Lesson 118: How not to be an expert in translation?

Lesson 118: How not to be an expert in translation?

Whether you accept that there’s such a thing as an expert, or that this is just a marketing technique gaining popularity these days, or, like me, you’re considering the possibility that some translators may become experts or that some subject matter experts become translators, we can surely agree on some things that an expert in translation won’t do.

Or can we? In this article, I wanted to suggest a few things that, in my opinion, an expert (be it real or just “positioned”) won’t do. This is my point of view and it could even be extended to cover all industry leaders. Do you agree?

You’re not an expert if you just use positioning, but have no real expert knowledge

As pointed out in comments to previous articles, it’s important to make a difference between just positioning yourself as an expert, and really gaining expertise and being one (and then, where’s the line?). Be it in translation or in all business things related to translation, an expert doesn’t just position herself or himself as one, but has results and background to prove the value of her or his work. Our profession has some great examples of people who really are experts, either linguists turned subject-matter experts, or some really knowledgeable industry professionals turned freelancers. I think we should all learn from them!

You’re not an expert if you’re not showing involvement

Arguably, experts become personally and intellectually involved with their profession and show interest in the trends, successes and failures. Conversely, professionals remaining indifferent towards the big mechanisms governing the entire professions, or simply saying they only care about their business, should not be referred to as experts. I can come up with a few examples of experts showing great involvement in the translation profession, can you?

You’re not an expert if you’re detached from the history

In my opinion, an expert needs to possess a certain level (again, this is debatable) of theoretical knowledge stemming from the study of, or at least awareness of, the history of the profession. An expert in translation can’t really avoid learning about translation theory and history. Without it, she or he shows talent, but not expertise.

You’re not an expert if you’re not showing enthusiasm

Experts are the most visible professionals, often engaging with people from the outside and the media. Showing no enthusiasm or passion for translation sets a bad example for other fields and often misguides clients. Now, I’m not arguing that there’s one way to show you’re enthusiastic or passionate about translation, this is not the case. I’m just a bit concerned about all those who go out there and claim that translators are poor, undervalued, and work in pyjamas.

You’re not an expert if you think you know it all

I believe that true experts never stop learning. I think it’s dangerous to stop and say that hey, now I’ve learned it all and I can just concentrate on doing. A real expert is dedicated to Continuing Professional Development – do you agree?

You’re not an expert if you’re critical to the new

Of course, experts are experts because they have specific skills and knowledge gained throughout years and years of practice. But let me put this to you. A true expert shouldn’t be critical to new trends, new perspectives or even new ways of doing things, even if they’re different from how they work. A real expert would re-examine their own ways, adopt what they find useful in the new trends, and continue even better – or is it just me?

You’re not an expert if you’re refusing to share

Perhaps most controversially, I want to claim that you’re not a real expert if you’re refusing to share your knowledge and experience for the benefit of others. Now, I’m not saying that experts should tell us how they made it and share their best techniques with us, but keeping everything to yourself, in fear that others will steal your clients, is not an attitude of an expert. However, I think we’re very lucky in our industry to have a number of experts who’re so dedicated that they share a whole lot with the community. Can you name a few?

I’d be really interested to know who you consider experts in our industry. Links?


  1. Suzanne Smart , on Feb 4, 2015 at 07:30 Reply

    Well, you for a start Marta! 🙂

  2. Dmitry Kornyukhov , on Nov 30, 2015 at 14:01 Reply

    Great post, Marta.
    Can I add one too? 🙂
    You’re not an expert if you refuse to help newbies and ignore the emails from colleagues who need your help or advice.
    Seasoned translators often forget how hard it is for newbie translators to make it in the translation industry. Real experts are dedicated to helping others no matter how time-consuming it is. Real experts are patient too. They don’t get annoyed if someone sent them an email, asking for help. Being inclusive, honest, caring and transparent – these are the signs of a real expert.

    P.S.: Talking about spreading great knowledge, did you have the chance to check out The Open Mic, yet? https://theopenmic.co 🙂

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Aug 30, 2016 at 14:43 Reply

      I think it’s very good for the industry to help others in the long run as well. I did have a look at Open Mic, it has potential!

  3. Natalie Soper , on Dec 1, 2015 at 10:02 Reply

    These are some good points, Marta! I’ve found that quite a few “veteran” translators are very guarded when speaking to new translators, especially when meeting in person. I’m glad that I’ve found some people online who are happy to share ideas and support! We won’t thrive as an industry if we keep everything a secret – and translation and interpreting is such a misunderstood sector that communication and education is all the more important!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Aug 30, 2016 at 14:49 Reply

      Exactly, it does help the industry to share the knowledge.

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