Everything needs a definition. This definition should be concise and clear. But with any definition, there is an inherent problem. Does it cover everything? For example, how would you define a language specialist?
Language is one of the most intricate pieces of human knowledge, so defining a language specialist can itself be a tricky proposition.
Job sites like Chron give succinct definitions of the term. “Language specialists translate human verbal communication in real-time (interpretation) or written text (translation) from one language to another. “
Sounds clear and very defining, but does it include everything?
This definition certainly precisely describes what translators and interpreters do as language specialists. But are other possible language specialists included?
For example, what about terminologists? The UN defines terminologists as language experts that “facilitate the editing and translation process by researching and locating information or past publications which might help language staff produce high-quality translations.”
Or what about linguistic specialists? According to Study.com, “linguistics specialists conduct in-depth research and studies about language.”
Of course, you would also have to include language educators, language analysts (FBI), or people who specialize in sign language.
Still, there is even another aspect of language specialization. It includes those language specialists that along with their language skills specialize in a specific field like law or medicine. As professional translators, they apply their dual knowledge to facilitate communication between two or more languages in a given field of expertise.
So beside translators and interpreters, language specialists include a number of other language experts, like linguists and terminologists. Also, language specialists often hold expert-level knowledge in another specific field. They use this other strand of knowledge to accurately translate from one language to another.
Translators and interpreters as the largest groups of language specialists
When speaking about language specialists in general terms, we usually refer to two categories of professionals. These are translators and interpreters.
As defined by DreamFedJob(DFJ),” translation is the general term for transferring written thoughts and ideas from one language into another.” On the other hand, interpretation is “basically about rendering a first and final translation, based on simple one-time exposure to a source language. If translation deals primarily with text, interpretation basically deals with speech and the spoken word.”
DFJ adds that there are two basic types of translation, verbatim and idiomatic. The verbatim type of translation involves matching linguistic equivalents (word-for-word). It is generally used when translating such limited specifics as names, dates, places, or simple phrases. The idiomatic translation, … involves identifying concepts in one language and rewording them in a second language. This conveys the appropriate meaning at a given point and time regardless of what this wording may mean in another context.”
On the other hand, interpreters “must grasp ideas spoken and heard only once. They must express these ideas in the other language instantly, accurately, and completely; in an appropriate style; and with the intent of the original speaker. In simultaneous interpretation, this must be done while the original speaker is speaking; in consecutive, as soon as the speaker finishes a passage, which may be of any length. “
The work of translators and interpreters as language specialists is complicated based on these two key factors:
- a phenomenon may exist in one language, but there may be no word-for-word equivalent for it in the other language, and
- cultural differences that make ideas easily expressed in one language make them difficult to comprehend in the other language.
“In treating the content of a message, the language specialist must determine if the cultural flavor of a message should be retained or if it should be translated in the cultural setting of the intended audience.” (DFJ)
Other language specialists
Study.com above rightfully includes linguistics experts among language specialists. According to them, “most linguistics specialists try to gain a better understanding of how words and sounds have evolved over time, or how these words may be related to other languages, both ancient and modern.”
These experts “perform a variety of language-based studies, experiments, and consultations. This might include tracing the history of a word or sound or searching for relationships between ancient, foreign and modern languages. “
Usually, linguistics specialists are employed by universities or governments. Still, they can be very useful in the private sector too. “ For example, marketing firms and publishing companies sometimes hire linguistic specialists to give advice on what language to use in advertising and promotions or to help predict trends in pronunciation, slang or diction. Additionally, high-tech companies might bring on linguistic specialists to help develop things like speech recognition software. Also, they can check for proper grammar or provide a better understanding of how language is affected by computer use.”
As the UN description of terminologists explains, these are language specialists that monitor documentation and identify changes “changes, developments or linguistics inconstancies and variations in different areas of terminology.”
Currently, practically all terminologists have to be fully versed in the developments in linguistic software. The quality and efficiency of their job depend on the electronic tools they use.
Language educators, on any level of the education process certainly belong among language specialists. They themselves often double as translators, interpreters or theoretical linguists.
Of course, sign language interpreters should definitely be included among language specialists. K International, for example, gives an overview of different sign languages around the world.
The combination of language and other expertise
The other categorization of language specialists involves those professionals that have two types of expertise. Along with the knowledge of two or more languages, they have expertise in another field. This could be economics, social or technical science.
As the University of Jyväskylä in Finland explains, “they understand the importance of language and communication and their multifaceted nature in both society and working life. “Language specialists work with demanding tasks in the business world involving language, culture, and communication in organizations, municipalities and government institutions.”
For this type of language specialists, they could have acquired their dual qualifications in two ways. One would be that they studied language or languages and then added another specialization through another university study. Or, they could have completed specialist courses and added additional knowledge through work experience.
It is also not an unusual case that, say a graduated economist or engineer had or acquired extensive knowledge of a foreign language or languages. In that manner, she/he is combining dual expertise. As DFJ notes, quite a few of language specialists are self-employed (26%).
Iolante translation service gives a good example of how this combination can work. “Say you worked for a company that produced automotive parts or for an aluminum foil manufacturer, exporting their products. Working in such an environment can give you many specific translation skills. The list may include knowledge of specialist terminology in more than one language, knowledge of procedures and familiarity with the idiosyncrasies of this specific line of business, technology, science or industry. What is more, you may become familiar with foreign rules and business practices.”
Sectors that require language specialists that are also experts in their branch
Another language expert has compiled a list of sectors that often need to engage language specialists that also have other expertise under their belt. Of course, this least is in no way exhaustive or covers all the fields that might need the active participation of a translator or another language expert.
- e-commerce websites;
- mobile and web app developers;
- technical or expertise translations – medical, legal, political or any specific industry or business;
- video games developers;
- any organization or business that wants an active social media engagement;
- companies or organizations that are developing a social media strategy for another country;
- B2B or any other form of copywriting;
- the localization of webpages, ads or any other promotional material;
- transcreation, i.e. ’creative translation’, cross-market copywriting’, ‘international copy adaptation’ ‘marketing translation’ ‘internationalization’ and ‘cultural adaptation.
The same author correctly mentions that the list of specializations is practically not exhaustive, She mentions at least 120 other fields that at some point need to enlist the services of a language specialist.
Often, a language specialist takes on a number of roles. This is particularly true for freelancers. She/he can at the same time be a translator and/or interpreter, terminologist and expert in another field. It often turns out that language specialists are some of the most diversified multi-taskers around.