

- Translation of marketing materials of software such as their website, online shop content, and so on.

What is of importance in IT translation is consistency in the use of terms and accuracy. In interface string translation, space is also an important consideration and the translated string should be more or less the same length as the source string.

CAT tools are a great help in IT translation as there is a lot of repetitions and they also help tremendously in maintaining uniformity and consistency in the translation.

I wouldn't rate IT translation in the category of difficult translation as most of the matter is written in a simple, unambiguous and communicative manner, which is easy to translate.


 

Kye Teshirogi
United States
Local time: 02:32
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you for your feedback. Jul 19, 2013

Michele Fauble wrote:

Given your interest in biology, specializing in medical translation might be the way to go.


Maybe.icon_smile.gif But since I am not going to major (or minor) in medicine, I won't be able to always give an accurate translation. Since this field affects individual's health, I'd rather steer clear of it. (Unless I go into medicine)

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Environmental sciences are definitely a go in your case, and it is a field with plenty of work, I would say.

My main advice is: take as many courses as you possibly can in subjects you are personally interested in, since you are bound to produce good translations in those subjects. Do not specialise in something you do not enjoy learning about.


That seems interesting. Is there a sizeable market for environmental sciences?

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
IT translators do not do coding.


I am aware of that, I merely included programming as an example of the limit of my computer skills. Although according to your explanation, it doesn't make that much of a difference. Thank you for explaining. How would one study for IT translations?


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:32
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I have also heard that wisdom Jul 19, 2013

Chiku wrote:
I've read countless times on this forum that having a specialty greatly increases the number of clients/jobs translators get.


That advice is also mentioned in countless books about translation and translators. However, it depends entire on your language combination, so don't just assume that it is true for all subjects. In my language combination, for example, specialising does not increase the number of client or amount of work, but actually decreases it, and it doesn't really increase income either (the lower number of jobs is offset by the higher rate you can charge, but not by much).

I'm in favour of gradually easing into a specialism during the first few years of your translation career, as opposed to deciding from the start what you want to specialise in. That is because it will take you a long time to realise what specialisms out there actually pay money, and you need to be a good general translator too.

However, I may have limited sights because of my non-mainstream situation.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:32
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Follow your heart Jul 19, 2013

Whatever you're interested in, is what you will translate best. Believe me, your interest shines through. You'll read that bit further when researching terms. When I'm not interested, I'll just keep searching until I find something that "will do". When I'm fascinated, I'll keep clicking on links to make sure that the term is widely used. And you remember the termino better for easily slipping into the mindset of the authors, and you remember the useful websites.

You don't have to have a degree in your specialism. If you have followed courses here and there it's good to mention. If you have hobbies, they are also worth a mention. I learned dressmaking with my mother and like to make my own clothes now and again: fashion and textiles is now my biggest source of income.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 18:32
Japanese to English
+ ...
Samuel is right, I think Jul 19, 2013

It greatly depends on your language pair - mainly how saturated it is with translators already. Not to mention, the list of good specialties itself sometimes differs by quite a bit depending on the languages.

If you are going to translate J -> E, there should be plenty of work for years to come having to do with the Fukushima accident and its effects. Last year I worked on a huge project for MEXT that involved government research results on radioactive fallout (mostly cesium) and its impact on farmland soil, how it is being transported by river systems, how far it is penetrating into the ground, etc. Since you mentioned an interest in agriculture and biology, it sure sounds like that would be right up your alley.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 11:32
English to Polish
+ ...
Intersections Jul 19, 2013

Unlike degrees, translation jobs often don't have a clear-cut speciality area but rather combine two or more. Law and medicine, law and environmental issues, law and IT, IT and medicine and so on.

On the basis of your writing, I'd expect you to be able to in the niche of into-English translation with native comprehension of the source, which is still of value to some clients, and which is where most of my own income comes from (Polish is probably not as difficult as Japanese, but I doubt it's far behind).

As far as narrow specialisation goes, if you're really good at it, then you can basically claim and take all the work that you're physically capable of processing, especially if you can market your skills well. This said, if I had that type of talent at biology, I'd probably stick with biology and just publish in English or something like that. Translation may bring some good income if you combine excellent command of languages and fields of knowledge, but it isn't worth giving up your dreams for.

[Edited at 2013-07-19 19:45 GMT]


 

Kye Teshirogi
United States
Local time: 02:32
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks again Jul 20, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:

However, it depends entire on your language combination, so don't just assume that it is true for all subjects.
I'm in favour of gradually easing into a specialism during the first few years of your translation career, as opposed to deciding from the start what you want to specialise in. That is because it will take you a long time to realise what specialisms out there actually pay money, and you need to be a good general translator too.


I believe Japanese-English (and vice versa) is a popular pair (but then again, I live in Japan). Although there aren't that many good Japanese>English translators as English>Japanese (as most of them have learned Japanese as their mother tongue) I still think choosing a field would help. I mean, I could still do regular jobs.

Thank you for your advice. I think I will continue general translating as I learn the ropes of this job, while studying biology related subjects.

Texte Style wrote:

Whatever you're interested in, is what you will translate best.

You don't have to have a degree in your specialism. If you have followed courses here and there it's good to mention. If you have hobbies, they are also worth a mention. I learned dressmaking with my mother and like to make my own clothes now and again: fashion and textiles is now my biggest source of income.


Thanks. I guess the same rule applies to general learning, too.
Seems anything is worth a mention.


 

Kye Teshirogi
United States
Local time: 02:32
Japanese to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
replies continued Jul 20, 2013

Orrin Cummins wrote:
If you are going to translate J -> E, there should be plenty of work for years to come having to do with the Fukushima accident and its effects. Last year I worked on a huge project for MEXT that involved government research results on radioactive fallout (mostly cesium) and its impact on farmland soil, how it is being transported by river systems, how far it is penetrating into the ground, etc. Since you mentioned an interest in agriculture and biology, it sure sounds like that would be right up your alley.


That sounds extremely interesting! I would like to know more about it, if you wouldn't mind. Also, how did you come across the job?

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Unlike degrees, translation jobs often don't have a clear-cut speciality area but rather combine two or more. Law and medicine, law and environmental issues, law and IT, IT and medicine and so on.


Ah, seems fair.


On the basis of your writing, I'd expect you to be able to in the niche of into-English translation with native comprehension of the source, which is still of value to some clients, and which is where most of my own income comes from (Polish is probably not as difficult as Japanese, but I doubt it's far behind).


It didn't occur to me to do anything else, really. I can't write elaborate sentences in Japanese as well as I do in English.


As far as narrow specialisation goes, if you're really good at it, then you can basically claim and take all the work that you're physically capable of processing, especially if you can market your skills well. This said, if I had that type of talent at biology, I'd probably stick with biology and just publish in English or something like that. Translation may bring some good income if you combine excellent command of languages and fields of knowledge, but it isn't worth giving up your dreams for.

[Edited at 2013-07-19 19:45 GMT]


Biology is more of a (major) hobby, I have no intention of going to university to learn it. I did know much more than my high school biology teacher, but my real interests are in language studies. I might major in language education/linguistics and minor in biology, but that's about it. I probably know enough biology, but I don't know enough about other subjects well enough in Japanese to get into an university that specializes in the sciences.


 

Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:32
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
Biology can be a very rewarding field to translate! Jul 21, 2013

I am primarily interested in biology (especially biotechnology and agriculture). Although this may not be a highly demanded field in the translation world, I'd like to improve upon it, if only for my personal satisfaction and the occasional related job. I have an 800/800 on the SAT Biology, got partway through the AP Biology high school course (I moved) and I've started watching MIT OpenCourseWare biology courses for starters.


I think you're right that biology has less demand than some areas, but I want to assure you that it does have demand. I have had several large projects in agriculture, ecology, and conservation biology that have been interesting and paid well.

I could take biology courses in university, since it is a liberal arts college, but it is famed for its language arts department (not many people take science courses).


I think anything is better than nothing. If you have the time and money, absolutely take some!

Is it possible to specialize in a subject without having a degree in it? I mean, no matter how much I study the subject by myself I won't have anything to prove in paper format.
Is specializing in biology worth the time? Would I be better off learning another subject from scratch?


At the end of the day the answers to some of these questions depend on your personal desires. You can specialize as a translator without a degree, although having something to show could be good. This could be a degree, work experience, coursework, etc.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:32
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Languages are not enough, though Jul 21, 2013

Chiku wrote:
my real interests are in language studies

The problem is that, while a language teacher may 'only' work with the language itself and the techniques of enabling another person to learn that language, a translator works with texts. I suppose a literary translator may be relying solely on language skills in the two languages, but if you're working on legal texts, medical texts, scientific texts, etc., then you need to have other skills.

I would certainly advise you to do a minor in a subject area that could become a specialisation.


 


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