Translation Fields: How Many Are There and What Are the Main Ones?
When it comes to translation fields, most people think of a few well-known areas such as legal, medical, financial, and software. However, did you know that there are dozens of translation fields and that each one requires specific skills and knowledge to succeed?
There’s more to translation than simply replacing one word for another. Although some texts are simpler to translate, like general texts, some others are more complex. The difficulty in translating a death certificate, for example, is not the same as in a medical report or a novel.
So let’s take a closer look at what translation fields of expertise there are, what kind of skills a specialised translator needs to succeed, and when a generalist translator might be a better choice for a particular project.
In this post:
- Generalist vs specialised translators
- Why is specialisation important for translators?
- The main areas of translation
- Types of translation
- The influence of the internet on translation specialisation
- What are the benefits of niching down?
- Why do expert translators charge premium rates?
- What are the most and least popular fields of translation specialisation?
- What’s next?
Generalist vs specialised translators
A generalist translator usually has a degree in translation or a related field and has at least some experience. They can target many different types of texts within their language pair but will deal with less complex material than specialised translators.
Even though many translators survive happily as generalists, ability alone is usually not enough to deal with complex texts well. Specialist translators can typically provide better-quality work than generalist translators of similar ability, and they can also do it much quicker. This is because translation ability is not what distinguishes specialist translators from generalists. What distinguishes them is the built-up knowledge and experience in their field.
Productivity plays a key role, too: specialists tend to work quicker. Generalists need to research what a specialist already knows, and their research efforts might not always be successful, especially when the information is not readily available online.
Why is specialisation important for translators?
“Everyone in the translation industry seems to agree that translators these days must specialise. (…) [One of the reasons for it is] the exponential expansion of knowledge: there is simply much more to know about any given subject and many new subjects to know.
No translator can be expected to have the knowledge required to translate all types of documents well and within a reasonable amount of time.”Charles Martin, Specialisation in Translation
From the passage above, we can see that when it comes to translation, knowledge and experience in a specific field are key. We can’t expect every translator to know everything there is to know about every subject.
Therefore, specialisation is not only advantageous for translators but also for clients who hire them. From knowing which projects to take and what price to quote to understanding the intricacies of a particular subject, specialisation ensures that translators know their stuff and provide quality work with little supervision required.
The main areas of translation
Below is a non-exhaustive list of translation fields, ranked by order of popularity (according to a survey we conducted among 400 translators worldwide).
It includes text types like equipment manuals, software documentation, operating instructions, automotive, etc. It includes text types like equipment manuals, software documentation, operating instructions, automotive documents, assembly instructions and installation guides, etc.
Technical texts might require technical skills like working knowledge of engineering or computer science (depending on the area).
Sometimes, technical translation collides with marketing translation; it’s the case of translators working with Software-as-a-Service or SaaS (hi!), marketing technology, etc.
Translators specialised in legal work with documents such as contracts, rulings, certificates, etc. They need to be familiar with the legal terminology and practices of the country they are translating into.
It includes transcreation and SEO translation experts (hi again!). Typical text types from the marketing field include website copy, ad copy, brochures, press releases, social media content, SEO-optimised copy, blog posts, UX/UI, presentations, and product descriptions.
Marketing translation requires a high level of creativity, a good understanding of marketing strategies, and a deep knowledge of consumer behaviour in both the source and the target markets. Translators looking to specialise in this area should also prioritise continuous marketing translation training to stay updated with the latest marketing trends and techniques.
The target audience of texts in this field are normally accountants, financial managers, and other finance professionals. Typical areas include bank reports, financial statements, annual reports, newsletters/information circulars for shareholders, etc.
Translators who specialise in this area work with travel-related text types such as hotel listings, travel agents’ websites, holiday brochures, airline websites, etc.
They need to have a good understanding of the destination country’s culture and conventions, the travel industry in general, tourism trends, and destination-specific practices.
Texts in this field include magazine articles, news reports, speeches, interviews, press conferences, political discourses—anything that is read by the general public.
Journalist translators need to be familiar with the conventions and jargon of the media industry, as well as relevant subject matter such as politics, sports, health, technology, culture, etc.
Medical translation involves documents such as clinical research articles, informed consent forms, patient education materials (dealing with conditions like cancer, asthma, diabetes), medical certificates/reports, and much more.
Medical translators need to have profound knowledge of the relevant medical field; after all, any error in the translation of medical material could have serious consequences. This makes medical translation one of the most difficult translation specialisation areas.
Social science/humanities translation
The skills a social science translator must develop include an ability to grasp complex theories and concepts, an analytical mind, independent learning, innovation, cultural sensitivity, knowledge of academic conventions, etc.
Have you read Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? What about The Little Prince or Don Quixote? If so, you have likely read a translated version of these books.
Literary translators work on all types of literary works, which include fiction and non-fiction books, short stories/novels, poetry collections, plays, comics/graphic novels, and more. Literary translators need to be writers: they should be able to create a text in the target language that elicits the same response in the reader as the source text, , all the meanwhile adhering to what’s culturally appropriate for the target audience.
Translators who specialise in art usually work with museums, auction houses, galleries, art critics/journalists, etc.
Art translators must be able to understand the work in both its cultural and historical context. They must also know how to write in an engaging style that suits both experts and laymen.
This translation field includes subtitling and video games (but also much more!). In the streaming era, with platforms like Netflix bringing the world ever closer, the need for specialists who can fluently and accurately translate audiovisual material has grown exponentially.
Translators specialising in this area need to know all the technical jargon surrounding audio and video production, how to work with subtitling tools or other field-specific software, as well as the relevant conventions and best practices.
Types of translation services
Regardless of the translation field, when we speak of “translation services,” we are usually talking about any of the following activities:
- Translation: The direct transfer of the meaning of a text from one language to another without taking any additional action to ensure cultural relevance. It’s the case of a technical manual, a legal document or any other type of text with a one-to-one meaning.
- Localisation: The adaptation of the source text for a specific target audience in order to make it culturally relevant. This includes re-writing cultural references, omitting aspects of the source text that don’t apply to the target audience, and more. It’s the case of a website, a video game, or any other kind of material meant for a specific market.
- Transcreation: The creative adaptation of advertising or marketing content according to the cultural context of the target language. This includes re-writing entire passages or completely adjusting the tone/style of the message while still preserving the original message. Think of slogans, ads, etc.
- Transcription: The process of converting audio or video material into a written text format. This can be done in any combination of languages and is usually used for media content.
- Interpreting: The transfer of spoken language from one language to another. This can be done through consecutive or simultaneous interpreting, and it’s usually used for conferences, meetings, interviews, etc.
- Editing: The process of ensuring the accuracy of a translated text by comparing the source and target texts side by side, fixing any errors or inconsistencies, and ensuring the style is suitable for the target audience.
- Proofreading: The process of manually going through a finalised text and ensuring it has no typos, spelling or grammar mistakes, and that is reads properly and flows naturally.
- QA: Quality Assurance services involve checking for accuracy, consistency, coherence, and compliance with client/industry standards in order to ensure the end product meets its purpose. It’s common for software localisation projects, subtitling, etc.
- SEO translation and multilingual SEO: The process of adapting a website or any other online content in order to make it rank higher in search engine results for specific target languages and regions. It includes the localisation of text, titles, keywords, etc., as well as writing new text with the right target-language keywords.
- Multilingual sentiment analysis: The process of analysing and categorising the sentiment (positive, negative, or neutral) of texts written in multiple languages. This is used for social media monitoring, customer experience surveys and more.
- Dubbing and voiceover: The adaptation of audio or video content for a different language. This includes dubbing films and TV shows, recording video game characters’ voices, etc.
- Subtitling: The process of adding a text version of the spoken audio to films, TV shows, documentaries and other audiovisual content. It usually includes time-coding and adjusting the length of each subtitle.
The influence of the internet on translation specialisation
To quote Charles Martin again,
The Internet is the second and main reason why specialisation is increasingly necessary.
Firstly, by enabling translators to deliver translations rapidly to customers anywhere in the world and promote their special skills and services far beyond their local markets, the worldwide web has made it much easier for translators to specialise.
Secondly, by putting a wealth of information at their disposal and thus allowing them to venture into new and more specialised areas. But the Internet has also intensified competition, by enabling people with documents to translate to search the world over for someone capable of meeting their specific needs, or price.”
The internet has indeed resulted in a “miniaturisation” of the translation industry. No longer does one need to be based in a major city like London or New York to gain access to international markets. In fact, today, virtually anyone with solid language skills and translation training can start building a business and earn money from home by becoming a freelance translator.
At the same time, however, the Internet has created a need for new ways of standing out from the crowd. Specialisation is one of them!
What are the benefits of niching down as a translator?
Specialising, or developing a niche market, makes sense for many reasons:
- It lets you develop skills in areas where few others are able to compete.
- It allows you to build a reputation as an expert in your field.
- It limits competition and makes it possible for you to easily undercut price-gougers.
- It allows your existing clients to call on you as a go-to expert in a particular field.
- It saves you time and effort (you don’t spend as long conducting research or waiting for clients to respond to your bids).
- It unlocks new opportunities, such as working on industry-specific translation jobs.
At the same time, however, you need to make sure that you will be able to translate with the right level of expertise in the niche you choose. Devote time and effort to a particular area of expertise so that you can become a true subject-matter expert.
Why do expert translators charge premium rates?
Quality costs more. It’s as simple as that. Translators who specialise in a particular field become masters of it and deliver superior service. In other words, experts charge more because they give more!
A specialised translator will offer wisdom and solutions that will allow clients to achieve their goals faster and more successfully. Expert translators save their clients’ time and money because their translations are accurate, useful, and tailored to the client’s objectives. Such value costs more upfront because it’s an investment rather than an expense. After all… buy cheap, buy twice!
What are the most and least popular fields of translation specialisation?
According to our survey, technical translation seems to be the most popular among the different types of specialised translation.
The areas in which there seem to be fewer specialised translators include literature, travel and tourism, and audiovisual/entertainment. This doesn’t mean, however, that these are fields demanding little translation effort. Rather, it means that not as many linguists have specialised in them as in the technical, legal, or marketing translation fields.
Check out the rest of our blog to learn more about what is going on in the translation industry. Until next time!
Author: Maria Scheibengraf
Maria Scheibengraf is an English-to-Spanish marketing and SEO translator specialised in software (SaaS, martech, fintech), and Operations Manager at Crisol Translation Services, which she co-founded in 2016. With a solid background in programming and marketing, Maria has an in-depth understanding of the technical intricacies involved in software programs, websites, and digital platforms. Maria is also the author of The SEO Translation Bible.