How Do You Choose a Translation Specialization?
For a translator, choosing a specialization is a piece of cake. There are so many different fields out there, you just need to pick one according to your likings. Do you like computers? Go for it! Sports? Why not! Choose one and specialize!
… No, it doesn’t work this way.
It’s not about choosing
Choosing is no the right word. Ever since I started my freelancing career I understood that a specialization was a must. Given that, I decided to choose a filed in line with the things I liked, obviously. When I was young I was good at remembering the physiology of the body; bones and muscles were my favorites. The little biology I studied was also easy to remember and seemed something logical to me. Moreover, I loved (I still do) technology and all the latest gadgets and inventions. Putting these things together, I ended up wanting to specialize in biotechnology. I was shooting for the moon.
With this idea of specializing in biotechnology in mind I went to the library looking for some good books, and I found a fantastic one (of which I cannot recall the name). This book was some sort of introduction to biotechnology, and I started studying it in my spare time. I was still in school at that time and there’s no need to say that, even if I liked what I was reading and learning, I barely finished Chapter One. The bad news is that studying full-time and working part-time as a server I couldn’t easily find time to specialize. The good news is that I hadn’t to, but I would realize it a little later in my career.
Go with the flow
Since I brought back that awesome book about biotechnology to the library, I felt very bad for not having time to specialize and I struggled to find a new specialization field as well. I was not sure where I was heading to (yet), and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. Finally, one day, at school, in my third year, after a translation class, I asked the professor what I should do, how to swim through the translation industry and find an island where I could create my little paradise. She told me something I had never read on any blog before (blogs were and are my main source of information). She told me that we do not choose a specialization. I would like to add “it’s the specialization that chooses us”, but that's not entirely true. What she said made me realize that I had seen things under the wrong perspective all along. What she said made me realize that I should have started with the experiences I already had on my CV.
In fact, I was already working on the translation of e-commerce product descriptions to be sold mainly on Amazon and Ebay. E-commerce is actually a field that I loved right away because it varies. I could translate products of various categories and of all kinds; a toy car, a children's game, a spare car part, a pair of socks for running… Anything that you can find on the Internet. The obvious question was “is e-commerce even a specialization?”. Of course it is! A translator can specialize in anything, really. I had to learn to choose the right keywords so that a search engine can easily find a product, for example. Or I had to learn to translate the text taking into account the Italian culture, which is a process called localization. E-commerce was just the right field to start with, and I am glad I had this opportunity.
Later that year, to complete my studies, I worked as an intern freelance translator for a company that rents high-end apartments. To prove that you cannot really choose a specialization, this internship let me attract more clients in the tourism and travel industry. I still translate apartment and hotel descriptions and brochures on a daily basis, but I do not market this field as my specialization even if I have translated many more words in this one than in any other.
Know where you’re going
It is not true that it’s the specialization that chooses you because hey, there are still things that we prefer more than others! Yes, I worked in the tourism and hospitality industry for 10 years as a barman/server and yes, I have translated more words in this filed than in any other. However, tourism and travel doesn’t satisfy the technical translator that’s in me, even if I enjoy this kind of translations a lot because they let me virtually travel the world and discover new places. There was something I was more interest in, and I bet that it's easy to guess just by looking at this very website ‒ Bicycles! Bicycles and all that comes with them: accessories, components, blogs, etc. Why? It’s not easy to explain. What I can say is that I had never thought of cycling as a specialization, it never crossed my mind, but by translating my very first bike components, which came up among other e-commerce product descriptions I had to translate, I realized that this was The Field. Translating bike components and manuals can get extremely technical but I love to search for and look at the exploded diagrams of bikes, they are my favorites. Also, by the time I realized that cycling was The Field, I had been living in big cities for over 7 years and you will agree with me that owning a bike in Paris, Marseille, Ottawa or any other big city means less stress, less expenses, quick commuting and a happier, healthier lifestyle too. Yes, I am a proud urban biker, and cycling is just the perfect specialization field for my career. It’s where passion meets work. It’s The Field.
Before finding The Field I spent so many sleepless nights trying to come up with one. Please, don't. If you are just starting out as a translator and you don’t have a deep knowledge of a specific field thanks to your previous job experience (i.e. you were a doctor and now you switch to translation), I recommend you to follow my example. Translate all texts you feel comfortable to translate, it’s a good ways to the ground, while paying close attention to what you’re translating and to what seems easy/interesting to translate. Remember also to take into account the things you like. Finally, don’t stress too much about finding the right field, but when you do find it, specialize. You do have to specialize, it’s essential! You’ll have people contacting you because you’ll be the person to contact. Or you can keep on bidding on job offers on UpWork, Proz.com, Translator Café etc. trying to survive in the jungle of the “lowest possible translation rate”.
Picture: The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, 1905, Henri Rousseau
I am sure you will find your field soon. By reading this article you're already heading to the right direction because you've moved from the "why should I specialize" question to the "how-" one. Don't you agreed with me? Just keep your eyes open and know where you’re going, one day you’ll leave the jungle for good.