Without industry standards governing what it means to be a specialist, the term has become redundant. Here’s what you need to know before you hire a specialist translator.
You will be hard-pressed to find a professional translator who doesn’t have expertise in a particular area or two, as it makes sense for them to focus on the types of documents that interest them rather than take every job that comes along.
This means that any professional translator could call themselves a specialist. There are no clear standards, unless a translator has a linguistics degree and a degree in their field of expertise (which is uncommon and usually unnecessary).
It is always more valuable to have a professional translator with top-notch writing skills, expertise in languages, and a willingness to research than to have a specialist translator who is an expert on a particular topic but has poor translation skills and minimal experience.
A technical document that is written by a professional doesn’t always require a specialist. Most of the time it simply requires a skilled linguist who has a basic understanding of the concepts and the resources to research what he/she does not know.
Go with an agency that has stringent criteria for selecting translators - this way you know you will get an excellent translation whether you choose to go with a specialist or not. Agencies that promote specialist translation for every industry imaginable should be approached with caution - particularly if they claim to have individual translators who are specialized in multiple fields. These are not true specialists, and you should not be paying specialist prices.
There are two particular cases when it is advisable to employ a specialist translator:
Instructions for medical equipment use, directions for pharmaceutical drug use, and manuals for heavy machines are examples of when precision is essential.
Legal documents need precision to be admissible in court, and this requires more than just a basic understanding of law. If the translation is for another country, the legal translator must understand the differences in legal standards and terminology between countries and adapt accordingly.
Specialist translation may seem like a wise investment, but it is often unnecessary. Until the industry has clearly defined standards, it is not useful concept - despite how many translation companies advertise it as a premium option. Choose excellent translators, not specialists - the two are not yet synonymous.