In my last post I looked at the concept of translation specialisation and its importance when you’re looking into becoming a freelance translator. But is it always necessary to specialise in an area of translation to be successful?
Unless you have come to translation from another field, such as medicine or law, many newbie translators, will not have a specialism. In some cases, it might be a good idea to try different text types to see what you like translating best – I’m not advocating taking on work for an engineering manual if you have no idea about engineering, but a tourism brochure or an advert would be a good way to see whether you are interested in those kinds of texts. As Corrine McKay advises in her article on Choosing your translation specializations:
But many translators are self-taught in their areas of specialization: they pick an area that looks interesting, start with work that isn’t too technical, and learn as they go along.
If you rule out a few different options, you’ll have a better idea of where you’re heading.
If you have an idea of an area of translation that you’d like to look into, but want to learn more, I would recommend checking out the courses available at Coursera. Coursera offer over 1,800 courses from 147 partner universities worldwide. Lots of the courses do need to be paid for, but they also include a certificate of completion that can be used to boost your CV. Another alternative is Future Learn who offer thousands of free online courses from 99 partner institutions from all over the world.
In this article by Chiara Grassilli for Translators Thoughts, she stresses the importance of not specialising yourself out of work. If you’re specialist field is so narrow, that you’re refusing work that is outside of that zone, then it’s going to very difficult to make a living out of translating. Grassilli recommends specialising in 2,3 or even four areas of interest and developing specialism over time. At the start it may involve more preliminary research to have the knowledge to complete the translation, but as this happens more and more the time you spend researching may decrease as you learn more about your field.
Grassilli also mentions the use of Computer Assisted Translation tools – if you use CAT tools, with translation memory functions, you will be able to creature your own translation memory and glossary to use with texts. This enables you to save time by searching your own database of information, rather than looking everything up online or in books time and again. .
That being said, commenters on McKay’s article stress the need for formal training for areas of high specialisation. And in the cases of medicine and law this may be more true, but to say that highly complex translation should only be completed by those who have experience in the medical/legal industry rather than those who ‘learn as they go’ is unfeasible – it would eliminate experienced and viable translators pure because of their ‘start’ in translation.
However, it also fair to say that as a beginner translator, whilst it may be tempting to take on any and every piece of work that is offered to you, it also important to be open and honest with yourself about what you think you can do. And openly misleading clients as to experience or knowledge so as to get work, is definite no go.
For more information on specialisms, please look at the articles linked above, as well as One Hour Translation: Specialist or Generalist.
What is your translation specialism? How did you decide what your specialism/s would be? Leave me a message below, or tweet me at @amjscorr.