Jack of all trades, master of none

Jack of all trades, master of none

Tackling a new subject and moving out of your comfort zone can be daunting. It’s true, but there are plenty of reasons to push the boundaries and extend your skills into new, specialist areas.

The first of these is, of course, that you need to work. Although you may be the world’s greatest authority on, let’s say, cuddly toys, if there isn’t enough work on cuddly toys to keep the fridge full then you are going to have to branch out.

Then there is the job satisfaction factor. Doing the same thing over and over again may be lucrative and you are likely to do a good job because you know what you are doing inside out. Neither do you need to spend a lot of time on research. However, it is also quite boring and if you are a typical translator and ‘information gatherer’, learning a new subject area will be fascinating and educational as well as financially rewarding in the long run.

If you do decide to take the plunge and tackle a translation in a new subject area, there are several strategies you can use to make sure that you get it right. First of all, don’t take on anything that needs to be done in a rush. Perhaps it is better to start with some checking jobs. Proofreading experienced translators’ work is a brilliant way of getting a clear idea of where the goalposts are in a different subject.

If you are working with a CAT tool, this can also be a way of building up some memories and glossaries in your chosen subject. On the subject of glossaries, I recently stumbled on a list of UN interpreters’ glossaries ( several of which I have already downloaded. These are sure to be very valuable next time I get asked to translate something completely new to me.

Another way of ensuring that your work is up to standard is to find an expert to give you some input and, if you are lucky, a read through. In my case, I am lucky enough to have a pool of very clear, retired friends, who are always willing to give me a hand. Two of my star ‘collaborators’ are neighbours, one of whom was previously a lecturer in metallurgy at Birmingham University. The other worked for the British armed forces as a consultant in weaponry and military transport. Both are invaluable sources of information when I undertake translations in the aerospace field and they are delighted to help. If you don’t know anybody, then there is an extensive pool of translators and experts out there on the internet ready to give you some assistance. Even though the final translation should be proofread by a third party, input from experts is sure to have a beneficial result on your product.

Nobody is born an expert in any subject. If you are conscientious and determined and ask for help when you need it, you will soon be adding new specialist areas to your curriculum vitae.

Juliet Allaway


Written by editor