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Question about specializing
Thread poster: AMcMillin

AMcMillin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:13
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 25, 2016

Good afternoon,

I am still somewhat new to the translation industry and I realize how important it is to have a specialization in a certain field or even several. Some agencies do not seem to be interested in offering you work unless you have a specialization. My question is how to prepare for it. I realize that some of you might have degrees in the areas you specialize in but for those of you who do not, how did you obtain the experience to specialize in it? Did you practice translating documents in that area and pass that off as experience on your CV or did you do volunteer work for any organizations in that field so you could get the experience? Did you take online courses? I would just like some advice concerning the best way to go about it. I want concrete experience that I can include in my CV. I'm interested in specializing in medicine and law as I have already taken some courses in these two fields while pursuing my degree in Spanish and I've done a little bit of work for an agency that I'm currently working for but I would like to put more time into focusing on these two areas than I am currently doing at the moment. Thank you for any advice you can provide.

Adrienne


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:13
English to Russian
+ ...
Study that field Aug 25, 2016

The only real way to become a specialist in a particular field is to study that field. For example, if you want to become a good medical translator, you need to study medicine. It does not necessarily mean going to medical or nursing school - reading and understanding a dozen medical textbooks (as opposed to medical translation textbooks) would already do. Having grown in a family of doctors would usually do, too. Of course, hands-on experience is still better, and in some fields (e.g. software engineering) it's almost necessary.

[Edited at 2016-08-25 23:33 GMT]


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Woodstock  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:13
German to English
+ ...
I started by working in companies first Aug 26, 2016

that needed my languages. That gave me hands-on experience in business, marketing/advertising, personnel and management consulting, etc. all the while using my languages and translating within those positions. I didn't even consider becoming a freelance translator until much later. It really is up to you how to approach it. I find that my journey was good for me, but it might not be for everyone. I bounced around quite a bit before I realized I was not cut out to be an employee and should be self-employed, but there are no regrets because of what and how much I learned in the process.

Good luck to you whatever you decide!


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:13
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Being a specialist Aug 26, 2016

AMcMillin wrote:
I realize that some of you might have degrees in the areas you specialize in but for those of you who do not, how did you obtain the experience to specialize in it? Did you practice translating documents in that area and pass that off as experience on your CV or did you do volunteer work for any organizations in that field so you could get the experience? Did you take online courses? I would just like some advice concerning the best way to go about it. I want concrete experience that I can include in my CV. I'm interested in specializing in medicine and law as I have already taken some courses in these two fields while pursuing my degree in Spanish and I've done a little bit of work for an agency that I'm currently working for but I would like to put more time into focusing on these two areas than I am currently doing at the moment.

The idea of specialising is that you do (only) what you do very best of all, better than very many other people - as I'm sure you realise. You don't really become a specialist just because you've translated n thousand words in that subject area, or because you've sat in a classroom and been lectured to about it. It comes from what's in your brain, and how well you can make use of that knowledge. If you've never really understood what you've translated, or never fully assimilated what you've learnt in the classroom, you aren't a specialist. And I'm sure that relying too heavily on research at the word level can be catastrophic in the medical sector. (On a personal note, I've successfully helped a German physicist polish his English paper on quantum mechanics. It's my husband's passion so I hear the words all the time (yawn), but I would never, ever presume to translate those words from French to English because I don't have any real knowledge about the depth of meaning behind them.)

This is why professional translators generally only translate into their native language. There are certainly some exceptions, but in the general run of things a native speaker, who is also an educated person with good writing skills, plus fluent - with a good knowledge of the subject area - in the source language, will do a better job of producing an accurate and natural translation than someone working in the opposite direction.

I'm surprised you want to specialise in both law and medicine. The best specialists in each domain with be those who specialise in just that one domain. Surely there's enough work in just one to provide a specialist translator with a few thousand words a day? Of course, the exception would be someone who specialises in medical law. But then I wouldn't expect them to presume to specialise in any old medical or legal text. Of course, if work is in short supply or to accommodate a regular client, there's nothing to stop anyone going a little outside of their comfort zone, but that's aside from their specialisation.

In your case, Adrienne, I'd have thought you'd have been thinking about specialising in music rather than either medicine or law. Your CV says you have a BA+MA in music. That seems on the face of it to be the number one candidate - but of course you may well have very good reasons for not taking advantage of that background.


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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 00:13
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Market segmentation Aug 28, 2016

AMcMillin wrote:

Did you take online courses? I would just like some advice concerning the best way to go about it. I want concrete experience that I can include in my CV. I'm interested in specializing in medicine and law as I have already taken some courses in these two fields while pursuing my degree in Spanish and I've done a little bit of work for an agency that I'm currently working for but I would like to put more time into focusing on these two areas than I am currently doing at the moment. Thank you for any advice you can provide.

Adrienne


Translation jobs now are segmented in various details. I remind of the word "Niche market." I understand that Adrienne has certain specialized subjects for services. Two weeks ago, I met with a young translator and interpreter who continuously complained that her Thai language pronunciation, the native tongue, was badly slow. Upon further dialogues, she told that her father is a Vietnamese. Then I recommend her to add such credentials into her CV since clients can demand such qualification.
Similar situation may happen to Adrienne as well.

Soonthon L.


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Angela Rimmer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:13
Member (2014)
German to English
+ ...
Agree with Sheila, understanding concepts is key Aug 28, 2016

I specialised inadvertently. I started my career as a translator working in-house for an agency. As I was the newbie, some of my colleagues took the opportunity to dump their most disliked texts from a certain client onto me. The client develops and manufacturers building automation and lighting systems. None of my colleagues enjoyed the work because it was hard to understand and the client seemingly did not answer queries very comprehensively. But I noticed that we were asking queries only in English, so I decided to change tact and started asking queries in German, targeted queries about how the products work, why a sensor is used here, etc. What a difference -- the client started giving very complete answers, along with diagrams and images and long explanations of concepts.

Before long, I found that not only was our working relationship with the client MUCH better, but I actually understood the texts, and by extension, other texts like that from different clients were easier. I found I enjoyed the "boring" technical texts. So I started focusing just on these types of texts. I also started reading a lot more texts, magazines, articles, etc. already written in English about these topics.

So I guess you could say I'm self-taught. I'm no "world's leading expert" in my field but I am a specialist. I'm not as qualified as someone with an electrical engineering degree, but I understand the concepts well enough to do the right kind of research and ask the right kind of questions to ultimately end up with an accurate, well-written translation.

I think with fields like medicine and law, however, you will probably need some sort of education/training because those fields are a lot more complex, and privacy laws will protect a lot of those types of texts from being released to the public domain. So researching and asking questions will probably not give you the same results. Think about it: you might use a self-taught computer whiz to help you set up a system in your building, but you'd probably totally run away from the idea of hiring a self-taught legal or medical "professional" (ignoring the fact that it's usually illegal to practice in these fields without the appropriate qualifications).


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:13
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Medicine AND law? Aug 30, 2016

Either one of those fields represents a life's work to become truly specialised if you have no existing background in the subjects. Start by picking one and heading for a bookshop to pick up some textbooks. Sign up for courses, and preferably not just the ones aimed at translators (which will be more focussed on terminology than deep understanding of the subject). I specialise in technical translations and have just completed a degree in engineering by part-time study - to be honest, it still doesn't feel like enough and I will continue learning and studying for the whole of my career. So make sure you pick a field you are genuinely interested in!

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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 18:13
German to English
+ ...
Medicine AND law are not possible Aug 30, 2016

In my book, it's not possible to specialize in both. Law is a huge topic on its own. You have to come to grips with the difference between the common law and the civil law system. I myself studied law from a civil law perspective and I'm now trying to catch up on the common law concepts. England and the former English colonies use common law. The former Spanish and Portuguese colonies (Latin America) and the rest of Europe use civil law. So if you translate between English and Spanish, you have to become familiar with both systems. On top of that, law is a huge area with lots of subdomains. Having studied law for five years I still have loads of things to learn. So it's not realistic to do both.

Apart from that, I would always recommend to do University courses in these subjects targeting lawyers, doctors etc. They are much more interesting than the courses targeting translators because they teach you to think like a lawyer/doctor etc.

[Edited at 2016-08-30 14:02 GMT]


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liviu roth
United States
Local time: 12:13
Romanian to English
+ ...
After reading your CV Aug 30, 2016

If I were you, I would consider medical interpreting. Take the 40 hours "Bridging the Gap" course (kind of expensive at $ 400) and register with one or several hospitals in your area that cater to the Hispanic population. Register with several agencies that have contracts with hospitals in your area. You could try some telephonic interpreting (medical).

Good luck,
Lee


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:43
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
From translation point of view, specialization does not mean specialist Aug 31, 2016

I think we need to keep in mind that when we talk of specialization in a subject area in relation to the translation profession, we do not mean we become specialists in the subject area in which we specialize. It only means that we develop specialized translation skills that help us handle text in that subject area better than another translator who does not have this specialization. These specialized translation skills could include a more thorough understanding of the basic concepts of the subject, greater familiarity with the special terminology that is used in texts pertaining to that subject, and may be actual hands on experience either in the subject or in a related area.

It does not mean that you become a real specialist in that subject area. For example, if you translate medical texts as your specialization, it does not mean you are qualified to practice medicine (that would be illegal !), or if you translate legal documents as your specialization, you can practice in court, etc. Or conversely, if you want to specialize in medical translation, you have to be a doctor or a surgeon or a nurse.

All that it means is that you have greater familiarity with the subject area when compared to a general translator, or with a translator who has a different specialization.

So, unlike the other posters here, I don't see any contradiction in your wanting to specialize in medicine and law. Of course it would be difficult to achieve this, as both are vast fields, and what would come in your way most is lack of time to achieve full familiarity with both these disparate subjects. But that doesn't make it an impossibility. If you can manage it, well and good, and good for you.

So, if you want to specialize in these areas, start by becoming more familiar with these subjects, earn a degree in them (need not be a professional degree that entitles you to practice these professions, but any general degree that would increase your exposure to these subjects - for example, if you want to specialize in medicine, studying biology on a par time basis or by correspondence or from an open university would be a good idea), get some work experience (for example teaching medicine related subjects, or as a secretary or office assistant to a lawyer or a law firm), and finally get actual translation experience in documents related to your subject area. This last point is the most important.


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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 18:13
German to English
+ ...
Disagree with Bala as far as law is concerned Aug 31, 2016

Hi Bala,
I disagree with you as far as law is concerned. Both legal systems are the result of centuries of different legal traditions and therefore have developed concepts, which don't exist in the other legal system. For example in French law (Spanish and Latin American law is very similar) the concepts of "trust", "theory of estoppel" and "equity law" don't exist. That's why they can't be translated but have to be explained. If you don't understand these concepts and the theory behind them, you are not able to deliver a satisfactory end product. As far as medicine is concerned, you are probably right, because this is a natural science which uses the same concepts in Spanish and English to refer to the outside world.

[Edited at 2016-08-31 18:31 GMT]


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:43
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
But there are always cross-over areas between any two specialities Sep 1, 2016

Maria S. Loose, LL.M. wrote:

Hi Bala,
I disagree with you as far as law is concerned. Both legal systems are the result of centuries of different legal traditions and therefore have developed concepts, which don't exist in the other legal system. For example in French law (Spanish and Latin American law is very similar) the concepts of "trust", "theory of estoppel" and "equity law" don't exist. That's why they can't be translated but have to be explained. If you don't understand these concepts and the theory behind them, you are not able to deliver a satisfactory end product. As far as medicine is concerned, you are probably right, because this is a natural science which uses the same concepts in Spanish and English to refer to the outside world.


Yes, I agree that law in total is a very complex subject. But there are always cross-over areas between any two specialities which create niches where one can fit in. Law and medicine, too, are no exceptions. For example, between law and medicine, there could be areas like drug patents, pharma contracts, ethical issues related to medicine, forensic medicine, and criminal cases related to drug abuse, etc. which are grey areas where expertise in both law and medicine would be a very advantageous skill to have. So if you are determined, it is always possible to find common grounds between any two subject specialties where you can squeeze in. That is how new disciplines come up such as biochemistry, etc.

[Edited at 2016-09-01 04:08 GMT]


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Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:13
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
True, but ... Sep 1, 2016

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:
Yes, I agree that law in total is a very complex subject. But there are always cross-over areas between any two specialities which create niches where one can fit in. Law and medicine, too, are no exceptions. For example, between law and medicine, there could be areas like drug patents, pharma contracts, ethical issues related to medicine, forensic medicine, and criminal cases related to drug abuse, etc. which are grey areas where expertise in both law and medicine would be a very advantageous skill to have. So if you are determined, it is always possible to find common grounds between any two subject specialties where you can squeeze in. That is how new disciplines come up such as biochemistry, etc.

[Edited at 2016-09-01 04:08 GMT]


I'm skeptical whether this is a sensible route for someone with no background in either subject to take. Choosing just one of the two areas means twice the time to devote to learning the specialism. Actually even 'law' is too big - though it is somewhere to start. As you get more knowledgeable and experienced you will tend to narrow down automatically depending on your interests and the work you are offered.

I also think that when a translator says they are a specialist in a field it should mean more than simply that they have done a lot of translation work in that field. There should be something solid to back that up, otherwise it may just mean they have been making the same mistakes for a long time.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 22:43
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
Matter of opinion Sep 1, 2016

Rachel Waddington wrote:
I also think that when a translator says they are a specialist in a field it should mean more than simply that they have done a lot of translation work in that field. There should be something solid to back that up, otherwise it may just mean they have been making the same mistakes for a long time.


It is a matter of opinion. Are we translators first, and other things later, or is it the other way around? I tend to lean towards the position that we are above all translators and specialists in the linguistics of our respective languages. All other things come second.

It is a case of division of labour on which modern society is so dependent. We do what we are good at - which is languages. If we feel we are good at something else, we should be doing that, and not translating. We should become lawyers and doctors and leave translation to people who are cut out for it.

[Edited at 2016-09-01 08:01 GMT]


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Álvaro Espantaleón  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:13
Member (2015)
English to Spanish
+ ...
You are right but Sep 1, 2016

Maria S. Loose, LL.M. wrote:

Hi Bala,
I disagree with you as far as law is concerned. Both legal systems are the result of centuries of different legal traditions and therefore have developed concepts, which don't exist in the other legal system. For example in French law (Spanish and Latin American law is very similar) the concepts of "trust", "theory of estoppel" and "equity law" don't exist. That's why they can't be translated but have to be explained. If you don't understand these concepts and the theory behind them, you are not able to deliver a satisfactory end product. As far as medicine is concerned, you are probably right, because this is a natural science which uses the same concepts in Spanish and English to refer to the outside world.

[Edited at 2016-08-31 18:31 GMT]


most translations don't require such in-depth knowledge. Otherwise, only academics and lawyers with studies on both legal systems will be doing the translations, but this is rarely the case.


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