Translators and specialisation 2

bodybuilderWonderful, isn’t he? You will obviously have recognised Jay Cutler, current Olympia champion. Or maybe you haven’t if you’re not into bodybuilding. I wasn’t particularly until I was offered a job translating bodybuilding articles. I was trained by a fantastic translator, for whom I have the greatest respect, and I can now be considered to be a specialist in this field.
I’ve already touched on the subject of translators and specialisation on this blog, and I’m just finishing a project which has reinforced my opinion: armed with the right research skills and a capacity to learn quickly, a good translator can undertake most projects, provided the language isn’t too specific.
But then, what happens if you’ve been asked to translate documents in a subject that is so obscure that there is very little information available out there? In such a case, it is essential to work very closely with the client, and this is where, in my opinion, freelancers are in an ideal position to come up with the best possible translation.
I’m not a big fan of unpaid tests, but I did one for this particular project. Despite not sending the cheapest quote, I was picked because they found the quality of the translation promising (always a good start). We agreed that, the subject matter being ultra-specialised (public value theories), I would translate to the best of my ability, using whatever meager resources I could find, and that the client and I would review the translation together over the phone. This was an unusual arrangement for me, as I tend to work in areas that I know well. This turned out to be a very fruitful exercise: I brought my in-depth knowledge of English and my ability to transfer meaning into French, and the client was able to correct the French terms that weren’t exactly the ones used by experts in the field.
This type of collaboration is ideal, in my eyes: we were able to combine our particular skills and strengths to get to the best possible translation. Some fields are so obscure that there is no chance of finding a translator who will have specialist knowledge in it, so when I get a request of that type, I ask myself two questions: 1) Is it likely that there is no translator out there who could do a better job than me? and 2) Will I get the support I need to produce the best possible translation? If the answers to both questions is “yes”, I take the job, otherwise, I decline and I help the client find another translator.

By | 2016-10-18T15:48:45+00:00 March 31st, 2011|Freelance Translation|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Alexis W April 4, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Fruitful collaboration and a rich education, all in one project? Sounds ideal! Bravo.

  2. Maria Guzenko April 15, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    You bring up a good point – with proper resources and support from the client, it is possible to acquire new specializations. It is, indeed, a very advantageous situation when the client is willing to review your work and help you with the terminology. However, sometimes the process is complicated by the fact that there is no established terminology in the target language, e.g. in fields where most research is done in English.
    I’ve done several translations about vintage cars. What I’ve discovered is that there are no established Russian terms for “touring car” or “idea car.” I tried to use what is used by experts in the field, but there is sometimes little clarity there.

  3. Adrian Morgan May 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

    This is an off-topic anecdote except in that it pertains to English-French translation, but one that I feel like sharing.
    Just for fun, I recently used Google Translate to render into bad French a song I that wrote about the solar system. In part, I wanted to see if one or more lines would come out sounding aesthetically pleasing.
    One line did. For the one that reads, “You could drop the Earth in, like throwing out trash”, Google came up with “Vous pouvez déposer la terre, comme jeter poubelle”. Which is probably rubbish French (it always is from automatic translators), but it’s got a great rhythm!
    (Anyone who wants to read the English lyrics in full is welcome to search my blog for the excerpt I’ve quoted. You’ll find it easily enough.)

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