Translators and Specializations: The Chicken or The Egg?

Photo Credit: Autumn Mott via Unsplash

Whether you have been a translator for decades or are just starting out, having a specialization is critical. Why, you may ask? Simply put, customers want subject-matter experts working on their content. Though it may seem like a good idea to have a laundry list of “specializations” in order to find more work, especially when you are new to the profession, you do not want to be perceived as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Worse still, you do not want to set yourself up to be a master of none by never focusing on a specific area. But do translators find specializations, or is it the other way around?

Let’s look at a few of the ways that translators find specializations:

Start with your educational background
What did you study in college? You may be surprised how your educational background can be converted into a specialization. If you studied marketing, you could specialize in marketing translation; if you studied science, you could specialize in medical or life sciences translation. Even if you studied underwater basket weaving, there is a creative way to turn it into a specialization and carve out a niche for yourself. Look at your transcript, see what courses you excelled in (and liked!), and work on refining your expertise in that area. Customers are particularly interested in translators with advanced degrees in their areas of expertise, so if you have a Master’s degree of higher, your specialization will stand out.

Capitalize on previous work experience
Many translators started their careers doing something else. I know chemists, accountants, artists, and lawyers who have all become translators as a second career. Where have you worked in the past and how could you turn your experience into a specialization? Even that undergraduate internship with an event planner could prove to be useful for specializing in public relations, logistics (depending on the industry), or tourism.

Put your hobbies and passions to work
Do you spend every hour of your free time cooking, reading cooking blogs, and writing Yelp reviews of restaurants? You may have the background to translate menus, cookbooks, and other material related to food and beverage. Are you passionate about skiing, knitting, ceramics, gardening, or aviation? Chances are you already know much of the lingo and concepts necessary to develop a specialization in one of those fields.

It is also possible for a specialization to find a translator. It requires more effort, but it can be just as effective for developing an area of expertise. Look at the needs of your potential customers and the market. What’s missing? What’s needed? Certain fields of translation always seem to be growing thanks to our increasingly global world. However, you might not be an expert in these fields of translation… yet.

Developing a new area of expertise takes a significant amount of time and effort. If you are able to devote the resources necessary to become a subject-matter and terminology expert in a new field, you can start marketing your services to potential customers in that field.

When I first started translating full-time nearly four years ago, an agency I was working for needed someone who could translate bank statements. I must admit that, at the time, I was not an expert in the banking sectors in China or France. I had held bank accounts in both countries for several years, in addition to my US bank accounts, but that was all. So, I started taking on simple tasks first, working up in difficulty as I learned and perfected my skills. After nearly four years of experience translating many kinds of banking documents, I can now confidently call myself an expert in the field. My biggest piece of advice when developing a new specialization would be to ensure that you have a certain level of proficiency in the material before you accept projects from customers who are entrusting you with their content. They are relying on you for quality, and if you are not 100% confident you can provide it, you should not accept.

What’s your specialization? How did you cultivate your knowledge in your field of expertise? Please leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter by tweeting me at @Bentranslates.


3 thoughts on “Translators and Specializations: The Chicken or The Egg?

  1. Extremely happy to find this page…I am just starting studies as Freelance Writer with Penn Foster and Translation and Interpretation with USC San Diego. I am a little late, I am 40, but I don’t care. Don’t know where I can specialize but I guess I still have time to find out…will keep reading this blog. It is a heaven send!!!


    • I’m so glad you found this post useful and that you’re eager to follow. There are lots of other great resources out there, too. Be sure to check out the blogs I’ve listed on my page by other translators, too, they are full of useful information!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Savvy Newcomer – Interview with Catherine Christaki | Ben Translates

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