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  • Writer's pictureChris

Developing your specialist vocabulary

As freelance translators, we often discuss the importance of specialising, usually in fields we understand well and in which we have an interest, but how do we go about developing those specialisms?

In a previous blog, I’ve talked more broadly about various options available to sports translators when it comes to continuing professional development.

One of the methods I mentioned then was reading relevant content in your source language(s) in order to familiarise yourself with technical terms and gain a good understanding of different concepts. However, we can go further than simply reading that specialist content by harvesting new or unusual terms in our source and/or target languages and setting aside dedicated time to study them.

To do so, the first step I take is finding some written content in my source language, e.g. a match report in Arabic. Then, whilst reading it, I highlight or take a note of any terms or words I’m less familiar with or haven’t seen before

, alongside their specific meanings in this given context. You could even take a note of whole sentences if that works for you. After I’ve finished reading an article, it’s time to put any phrases I’ve highlighted somewhere I can usefully revise them.

Of course, there are many ways to learn vocabulary, and everyone will have their preference, but one that works well for me is the use of a spaced repetition system. Essentially, this is like an old school set of flashcards with a more systematic approach to study in order to take advantage of the spacing effect, where (increasing) intervals between your study sessions help cement information in your memory.

The system I use is Anki, a digital flashcard programme available on desktop and as a mobile app, which allows for plenty of customisation, including the use of pictures and sounds alongside text. When I’ve collected a handful of phrases or words that I want to remember, I head over to Anki and add them alongside their meanings in English, saving them in the relevant deck, for example “Football in Arabic.”

Each day, more or less, I study a few dozen cards in each of my decks to help cement the vocabulary in my memory, speeding up my comprehension of any new texts I encounter. Based on how easily you find yourself memorising each phrase or word, the software then decides how long it should be before you revise it again. Difficult or new words will reappear in your ‘to do’ pile in just a day or two, and words you’ve been studying for a longer time and can recall with greater ease might not reappear for a matter of weeks.

And there you have it!

Oll an gwella,


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