The chicken or the egg, is that even the question?
Periodically, the question arises in translation circles, whether it’s better for a translator to have majored in linguistics/translation and obtained specific subject matter knowledge by other means, or whether it’s better to have a degree in science/finance/law/insert your preferred subject here and obtain translation knowledge through practice and auxiliary studies.
Here are my 2 cents: I think the whole discussion makes about as much sense as wondering whether the chicken or the egg came first when you’re making an omelet. A good translator needs both language skills and subject matter expertise. In my opinion it is entirely irrelevant how both of these are obtained, whether acquired by formal study, through auxiliary education, or even on one’s own. When you are drawing a torus knot like the one shown in my holiday ornament from last year, it doesn’t matter where you start, but you have to start somewhere. And in the end, only the entire knot makes sense, as shown below. Similarly, a translator with subject matter expertise but lousy writing skills won’t get far, and the same is true for a translator who is a brilliant writer but has zero subject matter expertise. (As an aside, that also holds for literary translators – it’s a science and an art to know how to really translate a good book well. I am including this kind of expertise as well in the term “subject matter.”)