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How did you choose your specialty fields? Dr. Sarai Pahla shares her experience

I've been following Sarai's blog for a few months now, and I should say this unique lady continues to amaze me more and more. Her writing style, the issues she touches upon in her blog and her sincerity really help her to stand out among so many of her colleagues with similar specialty areas. I wrote an email to Sarai asking her to take part in my series and hoping to get a reply in the next couple days. Imagine my surprise when she wrote back immediately sharing her story! So here's what Sarai says:

How I chose my specialty fields
My answer is very simple: my entry into translation was completely the “wrong” way. I studied medicine and I didn’t enjoy it, and then I worked in IT for four years and decided to go freelance.

Meanwhile, during my time at medical school, I had to do an elective rotation at a “real” hospital (i.e. not a training hospital) and they said we could go anywhere in the world – so I chose Japan. I’m fairly certain my classmates thought I was joking until I came back with stories, pictures and what can only be described as the worst case of flu I have ever experienced in my whole life. After my experiences there, I was convinced that Japan was the place to be – I started focusing all my spare time on learning the language and figured I could learn it in a year or two at most.
That was the biggest and most fortunate mistake of my life.

I spent the next six years trying to get to grips with the language. I realised that anyone who is serious about learning Japanese must learn kanji, so I learned them mostly by rote – using flash cards that I carried around with me at the hospital while doing my internship. I wrote out as many kanji as I could find (excluding those only used for names though) with their on-yomi and kun-yomi and stuck them on my wall and read them as often as possible, hoping that some of it would stick. Then I started reading newspaper articles and translating them – and slowly, I started reading medical journals and articles. When I entered the world of translation, I entered as a translator who was already specialised in only one area – I have tried translating documents from other areas, and to be honest, I just don’t find them as interesting.

I still maintain that Japanese is the hardest language in the world – there are other hard languages, but the sheer number of variations in reading and interpretation doesn’t seem to be matched by any other language. Perhaps that is just my way of making myself feel good for having spent so much of my free time trying to understand it. I still struggle a lot with expressing myself grammatically, but I think that’s because I’ve never lived in Japan for any length of time since I have learned it.
In the beginning, before I knew if I was going to make it as a translator, I was very reluctant to tell people that I didn’t have linguistics training, until I got other translators who did to read my work. Now I know that there are many different ways to enter the profession and none is “better” than the other

Dear Sarai, thank you for your openness, sincerity, and willingness to share your experience!

Dr. Sarai Pahla is currently a freelance Japanese and German to English medical translator who is also a non-practicing medical doctor. In her free time, she enjoys playing first-person shooters on her Xbox, studying new languages (next on the list is Russian) blogging in her own blog, Loving Language, and reading other translation blogs. She is also currently inching her way slowly towards a future career in space exploration. You can find her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus.


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