Specialize, but not to a fault

A friend of mine, who is a web designer, told me a short while ago that the agency he works for was going to limit their portfolio only to WordPress solutions. As he nonchalantly explained, ‘we live in the age of ever-narrowing specialization.’ I didn’t react to this immediately; after all, we had other a lot of interesting stuff to discuss. Yet, his words echoed down as I sat at the desk and reflected upon my translation career so far.
You can hear it everywhere: specialization-is-a-must is a new professional mantra, recited anywhere, by anyone, and at any occasion. The translation business seems to have adapted this view at face value. Calling yourself a translator is not enough anymore; today you need an attribute: legal, IT, marketing, financial, blah, blah, you name it. It happens quite frequently that a colleague asks for help with finding a translation of a term that doesn’t seem too hard to find in free resources, and justifies themselves saying that, ‘IT’s all Greek to me; I only translate finance.’
Strangely enough, I came to the translation business with a totally different notion of what it takes to be a successful translator. I was hoping I could make use of my inherent assets; namely, versatility and flexibility. I have always enjoyed learning new things, developing new skills and discovering new possibilities. At the same time, sticking too long to one thing is not my game, so I have been on a move from one interest to another. Still, the time devoted to exploring a given field is usually enough to gain some serious insight. Had somebody told me back in the university days that the translation market would demand me to limit myself in an ever-narrowing specialism, I would have stayed away from it. Luckily, I skipped the research stage and decided to become a translator by intuition.
Of course, there are texts that require very specific, often experience-based knowledge. Machine operator’s manuals, medical case histories, or Apache developer’s guidelines should only be handled by professionals with in-depth understanding of the field. However, the point is that the level of complexity varies considerably within the same specialism, and there is no need to turn down a job without even taking a look at it only because it is labeled technical or legal. Let me give you a few examples from my own experience: I wouldn’t call myself a technical translator, yet I have managed to produce a number of accurate and readable house appliances and machinery user manuals; I have never studied law, yet I translated quite a few T & C’s sets; I even localized a website of a Chicago orthopedics clinic, even though becoming an MD has never been my dream. Of course the decision to accept any of these jobs always followed a thorough, realistic and honest assessment of a chance of success.
Meeting this kind of challenges has a number of advantages: it is a great opportunity to practice research and cooperation skills; it has every potential to turn a desk job into a fascinating adventure; finally, it takes you places you’ve never been before, ultimately broadening your horizon and making you look at the world in a bit different way. And this is the essence of translation experience to me.
Ready to take a step beyond the comfort zone?