Often times, when getting into translation, you’re told to “specialize.” But what does that mean? How do you “specialize”? Does that mean you need another degree? How do you develop the skills for a specialization? Will it help you get hired?

Okay, hold your horses, one question at a time!

 

What does “specialize” mean in translation?

There are many different fields of translation: medical, legal, technical, entertainment, literary, administrative (business), website and marketing, and finance.

Within each of these fields you have different sub-fields. Medical translation could be texts for the general public, medical research and patents, legal medical documents, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and more.

Technical translation can be broken down into engineering, automotive, chemical products, electronics, mining, telecommunications, metallurgy, and building.

Entertainment translation might be games, TV shows, movies, books, etc.

Then within those sub-fields you have sub-genres!

Take games, for example. You have fighting games, adventure games, simulation games, tactical games, and board and card games, and that’s just to name a few. And these games will focus on different topics, such as fantasy, science fiction, romance, drama, thriller, horror, etc.

 

So where do “specializations” fit in? Specializations can be one of these sub-genres, but they can also be more granularly focused. You might have a specialization in board and card games, but also be knowledgeable about World War II, meaning you have an even more focused specialization in board and card games related to World War II.

A specialization is a niche area of expertise that you can potentially utilize in your work.

 

How do you find your specialization?

Well, in the words of Maria Kondo, does it spark joy?

Is there a topic that you really enjoy learning about? Something you’re naturally drawn to? Maybe something you’ve turned into a hobby?

You can incorporate these into your translation specializations!

I use plural because you can have more than one specialization.

Cartoon woman jumping with flowers Finding Your Specialization in Translation

Let’s say you want to get into video game translation, and you happen to have an interest in guns and how they work. Knowing the correct terminology for different gun parts and the verbs used for certain actions is really useful to have when translating video games (because so many games use guns.)

Or perhaps you’re interested in literary translation, and you happen to have an A Level in Environmental Science. You might be the perfect person for a novel set after the apocalypse caused by global climate change.

Or maybe you love to research everything you can about cameras or speakers. You love keeping up with the latest technology. Perhaps you could advertise your specialty in translating technical documents, patents, or blogs related to cameras or speakers or photography or whatever.

 

Write down, either on paper or digitally, all your hobbies, interests, and any courses you’ve taken that you really enjoyed. Then highlight the ones you like the most.

All of these are potential specializations which you can utilize in your translation work.

 

Does that mean you need to take a course?

No! This does not mean you need to take any additional courses or degree or anything to “acquire” a specialized skill. Unless you want to.

As I hinted above, a specialization shouldn’t be what you think you need, but what you want to do. More importantly, what you like to learn about.

If you love learning code and want to attend webinars and discord groups and evening classes on coding, do it! If you don’t love to code but feel you should learn how to do it, stop right there. You don’t need to learn code.

Ask yourself, what do you love that you’re happy to learn more about?

Do you really need to spend loads of money on a course for it? Or can you find free webinars and online articles and blogs on the subject to learn more about it?

Do you even need to learn more about the topic? Are you already knowledgeable enough?

Note: You can find out if you know your stuff by writing blogs about the things that interest you. If you don’t know enough to write about it then doing research will help you learn. Bonus points if you can write them in all the languages you work in.

Cartoon man playing cards Finding Your Translation Specialization

How do you get the skills for a specialization then?

I think skills isn’t the right word we should be using. Yes, you can gain some skills from a specialization, but I think what matters more is expertise.

A skill is something you can do, but expertise is something you know a lot about. And when it comes to translation, knowledge is power!

Let’s say you’re translating a manga from Japanese into English about modern otaku (nerds) in a fighting game tournament. Specialized knowledge in modern otaku culture and slang (in both English and Japanese) as well as fighting game terminology is more valuable than the ability to win a fighting game tournament yourself. (If you can do both, then good on you!)

 

Will having a specialization help me get hired?

Specializations have the potential to help you get hired for certain jobs, but it’s no guarantee. Just like job hunting in general (and we all know freelance translation is an eternal job hunt), it’s a matter of luck.

Luck that the right job will come to the right person who knows you have specialized knowledge in something that’s just right for this project.

How do you increase your odds? By showing people you know what you’re talking about. That’s why having a website and/or blog as a freelance translator is such a great idea. You can write about the things that interest you and share them with the world. This shows people you know your stuff. It advertises that you have specializations in niche topics so when something comes across their desk that’s relevant your interests, they know they can contact you.

Even if you don’t have a website or blog, adding your specializations to your resume signals to potential vendors that you have knowledge about specific subjects.

Cartoon woman blogging Finding Your Translation Specialization

To summarize;

A specialization is a niche area of expertise that you can potentially utilize in your work. It’s knowledge, rather than a skill.

You can work out your specializations by asking yourself, “Is this something I enjoy learning more about?”

You don’t need to take any additional courses (and especially not expensive further education) in order to gain or improve or prove your specializations.

 

 

My specializations

If you’re curious about my specializations, I have a few!

I’m an entertainment translator with a specialization in manga, video games, and novel (sub-fields), and particularly enjoy translating fantasy, romance, adventure, horror, human-drama, LGBTQ issues (sub-genres), and have a flare for creative writing, dialogue, and characterization.

I enjoy learning more about creative writing and game narrative design. And I have an interest in localization as a craft and specialize in creating useful articles for aspiring and experienced translators, as well as game developers. (Which I write about on this website!)

I have multiple specializations within the field of entertainment translation. Do I only translate these? No! When I freelanced, I also translated anime, light novels, and tourism websites and marketing.

Now I worked in game localization and have been able to hone my project management skills on a larger scale, juggling big-budget projects localizing text into 9 to 12 languages. Which means I’ve gained a lot of knowledge in what multi-lingual translators require, as well as the different challenges and common issues different languages face.

I have specialized knowledge in some very specific areas, but also general knowledge and experience in many other fields and sub-fields related to entertainment localization.

 

Other articles you might find interesting

Writing Tools for Translators – Book Review

The Translation Process

Effective Self-Editing for Terrific Translations

Becoming a Translator—There Is No Magic Button

What is the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy (JVTA)?

What Skills Do I Need to be A Game Translator? (Part 2: Soft Skills)

Written by Jennifer O’Donnell
Edited by Wesley O’Donnell

 

Finding Your Translation Specialization
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