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Specialize! Rather than claiming that you are able to translate every type of document, offer your services in a limited range of specialized fields. Over time, this will help you to build a clientèle who knows that these are your specialisms.
Specializing is a winning strategy
For translators looking for jobs online, it is particularly important to market themselves as specialists. Why? Because online competition can be steep. Becoming a specialist helps translators to stand out from the crowd, provided specialization is effectively and efficiently advertised.
It is tempting for an experienced translator to say that they specialize in certain areas but they can translate mostly anything in their language pair. However, clients are a lot more likely to look for translators whose skills match perfectly with the job they have in hand than to search for good all-around translators.
For instance a translation agency that needs a good and quick translation of an automotive patent will be more likely attracted by an offer reading "Patents Translated by Engineers - Tops in auto - Team of 3 if needed" than by a generalist approach such as "High Quality, Reliability". Of course it could be argued that the first translator is reducing his/her chances of picking up medical or literary jobs, but by being too general, the second colleague is reducing his/her chances of winning jobs of all types.
Some translators have pointed out that by specializing, it is possible to become knowledgeable in a given field, and familiar with the terminology in such field, in a shorter period of time. Also, it is possible to build up a useful translation memory more quickly. In a quick poll run by ProZ.com in April of 2010, Has specializing in certain fields increased your productivity as a translator?, 63% of respondents answered "yes" (vs. 9% who answered "no").
Picking your field(s) of specialization
As translators, our fields of expertise form a continuum rather than a list of clearly delimited subjects; at the core we have certain fields where we have great competitive advantage. This nucleus is surrounded by other areas of knowledge where such advantage gradually decreases to an average and, beyond that, the off-limits territories of stuff you should not do. It is not a bad idea to give it a try then, at least once.
It is not unusual for working and interest fields to develop more or less accidentally, by clients giving you jobs in these areas or by accumulating knowledge (and contacts) working as an employee. You may have been fortunate and actually enjoy this specialization. However, you should look around and inside to make sure that these are the fields you should be concentrating on.
If you don't relate strongly to the subject of your work, consider dropping them and develop the ones that are interesting to you instead. You are not likely to become a real specialist in a field you don't enjoy! And if you do not know which fields to choose, then you could simply pick something interesting to you. look at your interests, your hobbies, your passions, look for something you found interesting ever since you were a child, and only then find how you could transform these in fields of specialization.
Always try to select a field you are comfortable with, both language and topic-wise. You will spend much time translating and, if you pick your fields properly, the job can be more rewarding and even more fun. Though it is true that you must make a living, picking a field that you find arid, dry or indifferent looks like a bad choice. So, the selection of a field of specialization should go through a strong reality check.
Becoming a specialist
While some translators get their specialization by taking specific courses, sometimes at university level, and others get it from previous employment, most novice translators do not their career as specialized translators and they build their specialization as they build their translation experience. It is evident then that there is no single path toward specialization; you may consider taking a course that is not related to translation but field-specific, although this costs time and money; you may also learn by immersing yourself in the subject; or else, you may either be trained or train yourself in a given field. As long as you like the subject matter, your knowledge will accumulate.
One way to specialize in an area of knowledge is to read a lot in both source and target languages; getting hold of and reading as much literature as possible on the subject is a good start. Even though it may sound classical and dusty in this hyper-connected age, books are still a great source of knowledge. To gain a good understanding of a field you may look for teaching books in the field you are interested in. Go for the ones focused on principles rather than those that are highly specialized.
Almost every profession/technology/trade etc. has at least one corresponding trade journal. They mostly have interesting feature articles about new developments, materials, processes. Subscribe to them and read them to keep yourself up to date on new technologies, projects being undertaken throughout the world, new tools and development, etc. If you don't have the necessary background knowledge to understand the articles, you might be able to find it in Wikipedia or similar online sources. Journals will also point you to the manufacturers/suppliers of the subject you are interested in. Most of them have websites that frequently provide application reports, brochures, data sheets, etc.
Collect terminology and build term-bases for your own special fields or ones which are closely related. Record the preferred terms used by your customers in the field. Compile these bases in a terminological tool associated with your CAT tool. If you really work on developing translation memories and term-bases in your selected fields, you will also have the advantage of gradually being able to do the work faster in these areas (while maintaining accuracy), which will increase not only your productivity but also your earnings.
Look for workshops both on-line and in-person, to gain knowledge and understanding of your fields. the latter have the additional advantage of providing networking opportunities.
Learn by doing, i.e. start by learning about the subject first and then become a specialized translator in such field. Clients will choose you as a translator in such field because you know about it, and each new translation carries will carry you further down the road of specialization.
Look around for experts that could help you expand your specialization. Be creative. In many areas you may visit distributors and specialized shops to ask questions and see with your own eyes what you have read. These contacts can also be a source of trade terminology and even contacts.
Standing out as a specialist
These are a few tips to stand out as a specialist in the field you have chosen:
- Network! Over time, gather a team of top experts in your niche. You'll have them to go to when you land large jobs, and they'll have you when they do.
- Subscribe to trade journals. Identify key players in your field. Visit their web pages to learn about them.
- Contact key clients in your field directly with well-written, professional cover letters, resumes, portfolios, (opt-in) client lists.
- Attend trade shows, and otherwise get to know the key people and companies in your niche. End clients will recognize immediately that you know your (their) stuff.
- Create a website, at your own domain. On it, make your specialization clear. Include useful specialized information and link to resources. Register with the major search engines, and give your URL to clients when applying or delivering work.
- Share your expertise by publishing online articles in the areas in which you have special knowledge. People will contact you to discuss, or when they need help and/or your services.
- Your ProZ.com profile is a shop window that should clearly say what your specialization is. Use each field to highlight your experience in your chosen field. Be sure your tagline reflects your specific expertise. Use the "about me" area as your display.
- Subscribe to, and answer, KudoZ in your specific niche (you will find the KudoZ traffic is manageable when you target). Over time, you will not only earn points, you will also get to know the other experts in the field.
- Publish a glossary of your own in your field. Make it available to the general public. Upload specific sample translations to your portfolio.
- Build a field-specific translation memory. This will give you a competitive advantage, increasing your speed, consistency and profitability. (You may want to swap TMs with others whom you trust in order to grow your resource.)
Follow these guidelines and you will find that the reach of the Internet is your friend; clients worldwide who truly need your unique expertise and are willing to pay for it (and not a commodity service) are now just a mouseclick away from you. This has never in the past been possible.
Specializing at ProZ.com
At ProZ.com, you may show your specialization by:
- reporting your fields of expertise in your profile and listing them in order --with your top fields of expertise at the top of the list;
- earning KudoZ PRO points in your top language pair and in your top fields of expertise;
- listing sample translations and entering projects also in your top language pair or pairs and in your top fields of expertise;
- completing your "About me" to share information on what makes you a specialist in a given field.
- highlighting your expertise in your tagline;
- publishing online articles in the areas in which you have special knowledge;
- publishing in your profile a glossary of your own in your fields of expertise;
- creating a translation team with other colleagues working in the same field of expertise and language pair or pairs;
- creating your own website, making your specialization clear in most pages.
Discussion related to this articlePlease note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.
Elizabeth Hill Barsanti
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Md Abu Alam
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Italian to English
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