How to find a specialist subject…

…and not stick to it, because you’ll keep on learning new ones.

When you’re starting out as a translator, your specialist subject areas are one of the first things a potential agency client might ask you about. This can be easy for those that are starting a translation career after working or training in a different sector earlier in life. My path to translation was much more linear…school, followed by language studies, followed by translation studies. I found the idea of finding a specialism hard to begin with, as my main focus has always been on language studies.

Working as a project manager, saw a lot of CVs, and I was slightly suspicious of the generalists, and the CVs with a huge list of specialisms. I do understand why people do this though, because whatever you choose to do, it has to be financially viable.

Here are a few of my thoughts on how you can find your stride.

Have you trained in anything else?

Most medical and legal translators have additional qualifications in these sectors, and their prices reflect this. If your studies like mine were language based, go back further – what other qualifications do you have? There might be a subject that you enjoyed at school which you could go back to. Outside of formal education, there could be other courses or subjects that you’ve attended through work or pleasure.

What are your hobbies?

This is a good way to start. Translators specialise in a huge range of subjects. A passion for reading could turn into a career as a literary translator. Sports fans can find work translating equipment manuals, magazines, marketing texts, and more. The only risk with going down this route is that some hobbies can be quite niche, so it might be better to branch out by a few things. My hobby is skateboarding, and whilst I’m realistic in knowing that there probably won’t be many opportunities knocking at my door, if there ever was someone needing this subject translated in my language pair, I know I would be the perfect person to do this.

Have you worked in any other job roles?

I worked in hospitality and customer service, as well as a plant centre when I was younger, so I know a fair bit about the products I was selling. Almost every job comes with some sort of life experience which could prove useful for you as a translator.

What type of writing are you good at?

Perhaps you have knack for marketing texts, where translations need to be a looser, and more creative. It might suit you better to work on more precise translations, like instruction manuals.

You might be questioning why this is all so important. As translators it’s important to uphold the high standards of accuracy that our clients deserve, and to do that, you truly need to know what you’re talking about. Ask yourself, could you write about your chosen specialism fluently in your native language?

Your clients and your end readers will be expecting the translation to be written in the correct style for the target market, using the correct terminology. There are some subjects that truly need to be left to the experts. Legal and medical translation can go catastrophically wrong if translated incorrectly. It’s important not to discount your life experience though – thing about the things you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you’re good at, and what you enjoy – don’t just focus on what qualifications you have down on paper. Over time, you’ll probably pick up different subjects. You might find a new interest, discover a new area of translation that you’re good at, or stumble upon new learning opportunities. Often there are introductory courses available for translators that you can take to give you a taste for new specialisms. The good thing is that your CV can evolve over time.

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