Yesterday, I turned down a large job (roughly 75,000 words) offered by a nice, professional and reliable client who has always agreed to my rates.
I agonised over it for quite a while. The subject matter was psychometric assessments, with such mouth-watering topics as "What is personality?" involving whole chapters on various approaches to personality, etc. I’m actually quite familiar with the subject matter, as I studied these theories in my Hypokhâgne philosophy classes and found that subject absolutely fascinating.
However, that was ten years ago and I’ve never undertaken translation in that field. I did try and assess whether I could dedicate a couple of days to read on the subject and put myself back up to date with it, but I came across a major stumbling block. The vocabulary used in this field has been developed especially to suit its concepts, and I wasn’t absolutely certain of the French equivalents for, for example, "ego", "self", "Id", etc. These distinctions are crucial and that’s why I turned down the job.
It can be really difficult to distinguish between having a solid knowledge of a subject and being a "specialist" in a subject. To me, the main difference resides in the familiarity with the jargon used, which can turn into a real language of its own. When I started out, I thought that my one-year training as a legal interpreter was enough to allow me to take on legal translations. Full of naivety and enthusiasm for my new job, I accepted a couple of legal jobs in absolute good faith, and realised to my horror that I couldn’t understand what I was reading, let alone translate it. I had to make a couple of embarrassing phone calls to unimpressed clients. It’s not a nice situation to be in, but when you’re starting a new career with little or no help, these mistakes are almost inevitable.