About the author: Carla is a freelance translator specilaising in French-English, Portuguese-English and Spanish-English and has dabbled in the field of writing.
Knowing your capabilities is knowing your limitations It is a very good idea to get to the stage where you know what your capabilities are in the area of translation, and at the same time you will know what your limitations are - the two are interlinked. I am talking notably of the volume of work you can reasonably cope with without killing yourself in the bargain, and the kind of translations that you are capable of doing.
But how do you get to that stage? How do you find out these things?
If, like me, you are a language specialist first and foremost, unlike others who are a qualified expert in a field and then go into translation, it can be quite a quandary to try and work out what your field of expertise is.
It does not take a high level of expertise to determine what your translation fields are. It is best not to regard yourself as being merely a 'general' translator who does every type of work that is sent to you. You will find that the type of work you find the most difficult should not be the type of work that you should be doing. Of course, in your appointed fields you will at times encounter difficult translations; however, I am talking about a translation which takes more than the usual effort of research on the topic.
Another indicator of what would be your fields of translation is where your interests lay. Are you, for instance, interested in sociology, the arts? Then it is more likely that this is the type of work that you should be involved in. It is a very good idea to develop yourself in this field, and not just to have an interest in it, and to take every opportunity to read up on the area and even take courses to improve your knowledge. It helps to do a course as you go beyond learning merely what the terminology is and actually attain a deeper empirical understanding of the subject matter.
Knowing your fields takes you to the next level – how many words you can translate in a day. This does not mean the 25 pages you can produce in two ticks of a ducks tail; rather, it should be determined by your daily output – including the research and final proofreading and editing as well as formatting of the document, as if you were to hand it to the client on that very same day. This is a very good indicator for long projects, as it helps you to establish what would be a reasonable timeframe, for clients who need to know when you will revert with the document. It also helps you to organise your schedule, so that you will be able to inform your other clients when you will next be available. You will also be able to know how much work you can take on without killing yourself in the process!
Determining your daily output simply involves making an analysis of the work you have done in the past 2 or so months by looking at word counts and the deadlines involved. Take note, however, that it is possible that in some of your specialist fields, you might take longer to produce a certain output, so this analysis has to be quite precise!
In conclusion, never be afraid to turn down work on the basis of being too occupied with other projects or of not being a specialist in that field! We are not machines (much as we would like to be!!). Do not think that you are limiting yourself; in fact, you are building yourself up and establishing a solid reputation as a translator, becoming more organised, and, more than that, learning not just your capabilities, but also your strengths.