03 Feb 2021

Pressure to specialise

Spanish to English translator, Matt Walker, reflects on the right time to start moving from generalist to specialist as a translator.

My biggest concern as I started my career was a distinct lack of any potential specialist area to focus on. I enviously looked over at other translators and peers who all seemed to have a specialist background to help them stand out. My education, work experience or hobbies offered me little. How far would I get without one?

Like a budding actor in search of a big break, I took on a wide range of texts, with Spanish agencies seemingly happy to keep supplying me with work. I soon had a steady stream of projects, earning enough to make a living. So far so good, the idea of specialising went on the back burner.

After a few years, however, the enthusiasm sadly started to wane. I soon realised that some texts are too specific, and I had no business doing them. A couple of complaints from clients ensued. I also found myself demoralised by texts which were boring or cumbersome (restaurant menus, for example). Worst of all, I felt as if agencies were controlling me, pulling me in all different directions, taking advantage of my willingness to work as a relative newbie in the industry.

​‘If you truly aspire to be a successful and top-level translator, I really doubt the viability of the general market as a long-term strategy.’

Matt Walker


Unsurprisingly, I hit a wall. Call it burnout even. If you deal with different subject areas every day, it becomes mentally taxing. You never really get to grips with any one field, and research is very time consuming. Plus, you never feel 100% confident in yourself or your work. I wanted more control over the texts Ideal with – and I wanted an identity.

Right now, I’ve taken a step back from the generalist fodder to channel my work into finding those specific areas that will allow me to be more comfortable, more efficient and most importantly, provide me with an opportunity to become a better translator and enjoy myself.

If you truly aspire to be a successful and top-level translator, I really doubt the viability of the general market as a long-term strategy. I feel you should be constantly on the lookout for areas you could potentially focus on. But do not worry. Generalist work on a short-term basis could provide enough to get you moving and offer vital experience and exposure to potential areas.

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2020 edition of Ignition, ITI's Student Bulletin.

About the writer

Matt Walker is a Spanish to English translator based in Cadiz, Spain. He is a graduate of ITI's Setting Up as a Freelance Translator course and during the first stage of his career, he has been working mostly for Spanish translation agencies covering a wide range of topics. To further his career, he is currently focusing on the need to specialise in certain areas.

Matt is an Affiliate member of ITI.