Possible areas of specialisation: advice needed
Thread poster: bf2

United Kingdom
German to English
Apr 24, 2014

Apologies for the length of the post.

I appreciate this question has been done to death, but I’d like some advice for my specific situation.

I have been working in IT within the UK Life & Pensions industry for the last 13 years. I also have a deep love for the German language and culture, and I am currently at a B2 / B1 level.

The targets I have given myself are:
• Reach C1 / C2 by middle of 2015.
• Also become reasonably proficient in target specialisation(s) by the middle of 2015.
• From middle of 2015 onwards, start transitioning into a freelance translator career (German to English).
• Become a full-time professional by the middle of 2016.

I have accepted that I will have to specialise and I have read up whatever I could find here at ProZ, and in blogs of established translators. I have two choices as far as specialism is concerned:

A) Follow the passion:
By passion I mean those things that I’d be engaged in all day if I had unlimited money and unlimited time, and things that I’d do even if I don’t get paid. With that definition, my passions are: History, culture, food & drinks, politics, self-help and philosophy.
I am however beginning to think there won’t be enough work in these fields for me to make a comfortable living (but I’d be very happy to be proved wrong), which leads us to:

B) Follow the money:
Here my options are, primarily:
• IT
• Insurance and pensions, and Financial Services in general
From what I have seen so far, for IT English is usually the source language rather than the target, so I don’t envisage a lot of traffic in that area. That leaves insurance, pensions, and Financial Services.

Financial Services is obviously a huge area, so I intend to target the following sub-areas:
1. Insurance and pensions: I have a very good idea of the overall business process and contracts, so reading up on that would be fairly easy.
2. Insurance (regulatory): I will have to make some extra effort on the regulatory side (e.g. Solvency II), as that’s an area I haven’t been very involved in.
3. IFRS reporting: I have basic understanding of accounting and reporting, although I will have to read up on IFRS, which I am happy to do. IFRS itself however is a very large area, and if I do pick that up, I envisage dropping something else.
4. Investment (excluding regulatory, but can add if necessary): Funds, unit trusts, ETFs: I have a natural interest in these, and would quite like to work in these area.
5. Trading: Broking, futures products, securities exchanges: Ditto about natural interest.

So my questions are:
• Is option A (‘passion’) really a non-starter?
• If I go for option B and specialise in the insurance, pension and Financial Services areas, should I stick to 1, 4 and 5 – which I understand and have an interest in, or should I also add 2 and 3 (and maybe drop something else)? Would 1, 4 and 5 generate enough income?

Thanks in advance.

1. I have read Javier Gil’s article on financial translation.
2. I am entirely self-taught in German. Unfortunately I cannot live and work in Germany due to family constraints, but I travel to Germany every year to check my conversational skills. I know that the lack of work experience and immersion in Germany is a drawback, but I won’t let it stop me. I am highly motivated when it comes to German.

[Edited at 2014-04-25 13:58 GMT]


ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:45
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
Follow your Passion Apr 26, 2014

In my opinion, what the area(s) of specialization boil down to is this: do what you really like to do. All else are secondary, money, marketability, etc. I am not going into the specifics you outlined here. I am a total stranger to finance, for example.


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:45
Chinese to English
Possibly irrelevant Apr 26, 2014

What I have to say May not be relevant because I'm not in your language pair, and your questions are impressively specific. But I'd like to say good luck and go for it at least!

In terms of your business plan, I think you're thinking the right way. If you're good, there is definitely enough work in the niches you identify as your "plan A". Just philosophy alone, there's reams of material every year. Where I'm not so sure is your ability in the language. To make any money translating, you have to be reasonably quick. You're going to need a lot more than B1 level skills. There's no reason you can't get there, but don't fool yourself: you need to be able to read a text *better* than the average German university graduate. From where you are, that's a job of work. Make sure you're watching German news shows and lectures every day for the next year!


Diana Obermeyer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:45
Member (2013)
German to English
+ ...
No such a thing as a non-starter Apr 26, 2014

- Is option A (‘passion’) really a non-starter?

I don't think there's any subject area, in which it is impossible to make a decent living. Some fields pay more than others on average, but there is a bottom-feeder and a premium segment for each group.

How much business you generate in each subject area will depend on two factors - your translation skills and your marketing. The more specialised you are, the more you will build a reputation for those areas. If you achieve the right quality that means less work at a higher price. Pretty much where we all want to be.

I mostly work on business documents, but then I also cover rock-climbing. A change is as good as a break. I have no ambition to really focus on the sport, but with some targeted marketing, it wouldn't be impossible. Personally, I'm happy to just enjoy it in between.

- If I go for option B ... should I stick to 1, 4 and 5 – which I understand and have an interest in, or should I also add 2 and 3 (and maybe drop something else)? Would 1, 4 and 5 generate enough income?

With the right marketing AND the right quality, even just 1 of those 3 fields will generate sufficient work, but they are a sensible combination. Understanding and interest shine through in the target text.
I try to continue postgraduate studies on the side, and naturally I hope to also bring that into my translation work. Specialised knowledge in less frequented fields is never a bad thing.

However, I would judge that assignments in the areas 2 & 3 are not likely to be assigned to a new translator and it is probably necessary to establish yourself on the translation side first. So I would stick to the subjects you already know and like and focus on the language and translation skills. You can still add these other areas later, once you have established a good workflow and, if necessary, drop whatever generates the least income and/or enjoyment for you personally.


United Kingdom
German to English
Thank you Apr 26, 2014

Thank you for all your suggestions. I have decided to follow my passions rather than do something just for the sake of money (have done that for long enough already).


Frankie JB
English to French
+ ...
things you need to know + specialism selection May 7, 2014

Hello b2f, here are my thoughts, a bit late, in a jumble:

1) You don't need to be a good conversationalist or live in your source-language country to be a very good translator. It certainly is not a drawback but that won't make or break your fate don't worry. As far as German is concerned, you better be a good grammarian.

2) Prior to specializing, make sure your linguistic skills are good enough! From what I read, this is the main stumbling block. Translating is more than mastering a language but it's a prerequisite.

3) a) You don't have to specialize. Many translators are not "specialized" per se, ie they don't have a real, "active" expertise in specific fields. Some have become knowledgeable in certain fields by means of practicing but it's likely they have never read a book on their so-called "specializations". The word is often overused and you shouldn't make a big deal of that: you can earn a living as a "general" translator.

b) There are chances that with 10+ years in a different industry (IT/finance/insurance) you already have what it takes to say you are specialized! The next step will be to become familiar with the source terminology.

4)a) Regarding the selection of your specializations, let me first quote Churchill:

It seemed to me that it would be very foolish to discard the reasons of the heart for those of the head. Indeed I could not see why I should not enjoy them both. I could not feel that the Supreme Creator who gave us our minds as well as our souls would be offended if they did not always run smoothly together in double harness. (I think Aristotle chiped in in the same direction btw).

Put otherwise: you should not give up your passion specializations because passions are what drives you in life and make it interesting. But obviously you have to make sure there's demand for what you offer... Bottom line: as usual in life, striking a balance is the best bet... icon_biggrin.gif Follow your heart (first) and follow the money (too)! If you have spent a lot of time reading and learning in your potential specialisms (both passion and money), the goal must not be that faraway I guess... maybe some more reading in the source language and you'll be ready.

b) More details on your specialisms:


- History: don't know how large is the demand but it may be too broad to be a specialty (just like "engineering" is too broad);
- Culture: ditto;
- Food & drinks: not really a specialism; icon_biggrin.gif
- Politics: not sure about what I'll say, but I have the feeling that most needs in the field are from newspapers / magazines, and I think that those have in-house people; I like politics too but never had any request, not sure the demand is very large for pure players like us;
- Self-help: I like self-help too and I can say with certainty that the bulk of material has English as source language. Not sure the demand from German is large (except maybe for Feng Shui? icon_biggrin.gif).
- Philosophy: my guts tell me there must be some demand from German (due to its historic relation with the subject) but I don't know how much / where it is.


- IT: I see it just like you: the bulk has English as source language. But I'm pretty sure, too, that there are loads of IT-related companies in Germany that have translation needs, SAP being the most prominent. There are opportunities.
- Insurance + finance: considering your extensive experience I suggest you must have the necessary background/culture to handle pretty much any subtopic (except maybe accounting and some others?). As a rule, finance is among the safest bets of the industry I'd say, with a solid demand in all FIGS pairs...

Toi toi toi, hope you make it! icon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2014-05-07 19:41 GMT]


Frankie JB
English to French
+ ...
the example of L10N May 7, 2014

Quickly: to lend weight to my item 3)a) above (ie the term "specialization" is overused), a good example is that of "localization". If you browse translator profiles here you'll see that a number of them say "I specialize in localization".

Besides the fact that theoretically localization is about software/website engineering (and not translating), many people use it now as if it were a translation specialty. But when you think about it, it's nonsensical: one translates substance, not form. If the product to localize is a health center website or an accounting software, "specializing in localization" gives no indication of your competency... Just one example of misuse among others... An example, too, that there's room for industry foreigners to find a spot, provided they have a bit more commonsense than others...

[Edited at 2014-05-07 20:41 GMT]


United Kingdom
German to English
Finance May 8, 2014

Hi Frankie JB,
Thank you for your posts.
Yes, I realised soon enough that finance is the safest bet, and that's what I am focusing the bulk of my energy on now. Getting established in the shortest possible time is the first goal and finance is the easiest vehicle to do that.


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