Language

Unveiling: TED's plans for subtitles, transcripts, translations

Posted by: June Cohen

Last week at TED2009, we unveiled the next phase of TED.com, which will bring TEDTalks beyond the English-speaking world. The new features — slated to launch next month — will bring subtitles and interactive transcripts to all the talks, and will allow anyone, anywhere, to translate any talk into any language.

Rather than simply translate talks into a handful of major languages, we’re developing an open, crowd-sourced solution that puts translation tools in the hands of users. This approach is scalable, and — importantly — allows speakers of less-dominant languages an equal opportunity to spread ideas within their communities and in their native tongues.

To seed the site, a number of talks will be professionally translated into a few dozen languages — including Pashto, Persian, Swahili, Hausa, Thai, Tamil … From there, we’ll tap into the energy and skills of TED viewers worldwide to help us translate the talks. Note: It must be said that this open approach to translation is new, unproven and not entirely easy to implement! But we believe in the power of open-source solutions, and have confidence that the community of passionate TED users worldwide will help us move this program forward.

Along with subtitles, we’ll also provide interactive transcripts for each talk, which allow you to select any sentence in the talk, and be taken directly to the appropriate moment in the video. The transcripts will be fully indexable by search engines, revealing previously inaccessible content within the talks themselves. For example, someone searching on Google for “green roof” would find the moment in architect William McDonough‘s talk when he discusses Ford’s River Rouge plant, and also the moment in Majora Carter‘s talk when she spoke of her green roof project in the South Bronx.

If you’re interested in joining our budding community of translators, we’d love to hear from you at subtitles@ted.com. TED translators won’t be paid for their translation work (just as TED speakers aren’t paid to present), but they will be credited by name on TED.com and also receive some other perks.

We’re so thrilled by the possibility presented by these new features, and grateful to our sponsor, Nokia, for underwriting the translation program and amplifying our efforts to spread ideas.