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Developing an Area of Expertise

By Barbara McClintock, Certified Translator

In our ultra-specialized world, it is extremely useful to have an area or two of expertise up our sleeve. Expertise can be developed out of interest or necessity. Every field has its own concepts and special terminology. We try to imitate the speech of experts when translating them. But how does one develop the voice of a specialist?

If you are a translator hired by a firm of accountants, architects, lawyers or other professionals, it is a wonderful opportunity to learn and expand your skills. On-the-job-training in a particular field is as valuable as gold. If you change jobs, you take the knowledge you have acquired with you. And if you are a freelance translator, you may be lucky enough to acquire a good, regular client. By working for the same client over a period of time, you develop an expertise in the client’s field, and it is something you should be striving actively to achieve. Build a file of background information in the field concerned and prepare a running list of terms for handy reference. If you work with a translation memory, build data files for each client. You should also read trade journals and news articles in the field. Find out what the main reference works are. In the accounting field, the main references are the CPA Canada Handbook, Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) Canada publications, such as the Dictionnaire de la comptabilité et de la gestion financière, as well as Canadian and international standards. In addition, you can take a basic accounting course and, if applicable, ask your employer to pay for it.

Finally, if you have questions, be sure to ask your client. If you are stumped by something, clients are usually quite understanding. Nobody can know everything.

State your areas of expertise on your website or business cards. However, be careful not to refer to yourself as a specialist. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the first meaning of specialist is a person who is trained in a particular branch of a profession, especially medicine (a specialist in dermatology). This is also the meaning of specialist in Quebec’s Code des professions.

There is still a lot of work available, especially in specialized areas, despite the advent of machine translation. Remember that the main difference between machine and human translation is that professional translators do not sound like machines!


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