In the language services industry, there is one recurring question related to a translator’s profile and their future career. This question is one we are each faced with even before we start our language studies, it lingers around us in our formative years, and it looms as a real professional doubt throughout our career as specialists in interlingual reproduction: Must we specialize in the field of translation? There are a wide variety of answers to this question and, as one might predict, it depends on the situation of the person trying to justify one position or another; surely, the specialized translator will make the case for specialization (doing so, of course, in an informed way), whereas the unspecialized translator will focus on the possibility of acquiring specific skills in several areas of expertise. The fact remains, however, that for us to decide whether this is necessary, it is a good idea to first analyze what we expect from a translator and then determine whether specialization fully or partially meets these parameters.

Of course, the ultimate goal of a language services professional is to provide quality translations that adapt to the communicative circumstances of the source text and have the same effect on the target audience as they do on the source audience. Although much of this quality assurance is achieved thanks toa posterioriverification processes (we suggest reading our article on consistency and our article on editing), a significant part of better understanding and interpreting the source material comes from the skills of the translator who is working on a specialized text. This can be legitimately achieved in two ways. La primera consiste, efectivamente, en especializarse en uno o más campos de especialidad. This includes two profiles, one belonging to experts in a subject who specialize in translation (sometimes called “consultants”) and the other corresponding to language experts who are trained to translate specialized texts. The aim is not to make an entire career out of it, but rather to understand the internal workings of a specific area. This option makes it possible to have better initial control of the subject matter, more comprehensive knowledge of the type of documents that it comprises, and, of course, drawing the attention of clients who seek specific profiles. Something similar happens when a person offers their services as a translator of a relatively common language pair. Specialization transforms a translator and gives them a “unique” profile within an area, although this also entails closing the door on other opportunities which may have a high demand. On the other hand, the second way of looking at this question is choosing to not specialize and aiming to provide specialized translations by improving our research and documentation skills. In fact, translators constantly consult a number of informative resources; specialized translators certainly have to do the same, and as they develop this research skill in different specialized areas, translators of this type will gain confidence and provide better quality work in a number of areas of expertise. This is due to the fact that even if they initially do not have specific knowledge, they will develop the ability to search for information, compare and draw conclusions that allow them to reproduce well-adapted content. Indeed, regardless of the path we choose, translation is very much related to our ongoing training. How we choose to reach it sometimes isn’t the most important question.

Even if the general idea indicates that specialization is the parameter that clients value the most, the fact is that clients who are more concerned with the final quality and the translation in the long term usually pay attention to more parameters, such as the translator’s writing style, their ability to work with translation tools and quality control, and the professionalism they show throughout the business interaction.

That being said, it is important to remember that being a translator does not give us the ability to freely translate any type of text with the hope that we will gradually acquire greater professional competence. When we complete a training program and start working in this industry, we are somewhat similar to a blank canvas. The projects that we become involved in will teach us at a practical level and they will educate us about certain branches of knowledge. Of course, during this journey, the most important thing is to not do it alone. Help from other professionals, such as editors and proofreaders, is essential when learning how to work in a particular speciality; just as a person skilled in the subject matter ventures into the wonderful world of translation, we have to learn all of the inner workings of this profession which go beyond having specific knowledge of a discipline. Likewise, as we already mentioned, translation is a very dynamic profession, so we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. If a specialization ceases to interest us, we can always continue broadening our horizons to become more versatile professionals. During this time, it is a good idea to promote ourselves with the skills that we truly have, since claiming to be a “translator with all kinds of knowledge” usually makes translation agencies and potential clients wary. The ultimate goal of specializing or choosing not to and gradually learning the trade is to ensure that we can knowingly guarantee our ability to provide competent quality translations.

This leads to the next question, how do we choose a specialization? We will soon explore this question which is so decisive for many new translators and for professionals who wish to gain in-depth knowledge of an area of expertise.

This article is based on the information from the following sources: