I think that almost every translator goes through the same dilemma: should I limit myself to a specific field or try to cover as many fields as possible? Well, the answer to this question depends on a few factors: 1) how far ahead we want to plan; 2) the future we imagine for ourselves; and 3) our “bravery” (I’m using double quotes here for a reason).
I like to think of choosing a field of specialty as proposing; you might run across this profession by accident or as part of your regular work, then you spend some time together, get to know each other (and yourself better), and after a few months it feels right to move in together, that is only translate for a living. Now, as opposed to a relationship with a real partner, translation encourages you not to be monogamous; on the contrary, try out as many texts as you like, even more than once. You can even work on a few texts at the same time! Yet, in spite of this unprecedented freedom, there’s a chance that after a few months or years you will feel you need some time off or maybe, heavens forbid, decide to do something else for a living… This is legitimate of course, because as freelancers, we need to make decisions (see my previous post, It’s All a Matter of Control). But, in my opinion, after some time we have no choice but to make certain decisions and to prefer one option over others. The reason I added double quotes to ‘bravery’ is that bravery has nothing to with these decisions; it’s simply a choice we need to make.
To me, moving in with someone means that someone is who I want to live and settle down with, regardless of whether our relationship is monogamous or not. But proposing means something else; it means that you want to spend your entire life getting to know that person and go through everything with that person. The same goes for translation: choosing a field of specialty (again – in my opinion) means that this is the content I want to master, and by ‘master’ I mean know everything about it (or aspire to know everything).
I chose the medical field for a few reasons: I had already translated many medical texts, I thought the medical field was interesting, I had learned that the rates of medical texts can be relatively high, and I thought there would always be pharmaceutical companies sponsoring clinical trials, so there would always be a need to translate informed consent forms. After I had made that decision, I knew that I wanted to know more than what patients were supposed to know; I wanted to really understand the chemical processes in the body, what common diseases do, and how certain organs function. For instance, I was getting many ICFs for studies on diabetes, so I wanted to know what happens in diabetes and what the liver and pancreas do. I spent hundreds of hours watching videos, reading, and summarizing contents that were available online. I also decided that I would dedicate 10 minutes out of every hour I work to read about what I’m translating in the target language and write a short summary, something that I’ve been doing to this very day. Like in a real relationship, my intention was to make myself feel at home, that is feel very comfortable translating certain materials and even being able to spot errors in the source text, in particular if the source text was a translation and I was doing the back translation.
Let’s be realistic, I don’t think I can know everything there is to know, just like physicians aren’t expected to specialize in everything in medicine, but the path you take and your journey can be far more important than the target itself. To me it’s very important to enjoy the work, to find challenges and excitement (yes, even in translation!) and to be motivated to develop my business all the time. I think the way to do that is to set goals, even unreachable goals, because the higher you aim, the better your chances are of accomplishing more. And bravery? It’s funny that I needed to be “brave” to make my life better. I needed to be brave enough to step out of my comfort zone, that is stop living from day to day without committing to anything or to anyone. And I’m very happy I had the privilege to be brave twice in the same year: to propose and become a freelance translator.