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Poll: How many words should one translate in a domain to consider him/herself a specialist?
Thread poster: Staff Staff
Local time: 23:56
Nov 27, 2014

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "How many words should one translate in a domain to consider him/herself a specialist?".

This poll was originally submitted by emaleu. View the poll results »


Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:26
English to Hindi
+ ...
Other Nov 27, 2014

You don't become a specialist by translating a certain threshold number of words, but by having genuine understanding of the subject area, experience in working in that area (which need not be translation experience alone), and a general aptitude and interest in the subject area.

To be a specialist in a domain you would usually need a high-level educational degree in the domain area, but prolonged exposure by other means to the domain area can also be a substitute for this in some cases.

And you would never become a domain specialist just by translating large number of words in that domain; for all one knows, all the translation could be trash or wrong, from the point of view of domain specific terminology or register.


neilmac  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:56
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Nov 27, 2014

I don't think you become a specialist by considering yourself one. I've occasionally been told I'm a specialist in this or that subject, but I always take these comments with a pinch of salt. And anyway, I don't think it's a question of how many words we have translated.


Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:56
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Nov 27, 2014

I don't think it can be measured in thousands of words. It's more about translating a large variety of documents on different aspects of the domain. It also depends on the depth of the documents and the background of the authors. Plus, it usually also takes some additional formal study, training, or coaching besides just hands-on translation. Researching the material for a particular series of documents does not give you expertise in the overall domain.

For example, I just finished 3 documents, total 48,700 words, on producing statistics from administrative records, but I most certainly cannot claim any expertise in statistics or database management beyond the narrow focus of these documents.

I once translated 280,000 words for a published manual on zoonotic diseases. So much has happened in that field that in the meantime that today I would have to bone up a lot before I would be comfortable with the subject. I also did a book on Chagas' disease and my knowledge of that subject is out of date as well.

Last year I did 52,000 words on carbon sequestration and I feel that I still have a lot to learn on that subject.

If it must be measured in words, then I'd say *several hundred* thousand words of recent, authoritative text coupled with studies in the field.


Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
To be pedantic Nov 27, 2014

You don't need to be an expert or have training or have translated anything to *specialise* in a subject.

There is a big difference between a specialist and an expert.

Then again, even experts can be **** translators.


Maxi Schwarz
Local time: 01:56
German to English
+ ...
That's not how one becomes a specialist in a subject Nov 27, 2014

A person could hypothetically translate hundreds of thousands of words badly in a subject. Translating doesn't make you a specialist in a subject. I know translators specializing in medical translations who are doctors or nurses, legal translators who are lawyers, and an engineer and a physicist specializing in patent translations. They are specialists because of the training in these other fields. I have a specialization in education, with a teaching degree and teaching experience.

That said, I imagine that if someone has done a lot of translation in a field, and also did a lot of research to become familiar with it, then maybe these "studies" might give them some claim to being a specialist.


Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:56
Turkish to English
+ ...
Other Nov 27, 2014

I do not think the relationship between the number of words translated and expertise is quite so mechanical. I specialise in legal translation from Turkish to English, and this is based as much on having studied a large number of law textbooks as on having translated a lot of legal texts (although the latter is, of course, also necessary to develop proficiency). Ultimately, I consider myself to be a specialist in this area because of the quality and accuracy of the work that I produce. Sadly, I can imagine that a very bad, careless translator could translate massive amounts of text in one area of specialisation without improving at all.


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:56
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Quantifying the unquantifiable Nov 27, 2014

How many teeth does a dentist have to fill before he is a specialist?

How many contracts does a lawyer have to write?
(Or draw up, which is probably another matter).

How many patients does a doctor have to see?

We are preoccupied with figures that you can feed into a spreadsheet and turn into pretty coloured columns and pie diagrams.

How many of your grandparents are stil alive, and how many different languages do/did they speak?

Is there any truth in the myths that translators are more often left-handed than the population in general?

That they are not good at maths and figures (so all these statistics are a smokescreen anyway)?

Sorry, I am probably way off topic.
Like so many other things, It is very difficult to put meaningful figures on quality and expertise. With regard to specialisms in translation, it would be more relevant to ask how many years or man-hours you have spent working in a domain, studying it and reading about it in your source and target languages. Have you registered the terminology, equivalents and collocations?

Then you can specialise from the first page you translate. Of course, practice nd routine help, but there are some subject areas you simply should not attempt to translate at all before you are fairly expert in them. Those are the ones that really call for specialists!


Terry Richards
Local time: 08:56
French to English
+ ...
One Nov 27, 2014

Of course, 30 years in IT & engineering, an engineering degree and a life-long interest in science might have helped a bit...


DianeGM  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:56
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Other ... Nov 27, 2014

I doubt one can become a specialist purely by translating any number of words in a given subject, it is more complicated than that: training in, knowledge of and experience in that field, as well as many other factors, play a role.


Julian Holmes  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:56
Member (2011)
Japanese to English
Other Nov 27, 2014

A variety of factors, the most important of which is how interested and how motivated you are to learn and acquire new knowledge. Also, some learn more quickly (slowly) than others.

Terry Richards wrote:

Of course, 30 years in IT & engineering, an engineering degree and a life-long interest in science might have helped a bit...



Yaotl Altan  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:56
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Other Nov 27, 2014

It's quality, not quantity.


Pompeo Lattanzi
Local time: 08:56
English to Italian
+ ...
You have to be an expert first... Nov 27, 2014

... and then, if you also know enough of the languages involved, you might become a translator.
Yes, I am saying that it actually works the other way around.
A translator knows about language and crossing over into another language.
Except that, if you are in a field unknown to you (say extrusion, plastics, medicine, trade, logistics, and just about everything else), you will discover you don't know enough to decide how to say it.
Look at the kudoz questions: with some exceptions, they are mostly very simple matters to anybody technical in the particular field concerned, yet a complete mistery to the asker (and some of those who propose answers).
icon_cool.gif Of course I am exaggerating a bit in order to make the point, don't you take me too literally! I have the utmost respect for every translator, as this is a very difficult job at the best of times...


Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:56
English to Spanish
+ ...
A subjective question Nov 27, 2014

Even though many respondents offered rational explanations on why/why not a certain word threshold should/should not be considered for specialization, I think the question is a purely subjective one. It has nothing to do with whether others consider you a specialist in a given area, but it bears on what YOU THINK. Big difference.

Before we continue on a cynical path, let's ask ourselves in all honesty that question. There is no need for expressing some false humility or modesty.

Part of my university courseload involved law courses (4 semesters). Yet, despite having translated several thousand words of contracts and legal stuff over the years, I don't consider law a specialization (or specialism). It has more to do with how I want to portray myself to the world than whether I feel I have enough knowledge. Then again, Law is one of those umbrella terms that cover dozens of subspecializations: maritime law, contract law, tort law, etc. Same goes for medicine, nursing, biology, oil & gas, etc.


Luiz Barucke
Local time: 03:56
Member (2013)
Spanish to Portuguese
+ ...
A specialist on speed? Nov 27, 2014

I didn't understand the meaning of this question.
Or I do, but I do not agree with it.

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