To specialize or not to specialize? That is (not) the question A personal journey in translation.

  • Greater than 3 minutes, my friend!

    Who said technical translation is boring? In the same week I can get to work on texts and contents for the website of a luxury hotel chain; a press release on the launch of a new satellite; a corporate presentation; a communication piece for an automotive brand; and a confidentiality agreement.

    Too many different fields? Well, no, not really. As I’m a specialist in transcreation and marketing translation, which are more of an horizontal specialization than a vertical one, if you see what I mean, communication, tone of voice and style are the main focus, which can then be applied to a whole range of fields. However I wouldn’t be completely comfortable in approaching let’s say a communication campaign on biotechnology, as I lack the knowledge of the sector, the technical terminology as well as the experience on the specific language used in scientific communication.

    Then, how do you get to specialize on specific fields? Specializing is a must if you want to earn your life as a translator, and specialization comes from a mix of your personal and professional history, of your likes and dislikes, and also from the people you meet along the way.

    Before embracing what I call my second career as a translator, transcreator and editor, I worked for well over 10 years in the hospitality sector, within international luxury hotel companies, in marketing and creative management roles: the know-how I acquired during these years now enables me to translate highly specialized literature for the hospitality and travel industries, as well as corporate communication on training and coaching, human resources, internal memoranda, speeches by management and more.

    My familiarity with other industries comes instead from studying, researching and lots, lots of work. For instance, a few years ago, an agency with which I was already working acquired a new customer and asked me if I was interested in managing their translation/content needs with regards to their communication activities. There was just one little catch: the company manufactured space satellites! My first reaction was, quite frankly: are you out of your mind? At uni, I learned languages, not how to make spacecrafts! Now, nearly five years after, I can say the sector has no more secrets for me. Of course I’m joking, as I am no space engineer: what I mean is that after researching the sector, learning the terminology, reading lots of communication materials, and establishing a connection with people from inside the company, I now feel confident in handling their communication needs.

    The same could be said for other fields I frequently work in, such as the luxury car sector, coaching, or printing devices, just to make a few examples, or the tea industry (this one I sought it out myself as I am a tea lover!) or rugby (yet again another passion of mine).

    But specializations can also come from your business needs. Thinking logically and based on many requests I was getting from various clients, I thought it would be a smart thing to learn the basics of legal translation, not in general, but following the specific needs of my clients: commercial law, contracts, the differences and peculiarities of Common Law countries vs civil law ones (my main language combination is English > Italian and most of my clients are UK-based). I started with courses and study, but then I was hooked up and did a one-year post-graduate course on legal translation as well.

    Sometimes I feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: on one side, marketing, creative translation and transcreation; on the other, the highly logical and rigorous demands of legal translation. Actually, I think in the end one complements the other and the result is a satisfied translator.

    So, this is my story, or at least the story until now. What about you?


    Photo credits: Photo taken from under the Creative Commons Zero licence.

    Laura Cattaneo

    About Laura Cattaneo

    Italian translation and editing specialist | Marketing Creative Hospitality Legal | The right words for your brand

    9 thoughts on “To specialize or not to specialize? That is (not) the question A personal journey in translation.

    1. I loved your post, Laura! I work in Marketing and Transcreation as well and that gives you the chance of localising different sorts of materials coming from absolutely different fields sometimes. I love it, I need diversity to be productive.

      Thanks for promoting specialisation!! I agree, it’s necessary and beneficial for us freelance entrepreneurs =D

      1. Ciao Delfina! You never get bored working in transcreation and marketing translation 🙂 Translators working especially in these fields like us have the privilege to learn something new each day, which can’t be said for many professions! Big hug 😉

    2. Hi Laura,
      Great post! From one marketing translator to another: I wholeheartedly agree! My clients hail from many different horizons and I consider it my job to “learn their language” (or to refer them to a colleague when needed). Horizontal and vertical specializations are very different animals and there is a place for both in the translation space.
      Best wishes,
      Angela Benoit

      1. Hi Angela, very well said! I completely agree of course 🙂 Some days I feel a bit dizzy from the different subjects I touch on, but in the end, the common denominator is always creativity, communication, style, copywriting (or copyediting), i.e. keeping the message and recreating it in the target language. I find it is also a challenge to have to always learn new things, and as a personal disposition sometimes my first reaction is Not in a million years! But as we realize in our everyday work experience, we often surprize even ourselves. And for very foreign subjects, there are always good colleagues to refer the job to, as you say!

    3. Great read, Laura. I heard something similar from translators I met in Miami last year: they were happy they could translate at times, and do interpretation at times. What freelance translators should never forget is they are really independent, and they can do as they please: stick to one narrow domain or be a domain-hopper. When you’re working in a company, you often don’t have that freedom. Being a freelancer is not always easy, but at least you have that freedom.

      1. Ciao Gert! Exactly so. I also think specializations develop over time, just like we do in our life. And I have to admit, from time to time, I feel the urge to try something new or different: this year for instance I’d like to learn more about terminology, which apart from its obvious importance for us as linguistic experts, I think it has good potential as a profession in itself for the future. As you say, freelancing has many challenges, but also many opportunities 😉

    4. Ciao Laura, I agree with you, also because is my experience that I shared in my first story. Learned all terminology “in house” working together with the engineers, architects, mechanics, etc. Even now that I’m relaxing I continue to read technical stuff, let’s say that I’m continuously updating my brain “software” and it’s not boring, new terms, new procedures, new tools. The other day I learned how the laser headlights work, new concept, new terminology really exciting, so for the near future I’ll be updated in my fields of specialization. Thanks for your sharing.

      1. Ciao Maurizio, thanks to you for your comment! I like the image of “brain software”: it is just like you say, we need to maintain it up-to-date to keep up with developments etc. And that’s why I always strongly advocate that all the work and study there is behind our work is reflected in our rates. I think it is both fair and a show of our professionalism, plus it’s vital for the credibility of our category.

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