Find your niche

June 23, 2011 by admin

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So you finally decide that you want to take your language skills and turn them into a career, you’ve taken a qualification in translation studies and are ready to face the unknown. Sitting through classes and talks from seasoned freelance translators you will no doubt have heard: ‘You need to find your niche! Otherwise you simply won’t stand out from the crowd’. But in your head you think: ‘Well, I’m special! Of course I’m going to stand out; they must be exaggerating!’  Oh dear, how misguided and naïve intellectuals can be on occasion.

Although I decided on a different route into the translation industry it has become clear to me that what these experienced professionals were preaching to us was, in fact, the truth. The freelance translation market is seriously flooded with people, albeit qualified, who translate into the FIGS languages (French, Italian, German and Spanish). Working on the recruitment end for a translation agency it is painfully obvious to me that many translators have not heeded the advice they were given. They haven’t found their ‘niche’ or a speciality that makes them unique.

For one, being able to translate from/into one language, although admirable to many ‘outsiders’, is no longer a special quality. So what if Joe can translate from French? So can a million other people- but Sue can translate from French, Spanish, Italian and Romanian! Now there is someone worth having on your books. Ok, so Tim only translates from French, but he was a lawyer for 20 years before he gave up his chambers for his kitchen table- he has a field of expertise.

When perusing freelance translators’ applications and speaking to hopeful applicants on the phone I ask them what they have specialised in. ‘Oh, I translate everything’ they say.  Everything?!!  Does that include patent translations for an invention of a metal coil in a scientific device? Does that include a medical report on a laboratory sample full of abbreviations? Does that include a geological mining study full of  drill core sample descriptions? I don’t think so!

Finding something you like, and want to continue, translating might not come to you over night, but it is essential that you do go down the specialisation path at some point. Perhaps you already have a substantial background in another field: medicine, science, IT, patents, tenders, law… This is hugely beneficial as you will already have to hand the terminology and style in your mother tongue .  Translation isn’t simply a case of pairing up words in 2 languages, it’s being able to write with a fluency and style typical to the language and culture you are translating into that is convincing and natural to read.

So you translate from, say, French, why not really stand out and add a language for which there are few reliable translators who produce good quality work? There is a serious lack of specialised translators for languages such as Chinese or Japanese. Or even closer to home: if you add one of the Scandinavian languages to your repertoire you could be in demand for as long as you choose to pursue your freelance career.

Whilst it may seem obvious, it is important to stand out from the crowd, or should I say an overcrowded freelance translation market. With hundreds of competitors you not only need flashing lights to be visible, but bells and whistles too.

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