• Sijin Xian

Why Should Translators Have Specializations?

Suppose you fancy Art Deco and want to find someone to incorporate such elements into the design of your home. Would you contract with a general interior design firm or one that specializes in this particular style? Say you live in the United States and the most competent and desirable designer you find is based in France. Will you back down from initiating contact simply because he or she lives too far away?

We live in a globalized and specialized world. And markets in this world often defy the intuitive assumption that you get more business by offering more services. On the contrary, this is a time when you broaden your client base by narrowing your specialties. Thanks to the modern technologies that connect people from all corners of the world instantly, your clients will find you as long as you are exactly who they are looking for. And how can you get found? By being relevant and relatable.

It all boils down to this. In a world where choices are more abundant than ever, we want something that is meant especially for us—from clothing lines that speak to our personality to cafés that provide the perfect ambiance. The translation industry is no different. When clients have the access to a boundless talent pool saturated with skilled and talented translators, in order to stand out as “the obvious choice,” your skills and talents have to climb the ladder of specializations.

It would be wrong, however, to regard specializations as mere marketing gimmicks. The best career combines one’s passion and expertise. And having a specialization is the gateway to a successful translation career. Of all the wonderfulness that comes from the freedom of freelancing, the right of saying “no” is surprisingly and regrettably under-exercised. There are translators who toil day and night for low-paying clients just to make ends meet, devoid forever of the bargaining chip to negotiate a better offer. There are translators who agree to do a project in an unfamiliar field, only to hand in work in a compromised quality that leaves a permanent dent on their reputations. Such failures to assert oneself to only work on desirable projects at acceptable rates result from the ignorance of one’s talents and values.

Translation is not a cheap labor. It is not patching together dictionary search results into comprehensible sentences. It is an art, craft, and science. A good translator needs to have obsessive sensitivity to words, extensive reading and writing acumen, and expressive precision that comes from years of linguistic and cultural immersion. In fact, it is impossible not to have a specialization if one wants to have a thriving translation business. It takes time and effort to become an expert in any field, and only the experts get sought after.

This is also why so many established, highly specialized translators out there have actually switched to translation after a stint as a professional in their respective fields. There are former pharmaceutical specialists who now work as translators specializing in medicine, lawyers who now work on legal translations, and advertising professionals now dedicated to translating marketing materials. In today’s world, every industry has to communicate their messages internationally. The possibilities to find you own niche in the market are endless.

Finding your specialization is easy. At some point your interests in certain things start to surpass the rest. Cultivating your specialization takes a lot of hard work, but it’s doable with tireless training and learning. Moreover, as translators, our professionalism ultimately lies in protecting our clients’ interests by providing them with translations of the highest caliber. We have to have an objective assessment of what we do best so that we deliver our best work when the clients’ projects are in the field of expertise. When the tasks are beyond our specialization, we also need to have the integrity to let our clients know that we are not comfortable translating their projects. Therefore, translators should have specializations so that we can be better translators and have happier clients, which in return make us more successful and respectable professionals.



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