6 Reasons Why New Translators Should Specialize

When you’re starting out in the translation industry, you hear a lot about specialization. People tell you to find your niche and become a specialist, not a generalist. Why? This article will give you six reasons why new translators should consider developing their specialist fields.

Becoming a specialist isn’t an overnight process. There’s nothing wrong with being more of a generalist at the beginning of your career. But, as a new translator, specializing in a few related fields over time will help you in the long run. Here’s why.

  1. Work faster

The more you know about a subject, the faster you can translate texts related to it. If it’s an area where you have expertise, you can work more quickly without this affecting quality. You don’t spend as much time on researching terms because you already understand them.

Maybe this field has a particular jargon or terminology and you’re familiar with it. Perhaps there’s a certain style that’s often used and you’re already up to speed. Compare that with translating in a field you don’t know about; you’d be much slower.

Specializing might allow you to work faster because you’ve worked in the field before, or it might be because you’ve translated a lot in that area. However you get there, expertise and familiarity with the subject will mean you can work more quickly than in areas you don’t know as well. Specializing can help you become more productive.

  1. Earn more

Being more productive (while still ensuring quality) means you can be more profitable. It’s simple mathematics. If you can produce good quality work quickly, you have time to accept more work. But it’s not just about volume.

Specializing or becoming an expert in your field changes the kinds of customers you can attract. Think about it: Your car breaks down. Do you call in a qualified mechanic or try to fix it yourself with the help of YouTube? Most people will choose the person with expertise and/or experience.

Customers want someone they can trust. They want an expert. By being a specialist in their field, you can position yourself as their go-to person. It’s all part of building a relationship of trust. Specializing makes you more productive and a more attractive proposition to potential customers, both of which are very important to new translators.

  1. Find clients

Become a specialist to find customers. Part of specializing means you start to make contacts with people in the same field or industry. Maybe you used to work in that field and these are connections from your time in the industry.

Offering translations in a particular niche means you can use your contacts to meet potential customers—people who might need translations. Because these potential translation buyers work in niche areas they may also be prepared to pay more for a translator they can trust to do a good job.

  1. Develop profitable relationships

Become your customers’ trusted collaborator and develop long-term relationships. Being the customer’s go-to person and someone they can rely on means you can use your specialism, not only to attract these clients but also to keep them.

  1. Grow your business

New translators need to grow their business. If you’re already offering translations to a particular industry, then you can use that expertise to begin to offer other services. Maybe your clients need a related service, like copywriting.

Tourism expertise might lead you to gain contact with industries like beauty and wellness. Starting from a position of knowledge about one area can gradually lead to opportunities in other areas. You might need to do some further study or team up with colleagues, but the opportunities are there.

  1. Enjoy your work

Last, but not least, specializing means you can concentrate on doing what you enjoy. Many new translators become specialists simply by gradually doing more and more of the work they enjoy most. They might go on and do some further study to back that up, but it’s often how a specialism begins.

I specialize in tourism and fashion and both have developed gradually as I accepted more and more work in those fields. These specialist fields can be quite varied and encompass many types of customers and projects. That means I’m never bored; working on projects and with customers I like means I enjoy my job.

First steps to specializing

Think about the skills you already have that might help you decide where you could specialize. Perhaps something you have studied? An industry you have experience in? Maybe a particular field you are interested in? It might be possible to do some further study and use this to leverage some opportunities. For more information about how to specialize, read my article How to Choose a Translation Specialisation. Good luck!

Image source: Unsplash

Author bio

Lucy Williams is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. She holds the IoLET Diploma in Translation (two merits) and has been working as a translator since 2009. Lucy specialises in fashion, tourism, art, literature and social sciences. She is also a copywriter/blogger. You can read her blog at translatorstudio.co.uk. Twitter: @LucyWTranslator.

7 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why New Translators Should Specialize

  1. In the section on earning more, you refer to greater productivity and suggest that this will allow you to work more and therefore earn more. But I believe that specializing allows you to command higher prices, since you are the go-to person for your client; the one they can trust to produce the work they want, without losing valuable time dealing with the kind of issues that arise with someone who does not know their sector well.
    If you are more attractive to potential clients, then you should be able to command better rates. IThis is particularly true of direct clients, but also true of some of the smaller agencies that are obliged to position themselves on quality and not quantity to survive. If you can command better rates, you can, in fact, work slower and produce really good results. We all like to be productive, but it is not the be all and end all.

    • Hi Miranda, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I absolutely agree about commanding higher prices, but I also believe specialising can help you work faster too and, although that’s not the whole story, it’s part of how you can make more money as a specialist. Obviously the ideal is to combine productivity with higher rates.

  2. One other advantage of specialising is that you can build up a resource data base, and do interesting things with your translation memories and termbases – such as create glossaries, primarily for your own use. I agree with Miranda Joubioux that specialisation does not necessarily equate to faster turnaround. It does mean that you can charge more, and in doing so, take an additional step in ensuring quality: engage the services of a similarly specialised translator in your language pair to perform collaborative revision, as part of the service you offer your client.

    • Hi Allison, thanks for your comment! Yes, I agree. Becoming a specialist customers trust means you can also offer other services such as revision and I think that adds to the image of you as a professional.

  3. I like your emphasis on using specialization to be able to spend more time doing work one genuinely enjoys, Lucy. Lots of people seem to forget that.

    Re working faster, hmm, not so sure. In fact I doubt very much that specializing accelerates delivery times for me. It may even slow me down, since it’s made me more aware of nuance and detail that a generalist could well ignore and blast through (not knowing what she doesn’t know, etc.).

    The real clincher I see is that specialization allows a skilled translator to produce higher quality work (sometimes much, much higher quality).

    As for earning more, my impression is that past a certain point productivity is far less important than expertise, which lets specialists raise their price per unit (hour, word, day). I’ve seen with my own eyes specialist prices that are three to four times higher than generalist ones, with quality to match – confirmation that it really is worth it for translators and clients to raise the bar.

    • Hello Christine, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that perhaps the most important thing is to do work you enjoy! That’s one of the advantages of specialisation that I really treasure, concentrating on work I like doing!

  4. Hi Lucy,

    We live in an age where every person who is a true expert no matter what the field or profession — and this is certainly true of translators — specializes.

    As Chris notes, you will simply produce dramatically better translations through specialization.

    The other not insignificant point is that given the complexities of, say, optics, spectroscopy, cosmology, and, oh, i don’t know, how about string theory? You either get a physics degree, specialize, and work with other physicist-translator reviewers, or spew out garbage.

    Where translators get into trouble is when the equations and schematics are not enough to scare them off, and they figure a few online legal courses can turn them into a perfectly competent legal translator.

    But a little knowledge can, as they say, be a dangerous thing.

    Here are two thoughts on the importance of specialization I wrote clear back in 1997, in the earliest days of the Web, and I think that advice is as timely today as it was back then:

    Master Your Subjects.
    The first principle of commercial translation is to deliver a product of unparalleled quality. All long-term success in the translation market is built on this foundation. The increasing complexity of modern technology and international commerce, however, has forced translators, journalists and other writers to develop increasing levels of sophistication and expertise in technology, law, banking, international trade and other fields. Translators with a formal education in the various subject areas have a huge advantage in the commercial market. There is simply nothing in the translator arsenal to substitute for mastery of subject matter. By hook or by crook, master your subjects. This expertise will improve the translation, solidify understanding, protect the client and enhance your authority. This authority is—not coincidentally— critical to the success of our profession. Forget nail biting through interminable “specialization vs. generalization” debates. Choose one or at most two commercially viable specialty areas and learn everything about them. Remember that translators come in two varieties: “Specialists” and “hungry.”

    Appreciate Your Limits.
    If you ever come across a podiatrist who insists on surgically removing your spleen with a spoon, you will soon discover why specialty knowledge is important. If you ever advertise yourself as a translator who can “do any subject,” you will look like the hapless podiatrist. The process of choosing specialty fields necessarily means not choosing many others. All good translators recognize the limits of their knowledge and turn down (or refer to colleagues) assignments that may imperil the quality of their product. The act of referring work to colleagues goes beyond charity: It protects the initial translator’s reputation by deflecting work that could deflate a hard won reputation for quality. It also promotes the notion that what translators do is sufficiently complex and demanding to require specialization. This happens to be true.

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