Choosing a field of expertise is crucial for any beginning translator. Many graduates of linguistic education establishments decide to become financial translators in the hope, among other things, of using their knowledge of economics obtained at the university or perhaps even earlier at school. If you are one of these, here are some tips you may find helpful.
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Sorry to say it, but my first and main advice is not to overestimate your previous knowledge. On one hand, economics as a science is very diverse. Even a fully-trained economist usually has a narrow focus and may lack knowledge in quite a lot of fields (e.g. econometrics, foreign trade, foreign exchange markets and option trading). And how many economic disciplines are taught to future translators? On the other hand, even if you were lucky and had accounting in your curriculum, it might well have been a course for non-specialists, so there is absolutely no guarantee that you will not have problems with texts on accounting. Don’t forget that if you call yourself a financial translator, one day a client may ask you to translate something as difficult as an IAS (International Accounting Standard). This leads us to two important points: (1) you should always be able to tell what you can translate from what you can’t, and (2) yes, your guess is right, you should continue studying economics.
Of course it’s highly recommended to get a second diploma, preferably in a specialized field, such as banking, financial management and the like. But chances are that once you get such a degree you will no longer want to be a translator! So you may prefer to study on your own, taking every chance to find out what different terms mean and how different indicators and ratios are calculated. Because what an editor notices first of all when reviewing a financial text translated by a beginner is misunderstanding or misuse of financial terms (as well as unfamiliarity with basic economic theories and misunderstanding of underlying economic processes).
More bad news: bilingual dictionaries are often useless. There is a very well known English-Russian dictionary which I wouldn’t recommend to any financial translator (though it may be good for technical or other translations). And there is another very well known English-Russian dictionary which I use constantly, but which at times offers me translations which I can’t accept or offers no translations at all for a very simple reason — quite a lot of English financial terms have not yet been translated into Russian, and you will not find their meanings in Russian — neither in dictionaries nor on the Internet. Banks abroad may offer services that are not yet known in your country. The financial world is changing rapidly, and new financial terms are introduced almost daily.
What should you do when you encounter such a word? First of all, find its foreign language definition, for example by studying foreign dictionaries for investors, articles in foreign language financial newspapers or other sources. This activity may be very time-consuming, by the way. Then try to create an equivalent in your language following certain rules that every experienced translator develops personally with experience.
How can you tell good dictionaries from bad ones, and how can you understand when the dictionary is right or wrong? Study economics, practice as a translator, gather experience, and one day you will surely have your own favorite dictionaries. But never trust any of them unconditionally!
One more word about dictionaries. Don’t ignore monolingual financial dictionaries and lexica. Use them to study the terminology used in your country. Accounting systems in different countries have their peculiarities, but some things coincide completely. Some financial terms you may think to be totally new have very well known equivalents in your language. Besides, accountants are very conservative and insist on the strict use of some terms. You may find that a foreign financial term has five different translations but they accept only one, and you should know which one is appropriate in each case. Try to find bilingual dictionaries issued by professional accountants’ associations or similar bodies. This may help you to avoid being accused of unprofessionalism.
It’s also very useful to familiarize yourself with financial statements in your language. If you want to be able to translate financial statements in the future, it’s an absolutely must for you not only to study their terminology and structure but also to know how they are prepared. This also applies, of course, to foreign financial statements. Then you will know, for example, that unlike income statements, balance sheets are prepared not for some year but as of some date, and you will not make a mistake in the very name of a balance sheet, such as I found in a text I edited some time ago.
Make sure you know the difference between price, value and cost as well as the difference between profit and margin. Also be aware of so-called “false friends”. In most cases, margin in Russian is not at all маржа, and a company with a focus on private banking is not at all a private banking company. So my general advice is never to forget the limits of your knowledge and to take every opportunity to expand these limits.