Pages in topic:   [1 2] >
Why do we take on translation jobs that go beyond our experience
Thread poster: David Hollywood

David Hollywood  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:06
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jan 7, 2011

this is a very common issue and affects us all (I'm sure that we have all at some stage accepted jobs that are somewhat beyond our scope of ability and knowledge) (there may be exceptions ... as I'm sure some people will assure us) but the reality is that we all had to start somewhere and needed helpicon_smile.gif) what do colleagues think about how to deal with the temptation to take on something that you're not really capable of completing without assistance? (and I'm looking for truthful answersicon_smile.gif)


milinad  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:36
German to English
unknown field Jan 7, 2011

I have never taken up a job in the field which I am not familiar with. I normally ask for sample text before I accept a job or commit deadline.


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:06
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Common scenario Jan 7, 2011

I'm so stupid that it happens all the time that a customer offers a job of a field I'm not familiar with. One of my specialities is tourism, but for almost every job I have to study the situation anew, because every time there is something new and unexpected in the text. Both languages change over time.

In 2007 I took a project for heat pumps. I had never read about this subject until then. The customers representative made his corrections to my initial translations and I have got jobs from the same customers ever since.

I'm sure if another supplier of heat pumps would offer me translations I would have to start all over because terminology varies a lot.

Modern technology changes so rapidly that no translator is in a position to say: Yes, I know this subject.


French to English
+ ...
Mentoring Jan 7, 2011

Find a competent mentor, tackle a text that goes *just* beyond your comfort level, research the topic thoroughly *before* beginning, and have the mentor give you feedback. We are all always learning, even in our fields. Thus the importance of refresher courses and lifelong learning.
As for taking on texts beyond our ability, putting ourselves in the place of our poor readers may help remove that temptation! It hurts them, it hurts us in the long run too, and the profession as a whole.


Adam Łobatiuk  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:06
Member (2009)
English to Polish
+ ...
Fields aren't always easy to define Jan 7, 2011

I never take any jobs specifically about e.g. medicine, law, insurance or accounting. But there are jobs that span several fields and various skills, for example the localization of software for insurance companies. How many people specialize in both software localization and insurance (and a foreign language)? Or license agreements as part of software localization projects. Or telecom/networking service agreements. Someone has to do those things, and it would be difficult to find people who are experts in both (or more) fields at once.

Also, there are certain fields and jobs that people learn by trying. Most good IT translators I know never studied or worked in IT, and many managers never studied management. Other such examples can be found in journalism or PR.

There are also more niche fields that don't generate enough work for specialized translators to earn a living, so either such translators expand to other fields, or jobs go to more or less random translators.


Halil Ibrahim Tutuncuoglu "Бёcäטsع Լîfe's cômplicåtعd eñøugh"
Local time: 22:06
Turkish to English
+ ...
Speciality fields Jan 7, 2011

If you work as an in-house translator all the time new clients will offer new jobs of the fields you are not specialised in and you have to make them in no time. You have no luxury to say " No" so you really have a very hard time sometimes.


Susan van den Ende  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:06
English to Dutch
+ ...
What's wrong about needing assistance? Jan 7, 2011

You don't have to know everything. Needing help is fine. Just make sure that you know where to get that help before accepting the job and then indeed get it, even if it'll cost you some money.

The temptation to accept a job that's just outside of your comfort level is not a problem. Recognise your own limitations and get them covered. Of course, this only works if you *are* comfortable with the bulk of the material and only require assistance for a limited number of specific issues.

The real problem occurs when you're tempted to do the job all by yourself to save time or money, or when you don't actually realise that you lack sufficient knowledge or translation skills.


Gilla Evans  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:06
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not any more Jan 7, 2011

Because I now have the luxury of specialising in the areas in which I have a real interest, knowledge and experience. Although I never stop learning as fields such as art and architecture continue to develop and change, and I have to keep up with them. Background reading, specialist courses and continuing professional development are vital. And almost every job throws up a challenge or two, however much experience I bring to the table.

But how did I get there?

When I started out as a fulltime translator in 1981, I worked first for a duck breeding farm. I learnt the business on my feet with the help of the client. Soon I was well versed in the commercial and technical side of this export business, including all manner of avian diseases and their treatment. And after that I began to learn about the steel industry and the inner workings of steam turbines. I developed the requisite research skills and never hesitated to discuss any issues with my clients. The important thing was always to produce a very good job.

Back then there were no MA diplomas in translation and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting was a mere twinkle in the eyes of individual professionals.

Having said that, even then I would never have touched a medical or legal translation as I do not have the requisite background knowledge and am unfamiliar with the terminology.

Specialisation is crucial, but the skills can be acquired in many different ways.


Theo Bernards (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:06
English to Dutch
+ ...
Look upon it this way: Jan 7, 2011

I see being a translator as a continuous learning process. On translation practices, on techniques, on language issues, and last but not least on subjects. That is, for me at least, both a challenge and one of the more pleasing aspects of being a translator. While I subject-wise strive to stay within certain parameters and not touch certain subjects, I will certainly not shy away from subjects that are merely touching my specialisms or knowledge if the situation arises. And I wouldn't have it any other way, because it keeps routinely producing standard translations at bay; if I want routine, I will go and find a 9 to 5 office job or, even more routine-based, a production job in a local factory.

The mind is a muscle and as with any other muscle, you strengthen it by exercising it. Besides, the sense of satisfaction is so much greater when you have completed a challenging assignment to the full satisfaction of the client, that alone makes taking on challenging assignments worth it.

As others said in this thread, there are subjects I wouldn't touch. Not out of fear, but out of common sense: I know next to nothing about subjects as nuclear energy, so why should I risk translating a user manual for a critical process in which a mistranslation could in theory lead to a melt-down?


Amy Duncan (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:06
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Used to, but don't any more Jan 7, 2011

When I first started out, I did take some jobs I didn't know much about, simply because I wanted to build up my work. I struggled with those jobs, but did a lot of research and did the best I could. Now I never take jobs that I feel are too far beyond what I'm familiar with to be able to nail them with some decent research. And I have also stopped accepting jobs that I know will drive me nuts or bore me to death.icon_biggrin.gif


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:06
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It's the only way to learn! Jan 7, 2011

Susan van den Ende wrote:

You don't have to know everything. Needing help is fine. Just make sure that you know where to get that help before accepting the job and then indeed get it, even if it'll cost you some money.

The real problem occurs when you're tempted to do the job all by yourself to save time or money, or when you don't actually realise that you lack sufficient knowledge or translation skills.


That said, it is one thing to take on a job that is just outside your limits, when you have time and know where to get help, and quite another to accept a source text that you are struggling to understand before you even think of translating...

The first is how you gain experience, while the second is unforgivable and unprofessional.

Always ask to see the whole text, and check it over before confirming with the client that you can translate it. Then if you say no, stick to your refusal.

I have had one or two nasty experiences where the client has come back with the same job and twisted my arm with the story that no one else can do it...
It is not worth the midnight oil and the misery of knowing it is not good enough, but being unable to do any better.

Good clients understand and respect your refusal, so they come back with something more suitable. In the end it saves them a lot of trouble too.


Noni Gilbert  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:06
Spanish to English
+ ...
Like a lot of my colleagues... Jan 7, 2011

...I am not quite perfect, and I was reassured in another recent poll to see that I was not the only one to be found guilty of failing to read every last word of a text before committing to translating it. We are pushed to this by pressure from agencies/clients in a hurry, their reassuring words, inferior skimming techniques (mine anyway), and the like, which includes, dare I say it, a tiny little bit of laziness, which means that you might skip page 27 when checking through in advance. Forget what we learnt on the courses, and what our colleagues tell us, and what we even claim in forum posting, this is reality!

But, as has been said above, as long as you aren't straying way out of your comfort zone, this is the attraction of translating; if I didn't have the chance to do some research, and to become this month's expert on, say, the culture of the Vettonian people (and it was a pretty simple tourism text), then you'd be looking at terminal boredom, and I for one would be casting around for another source of intellectual stimulus.

And, as Heinrich among others says, things change and develop. One of my specialities is safety research in the automotive (and that's a debatable word) sector, where I am often writing about new technology and techniques, so goodness only knows what some of the things are called. Sometimes I get to sit down with the client and DECIDE on a word - now there's a plus, getting to coin new vocabulary!

Back now to a thoroughly tedious text where I know all the words for all the things being talked about. Yawn.

Happy New Year to you all



Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 21:06
German to Serbian
+ ...
Reasearch skills, text dynamic knowledge Jan 7, 2011

.. are essential, IMO.

What about multidisciplinary texts? Would you think a translator working on them must be a specialist in each discipline/aspect of the text, say there are 20 different aspects/fields in it?


Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:06
Member (2007)
+ ...
Variety is the spice of life Jan 7, 2011

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
One of my specialities is tourism, but for almost every job I have to study the situation anew

I, too, specialise in tourism but what exactly does tourism cover?

Tourists are, after all ... people. And people are notoriously fickle.

One wants to study the exhibits in a local dinosaur museum; another wants to learn about the local wine industry (in-depth study rather than tastings!); a third is very interested in Gothic, ancient Greek or Roman architecture; others want to fly above the local area on a paraglider, study the local flora and fauna or explore the subterranean scenery. Et cetera.

It appears that, as a French to English translator specialising in the tourist industry, I am expected to be a specialist in all these fields and many others, too.

Then again, translating the same old stuff, without the need to look anything up, must be dreadfully dull. Even if I get less rich, I think I'd rather have a bit of variety. Although you must know where to draw the line!


Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
Good Q:-) Jan 8, 2011

Why do we take on translation jobs that go beyond our experience?

Two situations come to mind.

When I was a novice:

I sometimes didn't know I didn't know a subject or topic
I lacked experience of the profession and contact with other professionals
Most agencies - who should have known better - never actually asked
I needed clients, work, money ... and experience

Combining all those circumstances, I ended up doing jobs that now I wouldn't do. I didn't choose deliberately to do jobs that were possibly beyond me, I simply ended up inevitably doing some that were - due to lack of experience and, above all, guidance!

Now I'm a grown up translator:

I realise that the more I know, the more I feel I really don't know!
I have a very, very good idea of what I don't know
I also have a good idea of what good research can do
I'm 1000% more pro-active with clients and ask their help with difficulties
I know what fields I wouldn't touch with a barge pole, whether for lack of interest or experience

I'm doing work now that, in parts, goes "beyond my experience". That's because it's a new area for a long-standing client. I'm doing a lot of research and some talking to the client. It's taking me ages! I'd never have taken this subject on for a new client! Fortunately, it's only parts (about 10%-20% of the text max).

As for "beyond one's experience", that's rather difficult to measure. Certain fields would be beyond my experience according to some standards (lack of field expertise or lack of previous translation experience), but because of my interest in them, I might well do a better translation than someone less motivated. I started in a new area for me last year that I was very interested in (I've read widely although superficially in the field for years) and once I was commissioned a second text, I started to buy and read more specific material in more depth. And, of course, I go the extra loving mile in the translation, with each word, sentence and paragraph:-)

Pages in topic:   [1 2] >

To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Why do we take on translation jobs that go beyond our experience

Advanced search

Anycount & Translation Office 3000
Translation Office 3000

Translation Office 3000 is an advanced accounting tool for freelance translators and small agencies. TO3000 easily and seamlessly integrates with the business life of professional freelance translators.

More info »
Manage your TMs and Terms ... and boost your translation business

Are you ready for something fresh in the industry? TM-Town is a unique new site for you -- the freelance translator -- to store, manage and share translation memories (TMs) and glossaries...and potentially meet new clients on the basis of your prior work.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search