Specialization for Beginners
Thread poster: BethanyS

BethanyS
United States
Local time: 00:19
Spanish to English
Oct 30, 2017

Hello, fellow translators! I am a Spanish to English translator just getting started. I have one regular translation job that I've had for over a year, but I am trying to expand from there with the goal of eventually being a full-time freelancer. I have been trying to find out more about specialization, but I've been having some trouble finding any straight answers.

Right now I am looking to apply to translation agencies but I have been stalling because I don't have any specializations. I have a few ideas, but I am wondering when it's appropriate to say that you have a specialization. How much experience do you need in an area before you can rightly call it a specialization? How do you know if an interest of yours can even become a viable specialization? How do you acquire a specialization when you don't already have one?

And above all, my most immediate questions are: is it okay to apply to an agency if you don't have a specialization? Will they dismiss you if you don't specialize? Could I, for example, list my goal specializations in order to gain more experience in them, or would that be deceptive?

Any light you can shed on these questions will be a great help. Thank you in advance for your answers!


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 06:19
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Dear Bethany Oct 31, 2017

You say very little about yourself, so it is hard to give you more than very general advice.

A specialist area is something you really know a lot about, however you gained the knowledge. If you are passionate about a hobby, could you for instance write articles in a magazine for fellow enthusiasts? You might also be able to translate in that field. Do you know all - or at least a lot - of the terminology in your source language? Then that could be a specialist area, but it could also be overcrowded, if you not more knowledgeable or passionate than the average fan.

One person's hobby can easily be someone else's lucrative business, and if there are international rallies and contests etc. then translators will be needed somewhere. Or what about the equipment - shoes, clothes ... Do you have detailed knowledge of that area?

What work experience do you have other than translating? Can you do that in both languages? That could be an asset. Humble back-office jobs can in fact be valuable experience, if you pick up an inside knowledge, say of how a hotel runs, or know what a pay-slip looks like, and all those little details you never learn at college.

Serving in a shop gives you a knowledge of a lot of products and accessories - can you do it in both your languages?

Of course, some specialist areas do require professional training, but it is not necessarily all language training. Indeed there is an ongoing discussion about whether medical professionals who also know two languages make the best medical translators, or whether language specialists who have studied some medical areas do it better.

You need to be absolutely certain of the special language in your subject area (the domain) in both your languages. But any experience you have can be the foundations for specialising.

You can certainly apply to agencies, and tell them honestly what experience you have. If you are out of your depth with a particular text, tell the client at once - they will respect you for your honesty, and it will save a lot of trouble in the end.

Fill out your profile too - the best clients will find you if you have anything to offer!


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:19
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
A place to start Oct 31, 2017

What are your interests?
What do you already know more about than the average educated person?











[Edited at 2017-10-31 16:30 GMT]


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BethanyS
United States
Local time: 00:19
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Specializations I am Considering Oct 31, 2017

Thank you for the replies!

Well, my passions are travel and beer. I suppose that travel could be a good specialization but again I'm uncertain whether I have enough specialized vocabulary on the subject in Spanish to necessarily call it a specialization. And beer seems so specific that I'm not sure if it could be a reasonable or lucrative specialization. The translation job I have now is for a company that sells antiques, so I have acquired a fair amount of vocabulary about certain antiques, but again I'm not sure if it's enough vocab to rightfully say that I am a specialist.

I have a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, but no degree in translation. Since graduating college I have held a couple of customer service jobs-- waitress, tour guide, deli associate in a grocery store-- but I don't think these have especially given me a lot of new vocabulary knowledge. They have been pretty general. I also worked in Spain teaching English for a year, but again most of the things I learned there were quite general and non-specific.

Some of the agencies I've been looking at applying to have a space for a translator to enter their specializations, and I am wondering if it is a good idea to enter something I am not confident of calling a specialization-- but if I don't enter anything, will they dismiss me because of that?

[Edited at 2017-10-31 19:01 GMT]


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:19
French to English
Agencies Oct 31, 2017

A number of agencies will require their freelancers to be educated to university (undergraduate) degree level. As has already been said, if you have sufficient professional experience of a given area, that will almost always be something you can emphasise and offer as a specialisation, without having a degree in the subject.

Example of my own background. My original qualifications are in English law and French language. I have legal experience in a bilingual environment. As a result, there are certain types of legal translations I feel comfortable with, but not all, by any means. Some of that experience is in maritime law and insurance. I can use either or both as a specialisation. I married a French ocean-racing yachtsman. That meant I acquired knowledge of ocean-racing that I simply never would have acquired otherwise. (Club dinghy sailing as a kid just didn't cut it)! Over time, I anaged to make it one of my specialities. I learn stuff about yacht design, construction, sponsorship of professional projects, composite materials, meteorology for fast sailing around the world and had to keep up with a host of technological advances, including those that did not work. Not just leading-edge stuff, but bleeding edge! it is not something you can learn on a translation course. When you put it in context with a legal and insurance background, it means that you are potentially of interest for race event organisers who need a mix of specific technical and legal terminology. When you have personal contacts in the field, then doors open.

That's just one example. The same can apply to any field where there is a potential for commerce or communication beyond borders. Relevant knowledge can be gained in so many ways. Do note though, that a number of fields do require formal education and/or professional experience, without which you will lack credibility and probably just not be up to scratch.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:19
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
A beginner shouldn't be expected to be an expert Nov 1, 2017

verb: specialise
concentrate on and become expert in a particular subject or skill.
"he could specialize in tropical medicine"

confine oneself to providing a particular product or service.
"the firm specialized in commercial brochures"

make a habit of engaging in a particular activity.
"a group of writers have specialized in attacking the society they live in"

It doesn't say you have to be an expert from the outset. "I specialise in" - when coming from a beginner - shouldn't be taken to mean "I am an expert in", although neither should it mean "I have absolutely no idea about" or "I have no interest is". You'll find some agencies will expect you to tackle highly specialised translations even though they know full well that you're a beginner, but no discerning client would expect you to tackle anything other than non-specialised texts. After all, if they want an expert, there's bound to be one out there - in fact in your pair there's more likely to be one thousand! So it's up to you to refuse anything that really isn't a practical proposition - for any reason - but to be positive about anything you think you can handle.

Take the deli and the beer experience: What if you were to tspecialise in food & drink / culinary / cooking / hospitality / tourism ...? Maybe you'd be happy translating basic menus, but not those for Michelin-starred restaurants; maybe recipes (although they can be tricky regarding availability of some ingredients and branded items); maybe blogs, websites about beer festivals, information for gourmet tourists... There are texts that someone like you could do now, and others that you probably shouldn't attempt just yet. And bear in mind that (as an example) a single tourism guide may talk about the area in terms of its architecture, local geology, anthropological finds, history, fishing prospects, extreme sports, climate ... No tourism specialist is going to be be an expert in all of those subject areas! We rely on research.

The above is just a hint of possible thought processes. Don't just think of the past; think of the future in terms of what you feel capable of doing in the near future and what you think you might be good at doing, and enjoy doing, in the future. In your very common pair, I wouldn't worry about there not being enough work around, although I would advise you to be careful. If you choose something "simple" like tourism or marketing, you'll be offered mostly very low rates (I know this from experience!). A few of those jobs might interest you just for the sake of getting experience but after a while you'll have to make a decision. You can go down the path of low rates but high volumes - churning out reams of these "simple" texts from one end of the day to the other. Or you can go down the path of medium to high rates for texts that are going to be used by clients who are more discerning and want well-crafted texts that make their products/services stand out. Beware that if you take the first path, you may never be able to afford to break off for long enough to market your services to clients on the second path.

BethanyS wrote:
Some of the agencies I've been looking at applying to have a space for a translator to enter their specializations, and I am wondering if it is a good idea to enter something I am not confident of calling a specialization-- but if I don't enter anything, will they dismiss me because of that?

If you're really looking to just get a bit of experience and can't think of anything else, you could always say you specialise in general texts - that generally means everyday letters, memos, blogs, transcripts of conversations, etc - but don't expect to be paid much . And remember that marketing yourself as one thing doesn't mean you can't actually work on totally different things, but it is best to give a clear and logical message to clients.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 06:19
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
There is a great deal of material 'for the general reader' Nov 2, 2017

I specialise in writing good, readable English, and have added marketing from there.

Some of the B2B work I have done over the years does call for knowledge of the product and the business sector concerned, but you can often get the client to help out with that. (Always go through the agency with enquiries, but the good ones are very helpful.)

As Sheila says, menus and tourism might be a starting point. The texts are largely written for non-specialists, and if you check the client's website or ask for details, a beginner can do an excellent job. Museums can be a challenge - when you get beyond the opening hours and they start on catalogues... I have never forgotten a museum on wooden lifeboats as they developed from the earliest days, and the development of self-righting hulls... The Internet was not what it is now, and the terminology was a real struggle! Local history is not always difficult, however.

Fine art is for specialists too... but you can sometimes read up what you need and do a reasonable translation anyway. Beware of the academic articles and research that museums carry on behind the scenes, or else get them to help you, and learn to do those too!

Beer ... Why not study it, if you are interested? Restaurants are proud of their wine lists, and now micro-breweries are popping up everywhere - check them out and teach yourself the terminology. Gourmet organic coffee is getting fashionable too in some circles.

If there is an international market for anything, they will need translators to help sell it...

In the long run, you will probably have to find a serious niche if you work in a highly competitive language pair like yours. The jobs a beginner can do may be numerous, but they are not the best paid, and they are the most likely to be taken over by the dreaded machine translation, especially in the repetitive areas like FAQs, or the 'here today, mulched tomorrow' kind of communication.

You need to go for an area where the machines never will be good enough - again, marketing is one, where sounding good is at least as important as translating precisely from the source text.
'Nothing sucks like Electrolux' may be a myth, but it is an example of how seriously you can go wrong.

If you start with general marketing, you may find clients you get on well with, who like your style, and you can specialise in their business. I translated blurbs and safety warnings about cosmetics for a long time, and wrote reams about wooden flooring for some years...

I did also take a postgraduate diploma in translation, and read up seriously on law and medicine. Medicine has been a lifelong interest since school, and I worked for a while in the health services, at a very humble level, but it gave me some useful insights.

Experience is many things - whatever you have been doing all your life, it is quite likely to pop up in a translation somewhere!


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BethanyS
United States
Local time: 00:19
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Summary questions Nov 7, 2017

Thanks again for all the great responses!

I am hearing that my best course of action is to select things that interest me, and as long as I have a bit of specialized knowledge in that field it is a valid specialization for me. Is that accurate? I don't want to start out overly specific but from the sounds of it I am at a higher risk of being overly general because my language pair is so common. So would specializing in beer/microbreweries, for example, be acceptable?

It also seems like there is some degree of consensus that I should start out specializing in something a little broader, though not as high-paying, like tourism and later as I grow more experienced and comfortable I can find a more specific niche. Is that all correct? Is there anything important I seem to be overlooking?

On a bit of a side note, how does one find work in specific areas like translating menus? Are there ways to find agencies that have specific types of work like that?

Thanks!


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:19
English to Spanish
+ ...
There is a difference between specializations and interests Nov 9, 2017

Bethany,

First off, what do you write about? Be specific. Don't say "travel and beer" because that will not get you beyond your own room door. Have you written about any topics besides school assignments? Do you enjoy writing at all?

Having a degree or knowing languages means nothing if you are uncertain about your writing or about the topics you like to write about. Got any clippings? Articles you've written? Perhaps a general subject that you'd like to explore in detail?

At this point, I would hold off applying to translation agencies or filing out forms with specializations. You don't seem to have any. That's not a scold, it's just the fact I'm gleaning from your own statements. Instead, if I were you I'd focus on writing about a topic until I become really good at it. Practice makes perfect.

In the meantime, you may always apply for a junior project management position or a proofreader gig that will expose you to seasoned translators who are specialists. There are no shortcuts, sorry.


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:19
Member
French to English
+ ...
Compromising between interests and what the market wants Nov 9, 2017

The answer that translators often give to this question about specialisation is "specialise in what you're interested in". I think this makes sense up to a point, but there is one further point I would add.

Depending on what you choose to specialise in, I think it is a good idea to try to find a compromise between what interests you and what the market wants, because some fields are so "niche" that you may find that there is little or no demand for translations in them. If you have your heart set on being a translator, you have to be careful not to specialise yourself out of the profession, as this may prevent you from being able to make a living. So it's important to be aware of the *general fields* that are most in demand in your language pair. These might include business, law, medicine, technology or science, to name a few. You can find this out by talking to other translators and clients, among other sources of information. I'm not suggesting that you need to be able to take on all documents in any of these general fields - it's very important to know our own limits - but it's something to bear in mind when deciding what jobs to take on. Although I am not a medical translator, I occasionally take on very simple documents relating to clinical trials, such as patient questionnaires, but I would draw the line at doctors' notes, patient records, test results, etc.

So in addition to any narrow fields that you may choose to gain expertise in, it would help you to be able to take on at least some work in a broader field in high demand as well. This will enable you to take on work from clients (such as agencies) who may be in a position to offer you more specialised work later on.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:19
Member (2008)
Italian to English
That's where you're wrong Nov 9, 2017

BethanyS wrote:

..... beer seems so specific that I'm not sure if it could be a reasonable or lucrative specialization.


That's where you're wrong. When you get into it seriously, beer is a very complex subject that requires a lot of specialist knowledge. It is also a subject that attracts a lot of interest. If you genuinely possess an insider's knowledge of the beermaking industry, how its ingredients are cultivated and processed, how beer is commercialised, the history of beer, beer in literature and the arts, beer in different cultures, etc etc. then you have a wonderful specialism that sets you apart.

It's only by focussing on a very specific area (particularly in a busy language pair) that you can create a work stream for yourself. This will take time, probably several years, to build up; but once you're established as the go-to person for beer-related translations, you should be in a good position.

Needless to say, being specialised in something very specific doesn't preclude you from also doing translations on other topics !


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 06:19
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
craft and comfort zone Nov 10, 2017

While I loathe the taste of beer I have actually had to translate quite a lot about it, for a client setting up a brewery somewhere in Africa. I can hold forth on the correct way to pull beer and how to tell whether it's proper draught beer they're serving in a bar, having had to research all that very thoroughly for this client.

With the current craze for craft beer, there's obviously going to be more and more work, I can quite see it going the way of wine for pretentiously blurb about the look taste and smell of it.

I agree with Sheila for the specialisations. Once an agency starts giving you work, they'll probably give you all sorts of stuff to see exactly what your comfort zone is. Refuse anything you don't think you're up to, but tackle anything remotely interesting. You may well find that some specialisations find you!


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BethanyS
United States
Local time: 00:19
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
How many specializations? Nov 20, 2017

Thanks again for the insights!

I would like to clarify that I do in fact have a fair amount of specialist knowledge of beer. I can understand that it might sound a bit flippant to say I'd like to specialize in beer, but it's not just an off-handed inclination. I have been looking into writing about it as well.

Thank you for the encouraging words. Is it acceptable to start off with only one or two proclaimed specializations? Would it be seen as unprofessional to begin applying with only one specialization to offer?


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