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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.
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.

Revision as of 19:47, 12 November 2010

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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 approach

Marketing benefits

  • It is tempting for an experienced translator to say that they specialize in certain areas but they can translate most 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 "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.
  • What does this mean to you? The following are winning strategies:
    • If you are looking to pick up jobs online, you need to market yourself as a specialist.
    • Market yourself as a specialist rather than a Jack of all trades.
    • Limit the number of languages and fields in your profile to a maximum of five to seven. (Even if you can work in more--plan on getting general jobs offline; online you need to target!)

Productivity benefits

Some translators have pointed out that by specializing, it becomes possible to become knowledgeable in a given field, and familiar with the terminology, in a shorter period of time. Also, it is possible to build up a useful translation memory more quickly. In a quick poll run 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 field 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 knowledge areas where such advantage gradually decreases to 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, at least once, in anything, otherwise you'll never know how good you are at doing something. However as you walk your professional roads, you should start concentrating on a core of specialties.
  • 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!
  • If you do not know which fields to choose, then you could simply pick something interesting to you that you could develop.
    • look at your interests, your hobbies, your passions,
    • look for something you found interesting ever since you were a child,
    • and then find how you could transform these in fields of specialization.
  • Select a field that you are comfortable with, both language-wise and regarding the subjects. You will spend much time translating, and if you pick your themes properly the job can be more rewarding and even more fun.
  • Of course you must make a living, so the selection of a field of specialization should go through a strong reality check, but picking a field that you find arid, dry or indifferent looks like a bad choice.

Becoming a specialist

  • While some translators get their specialization from dedicated studies, sometimes at a university level, and other get it from some previous employment, most novice translators do not start specialized and they build their specialization as they translate.
  • There is no single path toward specialization: You may consider getting another degree than translation, although this costs time and money. You can learn by immersing yourself in the subject. You can either be trained or train yourself. As long as you like the subject, 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 could look for books used to teach that field in university. Go for the ones focused on principles rather than those that are highly specialized in one specific subject.
  • Practically 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.
  • The 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 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.
  • Learning by doing: you will start by learning about the subject and then becoming specialized translators in it. Their clients increasingly choose you for that field because you know about it, and each new translation carries 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

  • 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.)
  • Join ProZ.com as a member, as this significantly increases your chances of being noticed online.
  • 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.

Further reading

For further tips on getting established read this article

Discussion related to this article

Please note that ProZ.com forum rules apply to this area.


Elizabeth Hill Barsanti (X) Identity Verified
Local time: 22:37
Italian to English
SpecializingMar 11, 2011

This is a rare thing: a truly useful article, well organized and clearly and concisely written. My thanks to the author.


EDITH NKWOCHA Identity Verified
Local time: 22:37
+ ...
SpecializingNov 28, 2011

Well-organized, clear/concise and very relevant.


Md Abu Alam Identity Verified
Local time: 03:37
Member (2009)
English to Bengali
+ ...
SpecializingDec 6, 2011

Well written- very relevant and useful.


3ADE shadab
Local time: 03:07
Hindi to English
+ ...
Spacializing Specialization in specifying the translator speciesDec 6, 2011

All credit goes to the author for gifting us such an informative as well as the short and snappy summarization. It will equally prove to be a good guide for excelling in the field of translation as well as getting known about Proz and the other translation industries. It is an well encouraging article that can enthusiast many new comer translators to choose the right track for their career.


Josephine Cassar Identity Verified
Local time: 22:37
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
SpecialisationNov 13, 2012

Agree completely with way argument was developed & suggestiosn


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