Is it important to specialize if you are a new translator without much experience? The answer is yes. Online competition can be steep and by specializing you can stand out from the crowd. But that is not the only reason. Certain subjects simply demand a specialized translator in order to be able to produce a good translation. A highly specialized medical journal simply cannot be translated by someone without any experience in the specific medical field. A manual for a blow torch cannot be translated by someone who barely knows what a blow torch is. I should know, since I attempted to do it when I first started out. I quickly realized that it was not a good idea.
Some people become freelance translators after having pursued another career, and for them it is easy to choose a specialization. But how do we choose a specialization if we have recently graduated from a translation education, or have recently launched our freelance translation business translation program, with no previous work experience?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Base it on your previous experience. Many translators come in to the profession as a second career. There are lawyers and doctors who got tired of their everyday tasks have switched to becoming translators in the legal and medical fields. My education is in marketing and I have worked with IT-services, so that is what I chose to specialize in when I started out. Many subject matters in translation require the kind of expertise that only people who have worked in the field can have, such as the translation of highly specialized medical research articles, and chemical documentation.
- Pick an area that you enjoy reading about and researching. You are going to do a lot of reading in your specialization so make sure you find it interesting. If you cannot relate strongly to the subject you are not likely to become a real specialist in it either.
- Weed out the areas you do not want to specialize in, that you have no interest in learning more about and do not feel competent translating. For me it is legal translations. I do not have any legal experience to start with and I think many legal texts are difficult to read and plain boring, but that is my personal opinion.
- Pick a profitable field. This point does not exclude the previous ones, but is worth considering. If you specialize in an area where there is not much need for translation in your languages or that does not have money to pay for translations, it will not be profitable for you. It is wise to focus on an industry (law, IT, pharmaceuticals) in which clients have to translate texts in order to do business with other countries and cultures. It is also smart to focus on an industry (corporate communications, hospitality, tourism) where clients hope that a good translation will bring them more business and profit.
- Think of your interests and hobbies. We usually know a lot about subjects we are interested in and our hobbies. For example I could probably translate yoga material quite well since I have done yoga in both the US and Sweden and I love reading about it. I am also fairly well versed in nutrition and could make this an area of expertise if I really wanted to.
- When you have chosen a specialization, you can improve your skills in the field by taking courses, either university courses or online courses. You can also attend workshops in the subject matter and read as much as possible about it. Try to also find a more experienced translator in the field that can mentor you and/or proofread your work in the beginning.
For more information and help to create a marketing plan and get your year started right, check out the Quick Start Guide – 8 steps to a marketing plan for translators.