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How Can you Specialize as a Freelance Translator to Gain more Business?

Have you just begun or are thinking about beginning work as a freelance translator? You are probably overwhelmed as there are no hard and fast rules to follow during this process that will ensure you are successful. Not to mention, the translation business has become increasingly competitive and now more than ever you need something extra to add to your CV to stand out in the crowd. Recently, many translators are talking about “specialization” and for good reason. Depending on your language pair, choosing one or two areas to become an expert in might be necessary for your success. In this article we will discuss the topic of specialization within translation. We will talk about the benefits of specializing, how to choose a specialization, and finally, how to become knowledgeable in your area of specialization.

Do you need to specialize?

Depending on your language pair, you may not need to find a specialization. If you translate English to Mongolian for example, your skill set is already niche enough and specializing in finance or basket weaving would be unnecessary. Translators with more common language pairs like English to French, German, Spanish, Russian, or Chinese will have more saturated markets and to stand out amongst the competition it will be beneficial to pick one or more specializations. The need for translators to specialize in an area is fairly new and stems from the growth of the internet. The internet has caused a tremendous expansion of knowledge and two consequences of the expansion affect translators. Firstly, there is now an abundance of information available and translators cannot be expected to be experts on everything. Choosing a specialization will help you save time by allowing you to focus your research on one or two topics. Once you know these areas well, you can deliver translations fastermore quickly and in turn receive more work.The second consequence of the rise of the internet is that someone from China can search for and find a translator in a small town in Poland. If the Polish translator doesn’t meet the Chinese client’s needs, then he can look elsewhere. This ability to search the world for an adequate translator makes the translation industry extremely competitive. Having significant knowledge and experience in specific areas will assure clients that you are right for the job.

How do you choose a specialization?

The task of choosing a specialization out of what seems to be an infinite number of areas can be daunting, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, choose an area that is of interest to you. Specializing in an area of translation will involve a lot of research and possibly dense readings about that field. If you choose something that is interesting to you or you’re already passionate about, you will be much more willing to dive deeper into the topic (or at the very least, it won’t be painful). Secondly, you should do what you know. A lot of freelance translators come to the translation industry after working in a different field. This will obviously give them a leg up as they have first hand knowledge of, for example, how the legal system works, medical terminology, car parts, etc. What do you already have knowledge of or a background in? Even part time or temporary jobs you’ve held in the past or classes you took at university may be worth exploring since you will be starting from a base of experience. Thirdly, you should follow the money. Which specializations provide the most work or have the least competition? To have a better understanding of this you will need to research market trends. Look up which industries are relevant to your language pair and which companies are investing in the country of your mother tongue.  You should probably steer clear of specializations that are too technical or dense if you have no prior knowledge of the topic. The time it takes to teach yourself astrophysics probably won’t be worth the money. Also, stay away from specializations that are too niche or obscure. Specialization should lead to more jobs, not fewer. If you still don’t know where to start, there are numerous industries that demand regular work in the translation industry. These fields include: finance, patents, pharmaceuticals, medical, IT, legal, technology, advertising, automotive, and environmental science. So while there are unlimited topics to specialize in and this may seem overwhelming, these guidelines can help you choose an enjoyable and profitable area of expertise. Remember, nothing is set in stone so if you choose a specialization and it doesn’t produce the results you want, choose another!

How do you become an expert in your field?

There is not an official process to become an expert on a subject. Most industries do not require you to earn a certificate to say you have specialized in that given area. So then what makes you an expert? One way to become an expert in anything is to study, study, study. You will be doing a lot of research and reading about your specialization. A great way to stay informed about the latest developments in your field is to subscribe to a journal on your specialization. If you can read about your subject in both the target and source language you’ll be more familiar with the terminology. As you conduct your research, create a glossary of the terms you learn as this will save you time in the future. Another more formal approach to gaining knowledge on your chosen field is to sign up for courses and attend lectures and presentations about your specialization. You don’t have to break the bank by taking classes at a university, MOOC (massive open online courses) can be a great solution. MOOCs such as Coursera offer you a variety of subjects to learn about for four to ten weeks from the comfort of your home. And again, it is best if you can take courses in both source and target languages. Finally, you will need experience. Yes, it is difficult to gain experience when you have no experience so you may have to make sacrifices in the beginning. Your first few projects may not pay as much as you’d like or they may not be the most interesting, but successfully completing jobs will look great on your CV and give you more confidence and comfort in your field. The process of choosing a specialization is part trial and error and part finding the intersection between your interests, your background, and the demand of your language pair. Becoming an expert in your field will take time and involve self-discipline and a lot of reading, but the pay off can prove worthwhile.

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1 thought on “How Can you Specialize as a Freelance Translator to Gain more Business?

  1. As a transcriptionist, because you’ll be writing exactly what is said in an audio or video file you don’t need to know colloquial expressions, idioms, etc. of the language you’re transcribing. That is not the case when it comes to translation. A good translator must know idioms and colloquial expressions of the language they are working with to be able to produce high-quality translations.

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