Translations about outdoor activities
Today I want to look at the topic of specialisations in the world of translating. What does it mean to be an expert translator is a certain field, like climbing or mountaineering? Whoever wants to work as a translator will sooner or later have to think about one or more areas of specialisation, and this is not always straightforward. You may be thinking, “But I’m a language expert, I’ve studied translation, is that not enough?” Unfortunately it isn’t. You also need to be able to offer specific skills for dealing with specific kinds of texts.
From another point of view, whoever is looking for a translator should also consider the areas of specialization of the translator they choose. We often start by looking for a good translator, because if a translator is good at what they do, they can deal with any text, right? WRONG!
I’ll give you an example from the world of rock climbing:
We’re at a presentation where an English rock climber is talking about her recent adventures. There is a very competent interpreter who is translating into Italian. Listening to the interpreter, we hear about how, at a certain point, this climber grabs a friend, “un amico”, and pushes him into a crack in the rock and clips her rope into him. A bit higher up, she grabs another “amico”, a bit bigger this time, to put into a bigger crack. By the end of the pitch, we know that she has made use of three of four “amici” and inserted them into gaps in the rock…well, she must have some really helpful and understanding “amici”, right?
In fact, they are not “amici” but friends, or cams, climbing protection gear, and in Italian, the English term is commonly used (friend). It should never be translated into “amico” (unless, of course, we really are referring to her friendly climbing companions, but I wouldn’t recommend you squeeze your mates into cracks in the rock).
This is just one example of the many technical terms used in climbing and leads us to the first point I want to make: the technical aspect of a specialization.
Knowledge of technical terms – specialisation in any field of translation means knowledge of the technical terms used. In climbing, for example, there are a vast number of terms which a reader can find in a text, from abalakov to pitch, from redpointing to bolts. I’m not suggesting that a translator should be a walking dictionary of terms, but it is important to create specific glossaries for your own area of specialization and have a series of resources available when you need them so that you can always find the right term. What’s more, it is important for a translator to keep up-to-date on terms and news in their field, as well as the style of language used and common expressions.
There is another aspect which I think is important, especially in my own fields of specialisation. Personal experience – knowledge which allows you to see things from the writer’s point of view as well as from the perspective of whoever is going to read the translation. In more specific terms, for example, I find it really useful to have climbing experience on a range of rock types when I have to translate a route description; my experiences allow me to really delve deep into the text and find the perfect solution in the translation. If I’m translating a walking guide, I can use my own experiences as a walker, putting myself in the shoes of whoever will use the guide and this helps me to find the most suitable, clear and functional translation.
Lastly, there is another fundamental aspect of specialisation. It is what ensures that a translator keeps up-to-date in their field, what makes them go that step further when translating and spend those extra moments fine-tuning a translation. It is also what leads them to think about their specialisation even when they’re not officially working, because it is the bridge between their work and their play. This aspect is passion.
Passion and interest in a topic is an essential element on translation, and is precisely what led me to become specialised in translating texts about the outdoors. If you’re interested in something, it no longer feels like work, but becomes a pleasure, and this in inevitably reflected in the standard of work produced. For me, the mountains, walking, nature and the outdoors are true passions and it is a privilege to be able to incorporate them into my work as a translator.
What are your areas of specialisation? What does being a specialised translator mean to you?