Thoughts on Specialization
I love translation. The only type of work I like more is quick and easy – yet still effective – translation. While most may see that as a joke, and that no translation is ever quick and easy, I invite you to redefine what specialization really means to you.
When the Scrambled Eggs team first started Italian to English fashion translation, we had four clients and only a few thousand words a week. And yet the typical week was still dragging along at a snail’s pace. Now we manage over 3 times the workload of our initial period, and we owe it to sticking to our guns from the beginning.
Documents that used to take an average of two hours now take one, or even less. We can thank our specialization for this, and how we never deviated too far from the topics that we keep close. I rarely accept jobs that are outside of fashion translation, English to Italian document translations, or social media and marketing translation. The experience gained, dictionaries created, and relationships forged with our current clients have led to loads of success both from an efficiency standpoint as well as in delivering a quality product.
You might think I’m boring, or just plain lazy. Maybe you appreciate learning more and expanding your boundaries. Or maybe you take what you can get. But we do what we’re good at, and clients deserve the best translation possible. A website translation for a food services company, for example, is way over my head, and accepting a job like that would create two problems: potentially not leaving the client satisfied, and, equally as bad, spending hours and hours of time researching terms that, at the end of the day, you aren’t even sure are correct (I’d be lying if I said I was 100% sure of every single word I’ve ever translated. Hence the need for a proof-reader, but that’s another topic to be discussed).
Don’t settle for less than 70%
It’s awfully difficult to draw a line in the sand that differentiates specialization from everything else. I think that in a simple world every translator could stick to one topic/area and just get better and better over the years. The first problem to tackle is obviously paying the bills. There are only so many clients who want your services, and there are even fewer that want your services in your specialized sectors.
So I’ve decided to draw a line, as figurative as it may be: if you truly believe in specialization, make sure at least 70% of your workload is in material that you categorize as so. This means that the total work you put into translating, let’s say 30 hours a week, should include 21 hours towards your ideal translation topics. If you work for an agency at least part-time and can’t completely choose your topics of translation, I have an exercise for you: If you fall short of 70%, do the work yourself. Why not get some practice translation in to round out that percentage?
Practice makes perfect
If you feel you aren’t getting enough work in your specialized areas, head to your nearest internet browser and start googling companies in those sectors in your source language. You’ll come across a ton of new companies, clients, products, marketing campaigns, and much more that you can translate in your free time. Aside from being an eye-opening experience to what’s on the market, you have the obvious opportunity to gain experience in no-risk situations while also building your vocabulary databases for when you get back to the office for translating. The number of companies out there who need translation help and don’t even realize it is beyond conceivable.
My biggest fear as a translator is accepting a big project outside of my comfort zone (read: specialization) and digging myself into a time-consuming rut. Naturally, the damage is done when you accept the project and you have no choice but to move forward. Not deviating too far from your ideal translation areas will guarantee that you never miss out on your big chance.
You never know what opportunities might be on the horizon, but sticking to your strengths will both prepare you and set you on the right path for whatever is in store.