Many people ask me if it is really necessary to have a specific field of expertise - to specialize - in order to be a good translator and whether anybody can be a translator.
To answer the question “Is it necessary to specialize?” we should first consider the most important skills a translator should have.
Linguistic skills are of the utmost importance. However, there are other skills a good translator should have: knowledge and comprehension of the subject she translates into.
For example, a translator in the medical field is not expected to have a degree in medicine, but she would definitely need to have a good knowledge of anatomy, physiology and diseases and types of tests and treatments in both languages.
There are hundreds of possible translation fields, and each one has its own specific terminology and references that a professional translator know. So how can we be sure we understand every text we want to translate, from legal to medical, from automotive to philosophy?
1. we should do some preliminary research every time we don’t have enough knowledge of the subject, to fill in our knowledge gaps in our areas of interest.
2. we should specialize in two or three or four areas of expertise, then keep studying to increase our specific knowledge over the years, aiming at focusing only on these ones.
Then, you can still keep your options open: specializing does not mean that you should refuse every bit of work outside your field of expertise. However, there are some advantages to specializing:
– you build your identity as a professional. It’s much easier to market yourself as freelancer if you have something specific to show.
– you can build your own glossaries and increase your knowledge – specific to your areas of expertise, and month after month your work will become faster and more efficient.
Do you think anybody who is bilingual (or a polyglot) can be a good translator?