Professional subjects from a personal perspective

Specialisation according to Percy Balemans

Today’s post features a translator who is very well known for her specific areas of specialisation.

Percy Balemans, German and English to Dutch translator, specialist in creative and advertising industries

Percy Balemans specialises in the advertising and creative industries, with significant experience in fashion (living the dream, in my opinion!). Percy recently updated her interview answers, adding some excellent advice for developing specialist knowledge.

Here is Percy’s interview:

Why do you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
Although one of the fun parts of being a translator is that you get to translate texts about a wide variety of subjects, I also like delving into a subject and learning as much about it as I can. So that’s one reason I specialise. But I find it also helps me to market my services better: clients who have texts about specific subjects will look for a translator who specialises in that subject and people (clients, but also colleagues) seem to remember you better if they can associate you with a specific specialisation. I know some translators are worried that if they specialise, they will lose out on other business, but that is not my experience. Even though I focus my marketing on my areas of specialisation, I still do other jobs as well.

Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows you to charge higher rates?
I think that specialisation does allow you to charge higher rates. After all, you are able to offer clients not just translation and writing skills, but also subject and terminology knowledge. However, rates also depend on the industry you work for.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
To be honest, I didn’t really choose them, I ended up translating in these fields and liked them! A couple of years ago I was asked by an advertising agency to do a couple of small transcreation jobs for them. I enjoyed doing them and they were happy with my work and the rest is history. One of my main transcreation end clients is a high-street fashion brand, and working on their texts required quite a bit of research on the subject of fashion, so that led me to specialise in that field as well.

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
I would definitely pick a subject I am interested in. I don’t really believe in choosing a subject just because there is a high demand for it; you are going to spend a lot of time studying the subject, so you’d better find something that interests you!

I’m not sure there is one way to go about specialising, I think it very much depends on the subject and the kind of information and resources that are available for the subject. Just to give you an idea: when I decided that I wanted to specialise in fashion, I first started reading fashion magazines, both in my source languages and my native language. This helped me keep up to date with the latest news and trends and with the writing style and terminology used. I also started looking for books on fashion: by now I have a small collection ranging from fashion dictionaries to books on fashion history and biographies of influential people in the fashion world. Another great way to delve deeper into this particular subject is visiting museums: there are several museums in the Netherlands (the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague and the Groninger Museum in Groningen) and in the UK (the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath) which have excellent fashion collections (and great bookshops!) and regularly organise fashion exhibitions. I was also lucky to find an evening class on fashion history which was taught in my area and which turned out to be very useful and a lot of fun. Finally, last month I attended my first fashion conference, a one-day event in Antwerp organised by the Flanders Fashion Institute featuring fashion journalists, fashion designers and other influential names from the world of fashion who gave their views on the future of the fashion industry. It was a very interesting event and a great way to test my knowledge and get more in touch with the fashion business.

Percy Balemans:
Percy is an English-Dutch/German-Dutch translator specialising in advertising (transcreation) and creative translations, mainly on the subjects of fashion, art and travel and tourism. Visit her website for more information:

Specialisation according to Marie Jackson





So here we are, well into January! Where did that time go? I’m hard at work on my goals for this year but, in the meantime, let’s get back to business with a new post in my specialisation interview series. Say hi to Marie Jackson:
Marie_Jackson Looking-Glass_Translations freelance_translator_interpreter


1) Why do you/don’t you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I specialise in business, marketing, law and logistics, and am currently working on further developing my knowledge of law. Apart from giving me the opportunity to learn more about the fields I find interesting, I think that specialisation makes it easier to run a business. By specialising in a few select fields, I can better target my marketing and operate in a more focused manner. This also gives me the opportunity to work faster (with or without the help of CAT tools), which of course means I can take on more work! The main drawback of specialising is that it can be an expensive, time-consuming process. Ultimately, however, the return on investment is huge, both on a personal and professional level, so it’s certainly worth it.

2) Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows you/would allow you to charge higher rates?
I definitely feel that being a specialist allows you to command higher rates for your work. It’s the same in every other industry, so why not ours? It takes a lot of time, effort, money and sacrifice to specialise in a field alongside languages/translation/interpreting (which are already very time-intensive!), and our rates should reflect that.

3) How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
Some of my specialisms were selected for me, and some I chose myself. I get lots of business and marketing work, and I covered these a lot at uni, so it makes sense for me to head in this direction. My logistics specialism arose from my first year of freelancing, during which I did a lot of work for a chemical logistics service provider in Germany. I’m now very comfortable working in the field, so although it may not have been my first choice, it’s a firm favourite today! It helps that my father works in logistics, so I grew up immersed in the field to an extent. Finally, law is my personal choice of specialism. I’ve always been interested in the law, and have found that it ultimately rests on semantics and pragmatics, which appeals to my inner nerd. Furthermore, communication is vital in a fair legal process, and so I can give something back by building my legal knowledge. By specialising in these four areas, I’m able to help my clients in all areas of their operations, from writing their first business plan and marketing their company, to drafting service contracts and managing distribution – and this is something they really value. I also often find that these fields overlap; I frequently translate marketing copy for logistics companies, for instance!

4) How would you go about adding another specialist area?
As a very visual/kinaesthetic learner, I like to read widely around my subject and get personally invested in the field. Much like when studying a language, I have used an immersive approach to building my specialisms. In particular, I read a lot of daily magazines and newsletters about law, my newest specialism, since they help me to understand the issues which affect that industry. They also show me the language lawyers themselves use to discuss their field. In addition, I attend industry events, which offer great opportunities to learn more and make valuable contacts. Finally, I find that I’m always more motivated when I’m working to deadlines, so I like to take courses relevant to my field. These force me to be disciplined and ultimately end in some form of assessment, which I see as a validation of my knowledge in that field that can also help to reassure my clients. I’m still developing my legal specialism, but this approach has helped me to really get my foot in the door. Specialising can be a challenge, but I think that it really appeals to linguists in that we’re often very curious people who like to learn about the world around us. We might therefore be one of the few professional groups who actually love doing CPD – I know I do!

Marie Jackson MA (Hons) AITI is a professional translator and interpreter and owner of Looking-Glass Translations. She works from French and German into English and specialises in business and marketing, law and logistics. Find her online on LinkedIn and Twitter, or visit her website for more information on her services and CPD record.

Specialisation according to Valeria Aliperta

Valeria is (or should be) well known to translators as the face of Rainy London Translations:

Valeria Aliperta, translator and interpreter English-Spanish-French-Italian

She is an expert on all things branding and even provides personalised sessions via her sister business. Here is her take on specialising:

Why do/don’t you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I did a BA in translation but then specialised in Interpreting and while the MA in Translation had several majors (Technical, Scientific, Literary or Business) the Conference Interpreting MA was focusing on the booth practice 100% (and I am thankful for that!) and did not have any specific topic to follow.

This means I did not really have a specialization per se. Plus, as a ‘pure’ linguist ie. not a person who has a previous degree in engineering or medicine etc. – I came out of uni like many, many colleagues and asked myself: riiiight… so what now?

As I did a work placement in a translation agency, I tried to find a job in-house as a PM but despite having the right experience, I was never successful as the recession hit right in that period. Hiring choices went towards the more experienced or those who were already internally working for the companies would be preferred to save money.  So I decided to go freelance!

Well, when I was younger I used to like drawing and being creative. Therefore, anything that has that direction drew my attention and as my partner is a designer, I was naturally exposed to the IT world. Even though I never studied marketing I find ads funny and creativity is something I tend to have in me, so I improved my skills by reading, reading and more reading,… with the objective of producing flawless copy in my language. As other colleagues of this series said, initially I had no clue so I did go for the ‘take it all or bust’ approach, making my mistakes 🙂

You’ll never see me translate medical, financial or hard-core technical texts now but as in any job, I always have to SEE the file before accepting.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
Specialising is a good option and everyone should try and find what they like. I now work for agencies and direct clients and my favourite topics are marketing, tourism, fashion/beauty and ads. I’ve recently started getting more and more work for software companies, TV or acting studios, even though for interpreting I may end up working in agriculture or architecture because in most cases you get to prepare the material.

Do you feel that marketing yourself as a specialist allows/would allow you to charge higher rates?
It should. Sometimes the market can be tough, especially in financially challenging times like – alas – these, where sometimes clients are ready to accept lower quality for cheap prices. Still, they will come back to you if you’re THE expert, because… only when it hits them in their face, they realise how it hurts to have chosen a non-professional or non-specialised linguist 🙂

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
I am fascinated by the legal sector but I feel I lack the extensive skills to say I specialise in it. The differences between the legal systems of different countries make it even harder to find the right correspondences and material, as it’s all ever changing and complex. But I’m working on it! I have already translated software, but I would eventually like to expand my creative side even more towards apps (which I am addicted too!) and other online platforms. As you see, what you love is the key here. The only thing sometimes is starting. Just read more in the topic you find interesting, scout for blogs or publications, stuff your e-reader with RSS and feeds and maybe get some online CPD/training. Echoing the famous Confucius’ motto, here’s my interpretation: choose a specialisation you love and you’ll never have to work a single day in your life.

Valeria Aliperta (Associate of the ITI, MCIL, member of ASETRAD and IAPTI Head of External Relations) is a conference interpreter and translator at Rainy London Translations, working from English, Spanish and French into her native Italian for IT and web, fashion, design, marketing, legal and advertising. She also runs a branding consultancy at and is co-founder of The Freelance Box, which provides seminars and hands-on courses for freelancers.

Specialisation according to Rose Newell

Today’s interview is a great one. If you don’t yet know Rose Newell or her blog, you should.

Rose Newell, German to English finance and technology translator

Rose is based in Berlin and translates finance and technology material from German to British English. Here’s what she has to say about specialising:

Why do you specialise? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
I would recommend every translator, indeed every professional, specialises in what they do best. Why do I do it? Everyone is better at some fields than others: be it professional experience, academic background or general interest – any of these will enhance your insight into a given field, making you are faster and better. It works a bit like RPG games: the more you do something, the more experience you gain, which improves your abilities. If you spread yourself between very diverse fields you are making your task harder, because you have so much more to learn and this learning will be slower in each area as a result. There are also significant business advantages to being a specialist rather than a generalist. My combination is relatively common, so it is not like I can sell myself as simply “a qualified German to English translator” – it’s not exactly “Farsi to Korean”, where the combination alone would be your unique selling point. I must differentiate to attract the best clients. I also prefer to stick to my specialist areas because I am more confident – and this confidence means more than correct terminology, but deep understanding and the confidence to decide resolutely that there is an error in the source, and take appropriate action. I can do that with IT, technology and finance. I would never be able to do this with engine parts descriptions, so I will turn such jobs away.

Now we come to the drawback: being specialised means turning work away when it does not match our areas of specialisation, even if in reality I could probably do a better job on many of them than a generalist who may take the job without the same qualms. Referrals are usually the way to go: this protects my integrity AND the profession, since a professional experience with translation providers helps our overall image. It also works both ways – my colleagues know what I specialise in, too, and what goes around comes around. 

Do you feel that marketing yourself as an IT, finance and technology specialist allows you to charge higher rates?
Definitely. Differentiating myself through my specialist areas means I can market myself better to clients and obtain higher rates. Further, it is really the only way to go if you want top-notch direct clients. They will always be more willing to accept higher rates than an agency. For example, I won a new client at CeBIT because my MA happens to relate very closely to his invention. This meant I instantly grasped the concepts and he felt more at ease, relating me more as a colleague in his field than a service provider. The client was assured that I was the right person for the job and his chances of finding someone better were very slim. A generalist in this situation has nothing to say to differentiate themselves from the next generalist translator or agency. Expertise will trump a good sales pitch from even the best of bulk translation providers – provided the client is looking for that, of course.

How and why did you select your specialist field(s)?
A specialist area should be something obvious to you, I think. My specialist areas were pretty obvious choices for me. Or rather, my father chose them for me:
My father’s background is in financial forecasting at the Royal Mail, managing a big budget while keeping an eye on the economy as a whole to look out for potential changes. He has a habit of predicting things – as when I was three, he decided that it would be a good idea to start giving me computer time. He thought this black and white box of lights was the future, so as my tiny hands played with different shades of grey on Paintbrush, he managed to prime me for my interest in geekery. My father would pass on his old computers every time he upgraded – which happened often. Learning by observation, as is common among linguists, I worked out how to use Windows and MS DOS from looking over my father’s shoulder, first rescuing precious files and reformatting my hard drive via MS DOS at age seven.

My fascination with computers and technology never ceased, so it wasn’t a big surprise that when the IT boom hit, I knew more than the teachers did. Classmates would queue behind me in IT lessons, often joined by the teacher, who would push to the front. The remuneration for this assistant teaching came in the form of the school’s IT prize, but the lack of quality teaching meant I temporarily lost interest in an academic sense. The fascination continued, of course, and I have been reading IT and technology journals, magazines, books, websites and forums for as long as I can remember. Later, I decided to do my MA not in translation, but in “Human Aspects of Information Technology”, especially when offered a generous excellence scholarship. This was partly for my own satisfaction – but also for the benefit of my career, and ultimately, my clients.Why I chose finance is a little similar. My mother is not the greatest fan of computers or finance, so my father would often discuss these things with me instead. I would hear many finance-related tales from the office and comments on the news, which of course meant I adopted an interest in finance and economics, which later led to my later study of economics at AS level and politics through to degree level. At university, I would invariably take an economics slant on any course I studied or essay I wrote – where my centrist attitudes dismayed certain lecturers and fellow students at both ends of the spectrum. That said, the recent privatisation of the Royal Mail was… painful.

Put simply, my interest in finance lies in how it reflects wider scheme of things: even the driest of financial reports for a small business or 200-word article in an economics supplement can reveal underlying social and economic trends and likely future developments. I have not yet confirmed this interest through further study, but it is far from ruled out for the future.

Why I didn’t choose anything else? They just don’t interest me as much as IT, technology or finance. Simple.

How would you go about adding another specialist area?
As you’ve gathered from the above, I don’t really believe in choosing a specialist area simply because you want more clients. Really, a specialisation will choose you. (Or, as in my case, your father will choose them for you…)
That is not to say you cannot add one, but I think to really work it has to be something you are genuinely interested in – something you will happily read about in your spare time and spend time researching, not caring too much if a job overruns because you’re enjoying the learning process. I know some people say they have not yet found what they want to specialise in, but I admit not having much advice here. Perhaps they could read more to see what they enjoy reading? Or perhaps they could look to their hobbies, interests and professional experience? There are others out there who would choose based on rates surveys, which generally state that those willing to translate patents or military documents will be paid a lot more for their trouble. If choosing in this order – first choosing a desired specialism, then acquiring the knowledge – I would say gaining experience and knowledge is a priority. Perhaps also working in the field, reading related materials in your source and target language, translating some documents for practice or connecting with others in the industry through trade fairs and conferences. Then all the standard rules for producing good quality apply – if you are new to that field, take considerable care with your terminology research, consulting experienced colleagues where necessary.

My final word of warning would echo the words of Chris Durban: think about how you would do in a sort of Turing Test among experts in that discipline. Consider whether you can pass as one of them. To take IT as an example, do not think that knowing how to use software or owning a computer, iPad and smartphone mean you are on their level. You need to have some idea of how these things work, from computer languages to hardware. A n00b will be quickly found out and left out of the conversations a good translator needs to be part of.

Rose Newell runs Lingocode from Berlin. You can find her on her website, blog, Twitter and Facebook.