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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Training for New Subject Specialties

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Training for New Subject Specialties

Training for New Subject Specialties


Dear Business Smarts:

I have been working as a freelance translator (French) for about five years. I earned my ATA certification a while ago, and I get regular work from several translation companies. Since I was an information technology specialist in a former life, I mostly translate software manuals and documentation. This line of work has been steadily decreasing over the past year and no longer keeps me as busy as I would like. Just recently, one of my regular agency customers got a new client who makes plumbing fixtures, and now they are asking if I can translate test reports, catalog pages, and maybe even some older patents. I would love to add some additional specialties so that I can work to capacity, but I do not know how to go about it. What should I do?
K.H., Virginia

Dear K.H.:

Training yourself for a new subject specialty is never easy, and it is not even easy to decide whether you should branch out from the topics you already handle. The two most important factors are, of course, time spent and money earned, and they need to be considered in both the present and the future. Given the recent decline in your workload, you are wise to think about branching out right now. If an agency customer with whom you already have a good relationship is giving you an opportunity to put newly acquired knowledge to work immediately, it is definitely worth your while to invest some time in learning about something new.

Once you decide to add another subject specialty, you need to do some work. If the new area you are exploring is plumbing, you can start in your own bathroom. You should already have a basic understanding of how everything in there works, and you can expand your expertise by spending an afternoon in the relevant aisles of your local hardware store or home center. Work your way through all those mysterious connectors and components, and read the labels; you may also be able to find catalogs of plumbing supplies at the store. As always, the Internet is a tremendous resource: try writing down a page or two of terms that you find in the plumbing-connector section, and do a simple search. You will probably find lots of well-illustrated sites that not only tell you what things are called, but how they function.

The last factor to consider — and the most important — is interest. No matter how much effort you put into familiarizing yourself with a new branch of knowledge, you will find it useful as a long-term specialty only if it really interests you. Think carefully about all your life experiences and how they may have prepared you to learn about something new. Did you take some university courses in a field that caught your interest at the time, but you never pursued? Do you have hobbies that might lead you into new subject areas? Do you manage your family’s financial affairs and understand all the statements and disclosures? The vital distinction you must make is between a challenge and a chore: acquiring a new translation specialty is an intellectual adventure, and it is a journey you must want to make.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: October 2007, p 46