What does "specialise" mean to you?
Thread poster: Fiona Grace Peterson

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:56
Member
Italian to English
Oct 22, 2015

In this business, we talk a lot about "specialising", however I was wondering what the term means to individual translators.

So if you think of yourself as a "specialised financial translator", "specialised legal translator", or whatever the field may be, what do you mean precisely? What does the term mean to you as a professional? What is it that sets you apart from "non-specialists"?

Sorry if the question seems vague, obvious, or downright idiotic!!! Just a little professional curiosity on my part.


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 08:56
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Living on the specialized domain Oct 22, 2015

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:

In this business, we talk a lot about "specialising", however I was wondering what the term means to individual translators.

So if you think of yourself as a "specialised financial translator", "specialised legal translator", or whatever the field may be, what do you mean precisely? What does the term mean to you as a professional? What is it that sets you apart from "non-specialists"?

Sorry if the question seems vague, obvious, or downright idiotic!!! Just a little professional curiosity on my part.


I define specialized properties of a person as the capability to earn a living mainly under respective domains e.g. work with knowledge of finance, technology, law. I generally define this word similarly with "professional" who earns income under very specific talents.

Soonthon L.


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Expert Oct 22, 2015

When I say I specialise in economics and finance, I mean I know what I'm doing rather than simply this is what I do most.

Although it is.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:56
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
It can mean two things Oct 22, 2015

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:
In this business, we talk a lot about "specialising", however I was wondering what the term means to individual translators.


If someone calls himself a specialist, then I expect him to be an expert in that field. However, at the same time, translators are often encouraged to "specialise", and that can't possibly mean "become an expert" (unless you can take three years off from translation in order to study in that field). So to me, when a translator says that he specialises in something, it means that he is more competent in that field than in any other field.

Note that in ProZ.com profiles, the word "specialise" has a different, non-industry standard meaning. For ProZ.com profile purposes, "specialise" simply means "fields from which I prefer to get most jobs".


 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:56
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Knowledge of context (understanding the industry) Oct 22, 2015

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:
So if you think of yourself as a "specialised financial translator", "specialised legal translator", or whatever the field may be, what do you mean precisely? What does the term mean to you as a professional? What is it that sets you apart from "non-specialists"?

For me it means having some kind of extra-ordinary understanding of the structure of the field in which you claim to specialise, rather than simply knowing a bit of terminology.

It does not mean "This is what I like translating".

For example, in technical translation it means: knowing how things, products or services are used, how they relate to other products (upstream/downstream) in the same ecosystem, being aware of competing technologies, keeping tabs on industry trends, tracking the latest news and so on.

Simple thought experiment. If you were talking to a professional in one of your specialist areas, could you have a sensible and credible conversation about that field? If the answer is yes, you can probably claim to be a specialist.

Regards
Dan


 

Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:56
French to English
A subtle difference at play Oct 22, 2015

I tend to think of "specialised xxxx translator" as one who restricts themselves largely or exclusively to that field.

Whereas a "specialist xxxx translator" is one with a degree of expertise in the field.

Clearly, it is to be hoped that there is substantial overlap.icon_smile.gif

Yet compare and contrast, if you will:
a) I am a specialist in Mediterranean folklore (seems plausible, even if this expertise is not often called for)
b) I specialise in Mediterranean folklore (read: I rarely actually translate anything at all)


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:56
Spanish to English
+ ...
My take Oct 22, 2015

My initial reaction is that specialisation is something that other people sometimes want me to do, and which sets off my alarm bells. I don't know why, something to do with putting all your eggs into one basket, I suppose. Whatever the reason, I prefer to work in a few different fields, and am normally willing to have a crack at almost anything I think I might be able to handle.

It would be easier for me to pinpoint what I can't do rather than what I can. For example, I gave up trying to do financial translations a few years ago, as I see it as a highly specialised field best left to the true professionals.


 

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:56
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
The downside to specialization Oct 22, 2015

You are right. My experience was not a positive one. Several years ago, I attempted to "specialize". The problem was that clients used me only for my specialty and I was no longer considered for any of the other miscellaneous jobs in other general subjects that did not necessarily require the use of a specialist, whereas before I would get offered a variety of projects (such as employee comment surveys, general business correspondence, website translations, etc.). Some I would accept, many I would reject. They see you only as a translator of "X" and they don't think to contact you for a document about "Y". Or they prefer to "save" your availability in case they get a project in your specialty. In addition, I also only received the "hard" and complicated technical projects in that subject area that no other general translator could do. As a result, I ended up working a lot harder, my productivity went down and I made less money. If your specialty is too narrow, you won't get much work. Too broad and clients get confused when you turn down work because you can't do it - "I thought you were an expert in....".

neilmac wrote:

My initial reaction is that specialisation is something that other people sometimes want me to do, and which sets off my alarm bells. I don't know why, something to do with putting all your eggs into one basket, I suppose. Whatever the reason, I prefer to work in a few different fields, and am normally willing to have a crack at almost anything I think I might be able to handle.

It would be easier for me to pinpoint what I can't do rather than what I can. For example, I gave up trying to do financial translations a few years ago, as I see it as a highly specialised field best left to the true professionals.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:56
Member (2008)
Italian to English
To me, it means.. Oct 22, 2015

...restricting the fields in which I translate - in my case architecture, construction, urban planning, interiors, product design, real estate and all related fields.

I find this attracts the kind of client who's on the same wavelength as me. We speak the same "language".

I sometimes get other jobs in other fields but those are the main ones.

If someone claims to be able to translate any kind of document on any subject, I wouldn't believe them. We translators are all "specialists" in one way or another, aren't we?

[Edited at 2015-10-22 15:22 GMT]


 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:56
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Worth another go? Oct 22, 2015

Jeff Whittaker wrote:
If your specialty is too narrow, you won't get much work. Too broad and clients get confused when you turn down work because you can't do it

Many people would agree that a sustainable competitive advantage is the single most important characteristic of a non-monopolistic business.

If you're a generalist and demand for services in your language pair outstrips supply, what you say makes perfect sense. You should just hoover up as much work as possible.

If, on the other hand, work is scarce and supply is plentiful, then clients will be more selective about who they work with. If you're a generalist like everybody else, how do you stand out from the crowd? Quality and service are important, but they may not be enough.

By specialising in a particular area you effectively move yourself into a different and (by definition) smaller market, ideally with a better supply-demand balance. That helps you stand out and tips the balance in favour of the translator rather than the buyer.

Like you, I think that balance is important. I wouldn't want to be reliant on just one type of translation as when that model fails it tends to fail very badly. But being a jack of all trades may not be the solution either.

Regards
Dan


 

TonyTK
German to English
+ ...
What, Oct 22, 2015

Charlie Bavington wrote:

... I am a specialist in Mediterranean folklore ...



all of it?


 

George Hopkins
Local time: 03:56
Swedish to English
Expert specialist Oct 22, 2015

An expert is a person who learns more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing.

 

Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:56
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It's easier to say what I can't/don't want to do Oct 22, 2015

neilmac wrote:

Whatever the reason, I prefer to work in a few different fields, and am normally willing to have a crack at almost anything I think I might be able to handle.

It would be easier for me to pinpoint what I can't do rather than what I can. For example, I gave up trying to do financial translations a few years ago, as I see it as a highly specialised field best left to the true professionals.


I quite agree.

And when you have a number of friends and acquaintances who work in different fields and you spend time with them discussing different topics, you end up learning quite a bit, not to mention the knowledge you acquire by translating.


 

Rolf Kern  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 03:56
English to German
+ ...
Gilt auch für mich Oct 22, 2015

Mit Helena

 

Madeleine Chevassus  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:56
Member (2010)
English to French
specialised: with a practical professional life in the domain. Oct 22, 2015

Hello

the goal is to understand what you are translating

For instance, people who were telecom professionals during 10 -15 years or more (if possible on many sub-subjects), or in other close domains, possibly in both languages
and became specialised translators later on

or

people specialised in the subject as technical writers in large companies .. (same as above)

or

translators having studied translation and specialisation at school.

These people are very good for translation generally speaking, and for specific terminology research. If they really focus in the domain, they'll master the core meaning quite soon.

Madeleine


 


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