Developing a specialism for German to English translation
Thread poster: Laura Jones

Laura Jones
United Kingdom
Mar 3

Hi everyone,

I am considering a career in translation as a young person and I am seeking some advice with regards to the development of specialisms.

My source language is German and my target language is English.

I have prior experience living and working in Germany (just over 3 years) although as explained in a previous thread, predominantly in hospitality which I doubt would be a substantive specialism for regular income - although members have advised me
... See more
Hi everyone,

I am considering a career in translation as a young person and I am seeking some advice with regards to the development of specialisms.

My source language is German and my target language is English.

I have prior experience living and working in Germany (just over 3 years) although as explained in a previous thread, predominantly in hospitality which I doubt would be a substantive specialism for regular income - although members have advised me there could be some potential for work here. I plan to embark on a German and Politics undergraduate and then a postgraduate translation degree.

I would also like to simultaneously embark on an adult educational course to further broaden my potential for income in this field.

From my current research for this language pair, business and finance tend to be the most in demand specialist areas of work (but feel free to correct me if I am wrong).

My options are currently a diploma in Geo-Economics or International Business Law. These are part-time, self-paced and can also be studied for during the summer (when I will not have my studies to be concerned with) and are well respected in my country.

I have A-levels (UK advanced high school diploma) in economics, politics and law. I would prefer geo-economics but I would certainly not be unhappy to study international business law, especially if it significantly increased my chances of finding work as I would eventually like to freelance and I do not have family members to fall back on in the case of lack of work so it would be crucial for me to be able to provide a reliable source of income.

For anyone who has knowledge of this language combination, do you think one of these subjects has advantage over the other in terms of profitability (my inkling is that IBL would be better in this respect) or would the overall difference be negligible?

Any input or advice is greatly appreciated.

Laura
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Eric Zink  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:49
Member (2012)
German to English
my impression is legal Mar 4

I have been working in the German-English language pair for around eight years. There is quite a bit of business, but there seems to be at least as much technical content out there. That is the area I chose for myself, since I went to an engineering school where I completed a mechanical engineering field of study as part of a literature degree.

From the three you list, my impression is that legal would actually have the most volume, but there appears to be a market that I myself hav
... See more
I have been working in the German-English language pair for around eight years. There is quite a bit of business, but there seems to be at least as much technical content out there. That is the area I chose for myself, since I went to an engineering school where I completed a mechanical engineering field of study as part of a literature degree.

From the three you list, my impression is that legal would actually have the most volume, but there appears to be a market that I myself have stumbled into for what you term geo-economics (I completed a text on aid to sub-Saharan Africa on Friday, for instance). Since you are referencing A-levels, I assume you are a fairly young person. This means you are likely in a position to be flexible. I suspect actual work experience in a given field would be the strongest qualification for any area, and you might acquire that experience in just about any field at this point. If you are not inclined to do so, the conventional wisdom seems to be that you should try to be *the* translator for a specific area, so for you that would be branding yourself as a geo-economics translator and actively finding out about potential employers in that field. I myself took a different approach, taking a wide variety of texts, primarily techical (which itself is a very broad field). It has been effective in keeping me in work even though, as I said, the types of texts I translate vary widely, and I am not about to become *the* translator for any given type of text.
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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 13:49
Member (2018)
French to English
legal yes Mar 4

First off: I get a fair proportion of my income from translating texts for tourism. Germany and Austria boast some lovely spots and there are plenty of business people who travel to Germany too, so I'm pretty sure you could get work in that field too. It can be mundane (hotel with 22 rooms all equipped with a double bed and courtesy coffee machine and hairdryer...) and it can be fascinating (descriptions of medieval cathedrals...). You need to be able to write clearly and make the customer wa... See more
First off: I get a fair proportion of my income from translating texts for tourism. Germany and Austria boast some lovely spots and there are plenty of business people who travel to Germany too, so I'm pretty sure you could get work in that field too. It can be mundane (hotel with 22 rooms all equipped with a double bed and courtesy coffee machine and hairdryer...) and it can be fascinating (descriptions of medieval cathedrals...). You need to be able to write clearly and make the customer want to click on "book now".

Other than that, legal and finance are where the money is. Working at the agency, I noticed that legal stuff remained constant even throughout recessions. Other customers come and go, lawyers just keep on and on and on. Also the finance stuff, a lot of information has to be produced and translated by law, so that keeps on coming too even when the economy is shaky.

Make sure you go for something you're interested in though, because if you find yourself translating stuff that bores you silly, there's no point being a translator.
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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:49
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Be visible and give good service and you can choose ANY specialisation Mar 4

Kay Denney wrote:
Make sure you go for something you're interested in though, because if you find yourself translating stuff that bores you silly, there's no point being a translator.

So true! Who would want to aim to sit at a computer for eight hours a day, year in year out, doing something that they find thoroughly boring? In a job where you're naturally pretty isolated, that's a sure way to become very bitter about life.

Laura Jones wrote:
I have A-levels (UK advanced high school diploma) in economics, politics and law. I would prefer geo-economics but I would certainly not be unhappy to study international business law, especially if it significantly increased my chances of finding work as I would eventually like to freelance and I do not have family members to fall back on in the case of lack of work so it would be crucial for me to be able to provide a reliable source of income.

For anyone who has knowledge of this language combination, do you think one of these subjects has advantage over the other in terms of profitability (my inkling is that IBL would be better in this respect) or would the overall difference be negligible?

The thing is, how much volume do you need to earn a reasonable level of income? It's actually a paltry couple of thousand words a day. It's such a tiny drop in the DE>EN translation market that it really doesn't matter what you choose. All you have to do is supply a couple of agencies with a few exceptionally good quality translations, on time and with no hiccups. After that, you'll be on their "preferred" list of translators and they'll keep feeding you jobs. Okay, maybe not full-time to begin with (few freelancers in any discipline have full-time work from day one) but then a freelancer should always aim to have many clients: a handful of regular, dependable ones, plus quite a few (10+) who call on your services less frequently. If you're talking of working exclusively in an incredibly niche area that rarely gets mentioned from week to week, then that could give you problems, but finance, law, tourism, economics, and so on all generate millions of DE>EN words.

In addition, at least in the early days, even if you're marketing yourself as a specialist in a particular subject area, nothing should stop you applying for any other job that you feel capable of doing. Later on you may prefer to work exclusively in your specialist area, but at the start it's better both for your pocket and for your experience to take whatever you can do (as long as the terms are fine).

So, it comes down to being able to get those first jobs - whatever they're about. And that comes back to marketing. Don't forget that, however many jobs there are out there, if you don't impress the client during the quoting stage, you won't get them. And if the clients can't find you, you certainly won't get any work. Once you're up and running, you can build a really solid background in an effort to become the goto person in your niche, whatever it is. Trust me, in DE>EN there will be enough work for you in any subject ... if you're good.


Kay Denney
 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:49
French to English
Suggestions Mar 4

You say that the business and finance fields are the ones most in demand. However, if these are not fields in which you have a genuine interest and in which you are likely to excel in translation, then they are not ones that are likely to find helpful as a regular source of income, nor is it likely that you would enjoy that anyway.

That said, it is not unusual to acquire new areas of knowledge and new skills along the way. Indeed, I would say that is one of the major attractions of
... See more
You say that the business and finance fields are the ones most in demand. However, if these are not fields in which you have a genuine interest and in which you are likely to excel in translation, then they are not ones that are likely to find helpful as a regular source of income, nor is it likely that you would enjoy that anyway.

That said, it is not unusual to acquire new areas of knowledge and new skills along the way. Indeed, I would say that is one of the major attractions of working as a translator. You need to go with fields that you are interested in and pones you enjoy. Even within those areas, there are likely to be times that you will find yourself working on texts you find terribly boring. Imagine adding lack of interest and/or knowledge to that, then it means you'll find little pleasure in what you do. Avoid that. Be guided by your interest and your ability. Interests can change, new ones can be discovered. Your ability with improve all the time, or at least it should. So I agree with those who suggest you shouldn't force-feed yourself finance if it's not your thing.

When it comes to making a living, it'll take anything from 1 to 3 years to build up a client base. You may be able to start as you are studying. Check out what status, legal set-up and income levels are available for students. This may give you a head-start.

[Edited at 2019-03-04 13:37 GMT]
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Colleen Roach, PhD  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:49
Member (Mar 2019)
French to English
+ ...
American students now being encourged to study German (not Spanish) Mar 4

I recently read an article stating that as there are so many naturally bilingual people in the English-Spanish & Spanish-English pairs, American students (high school + college levels) are being encouraged NOT to study Spanish but another language. One article I read mentioned German as it's a strong economy, need for translations, etc.

 


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