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How did you decide what to specialize in? And how did you train?
Thread poster: xxxJanaW
xxxJanaW  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:37
French to English
+ ...
Aug 4, 2014

Hello,
I am new to translating and am wondering what is involved in specializing in a certain field (such as medical or legal).
What made you decide so concentrate on a given area (interest? demand?), and how did you go about studying or becoming certified for it?

Thanks!


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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 11:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Previous work that led to translation Aug 4, 2014

I started working in a call center for a major vehicle financial institution as a customer service rep. I was later moved to interpreting and was trained in all the legal jargon. I started translating a year later. Now I've been doing it for about 5 years.

I also do a lot of work in video game translation, which is my real love and passion. It's just harder to find work in that field.


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 19:37
German to Swedish
+ ...
No decisions and no training Aug 4, 2014

Never wished to be a translator - it was just something that turned up. The specialized fields grew out of other work experience (financial media, in my case).

I have no formal training and don't believe in it much for translation. Varied reading, varied work experience and possibly academic studies in non-translation fields helps much more.

I took the DE-SV sworn translator exam "cold" with very little study.

[Edited at 2014-08-04 07:51 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:37
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Legal translators need extensive subject training; medical ones need even more Aug 4, 2014

First I left my home country and started a very slow tour of Europe (the last 20 years have been spent in the Netherlands, France and Spain - and hopefully Spain is where I'm staying put!). Although I had never in my life dreamt of teaching, EFL for adults seemed a good career change, then that morphed into translating when my French language skills improved. I lived in the south of France and now I live in Fuerteventura, and tourism is a really important industry in both places so tourism was a natural. And tourism is mainly marketing (plus contracts, price-lists, etc.). So my decisions were pretty obvious and grew from meeting my EFL business and tourism students' needs.

I can see that a translator could get enough knowledge of legal translation to be able to work in some legal areas (though not all) without specific training in law; but medicine? Surely a medical translator needs to have medical training at the very least, and that's generally at least five years of studies. I'd have thought that some medical experience after training would be useful, too. The risk of mistranslation is just too great if you really know next to nothing about medicine. There are so many terms that are so similar in different languages that I'm sure a translator without a real in-depth understanding of the text would be lulled into a false sense of security. Personally, I was very surprised to find that I now suffer from a recurring hernia (or various similar pronunciations and spellings thereof), whereas in the UK it was a slipped disc - I wouldn't want to suffer from one and be treated for the other! This is just one example; angina is another and I'm sure there are many more.


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 19:37
German to English
+ ...
Work experience for me, too Aug 4, 2014

I worked in various industries using my bilingual skills before becoming a freelance translator, including a few years in the theatre as a dramaturg. Ideally I should be translating plays, but that is not a very realistic prospect! However, I have done a fair amount of games translation, also because of the fun factor, but it doesn't generally pay very well. That would fall under the category of turning a hobby or related profession (i.e. theatre) into a translation specialization, which is one way to move into specialization.

What comparative literature studies did was to hone my writing skills and style, which are a very important part of translating in the specialities I have, so your training also gives you basic tools to work from. Other areas that can be developed really depend on what you are interested in. For example, I spent a couple of years at an investment bank on Wall Street, but I really do not enjoy working with financial texts, so that rules it out for me. I would also not recommend starting studies in a highly specialized field, such as biotechnology, without a previous relevant background of some kind because the learning curve is so steep. That is something that could be part of your constant continuing education, however, but don't count on offering it for some time. Mistakes in translating certain fields, such as medical and legal, can have serious consequences! It's better to leave those to the experts, at least until you have become an expert yourself, but basically I would agree with Sheila's assessment.

I would add that one other very important aspect is often overlooked: learning the business side of your profession. You neglect it at your own peril, and from personal experience I would say that a basic knowledge of bookkeeping and how to organize a small business is more important to focus on at first, rather than thinking about what to specialize in. That will happen more or less on its own as you gain experience. You'll find out what you're good at and enjoy, then take it from there, but none of that will happen if you don't know how to write an invoice! That's a crucial part of being a professional language services provider, too.

My 2 cents.

Good luck!


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Joakim Braun  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 19:37
German to Swedish
+ ...
Agree Aug 4, 2014

Sheila Wilson wrote:

I can see that a translator could get enough knowledge of legal translation to be able to work in some legal areas (though not all) without specific training in law; but medicine? Surely a medical translator needs to have medical training at the very least, and that's generally at least five years of studies. I'd have thought that some medical experience after training would be useful, too. The risk of mistranslation is just too great if you really know next to nothing about medicine.


I didn't intend to say that technical/medical/legal/financial studies don't benefit a translator - quite the contrary. It's impossible for an autodidact to grasp a subject as completely as someone who has studied it systematically and actually worked with it does.

But those "translation studies" which seem so popular now - I remain skeptical.


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Little Woods  Identity Verified
Vietnam
Member
English to Vietnamese
I translate what I like or read a lot about but for medical, I get real study Aug 4, 2014

As I said above I translate what I like or read a lot about and what I can learn from my job.

However, one of my specialization is pharmacy and medicine which came from my education in this field. I would say that without real education in this field (not training through translation schools) of about at least 2 years, people can make wrong translation in this field. It is not just that people can get by searching the terms on the net because sometime what people find on the net might be misleading and only those with medical background can see the problems or distinguish the right from the wrong.


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Texte Style
Local time: 19:37
French to English
my own personal interests Aug 4, 2014

My specialisation subjects have all grown out of what I find interesting. Travelling, dressmaking, art, music, culture in general, food and nutrition, sustainable development. All stuff I have acquired knowledge of in informal situations, by dint of travelling, dressmaking, attending art exhibitions and museums, concerts, researching the effect of food on my own and my family's health, and doing volunteer work for an environmental organisation.

I have done plenty of stuff that I'm not particularly interested in too of course, but the clients who keep coming back are those whose translations I have really enjoyed doing, the passion shines right through.


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EvaVer  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:37
Member (2012)
Czech to English
+ ...
I have more than one field, Aug 4, 2014

and the way to them was a combination of the above. Except for one: Early in my career, I was asked to do an interpretation job about agriculture, and I spent days preparing myself and found out how extremely complex the field was. So I decided to specialize in it, expecting that nobody else would want to - in addition to being very difficult, it's also less glamorous than medical or legal. It was a good decision.

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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 19:37
German to English
+ ...
University degree Aug 4, 2014

I studied law, which seemed to be an intersting subject in the days when you studied things cos they were interesting and not cos your degree was needed for a particular profession. So specialising in law when I became a translator some 10 years later was a rather obvious choice. However, my other subject was French, but my translation language is actually German cos that's the language of the place I have lived in for 30-odd years

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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 19:37
English to Polish
+ ...
Previous degree Aug 5, 2014

Got a master's degree in law before becoming a translator and continued studying for a doctorate, picking up an after-master's in field-specific translation and getting accredited as a sworn translator in the meantime.

I should probably go on and take DipTrans in PL-EN soon just to spite MCILs, who believe you should only translate into your native language. However, I'm hesitant to do so because test pieces are horribly difficult, and I'm skeptical about any non-Pole's ability to understand that type of text with precision and reliability.


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 19:37
Danish to English
+ ...
Training vs experience and enjoyment Aug 5, 2014

I trained as a translator and interpreter in Danish >< Spanish (Master's degree), but I work almost exclusively in my favourite language combination, Danish >< English, for which I hold a BA (and I lived 8 years in England prior to commencing official language studies).

The MA degree course in Denmark includes special training in legal, financial and technical translation, of which the first two subjects when I was a student (graduated in 1999) were based on studies of legal and financial systems in Denmark and Spain, respectively. Technical translation was basically taught as a series of terminology-gathering exercises and general instruction on how technical language differs from ordinary language and only very little introduction to engineering.

When I started my first job as a translator, I had no clue what I wanted to specialise in, I just wanted a job that would pay my rent, which is exactly what I got. A job as a technical translator of Danish into English and English into Spanish for an engineering company. I learnt on the job, working with a limited terminology field and had the benefit of having engineers as colleagues who could help me find the right phrasings and terminology, even if I never became a technical expert nor always understood the technical intricacies of very large machinery and structures. One advantage was that the company had large demonstration setups of the systems they manufactured and sold (sorting systems for e.g. airport luggage handling), so that if there was something I couldn't quite grasp, I could go and have a look at the relevant system (sometimes with an engineer explaining the details to me), which was very helpful.

In my next job, I worked for a translation agency, translating mainly from Danish into English (the owner of the agency was a native Spaniard and handled most translations into Spanish, so my working knowledge of Spanish suffered somewhat during those years due to a lack of practice), but in a much greater variety of subject fields. I got the chance to work with a lot of material relating to architecture and construction, education and research, arts and culture, i.e. more in the humanities line of work, and discovered that I much preferred this to technical translation, and thus, my 'specialisations' were born.

As an independent translator, I have chosen to pursue clients within the fields that I enjoy, and I think that has to be the key to any professional translation career: Choose subjects that interest you, because you will have to do a lot of research along the way, and - in my experience at least - information and details will stick in your mind much better if you actually enjoy what you have to read to be able to produce great translations.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 19:37
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Work experience Aug 5, 2014

I started about 20 years ago and began working in software localization, which was most befitting given my previous career as a software developer with a good knowledge of two languages other than my mother tongue.

After a couple of years in localization, I started to take on technical translation work, and out of sheer interest and curiosity I kept learning on my own and with individual seminars about many different things. I have had an interest in technology and science since I was a child, so it was only natural and very enjoyable for me to learn about the increasing number of industries I now translate about.

Edited to add this: Obviously, you want to translate about things you personally like or enjoy. If you add your personal beliefs and sense of ethics to the mix and in due time choose only work that makes you feel good and has a sense of usefulness to you, you will not only be financially sound, but also a happy professional.

[Edited at 2014-08-05 07:33 GMT]


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Gabriele Demuth  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:37
Member (2014)
English to German
Very interesting reading Aug 5, 2014

I have recently started out as a translator and found some work through several websites, which usually pays a lot less than the rates advertised here - but fine, I got some experience now. I have been advised to become member on Proz.com but as I do not have a translation specific qualifications (yet), little experience and I still work without translation software, I am not sure whether I would win any jobs here anyway.

I would be interested in your opinions and experiences.

[Edited at 2014-08-05 08:17 GMT]


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 18:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Subject area is key. Aug 5, 2014

In any sort of technical translation, it's critical that the translator actually understands the subject area. That's much more important than having the source language at an A-level.

Coming to a genuine understanding of e.g. Medical or Legal texts involves years of work, whether formally with Degrees or Diplomas, or less formally by self-study, conference attendance etc. Medicine and Science generally also change fast, so there's a continuing education element.

One needs to have a genuine interest in the subject matter. I wouldn't dream of doing Legal, my eyes start to glaze over after a few sentences.


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