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

Posted by: June Cohen

Last week at TED2009, we unveiled the next phase of, 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 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 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.

Comments (14)

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  • David Ochoa commented on Feb 22 2010

    I think there should be a way to filter out the videos that do not have subtitles yet.

  • Cesar D'Amico commented on Jan 14 2010

    I love TED presentations! But it’s possible subtitles in my language to my iphone? Only videos downloads without subtitles? thanks

  • Sarah Staar commented on Feb 27 2009

    I think this is fantastic as i watch ted talks in a busy office and i can now turn the sound down and use the subtitles. Keep up the good work TED !!

    Sarah Staar From London UK

  • Pawel Szalwa commented on Feb 25 2009

    Great news!
    That`s the only way to save the World and develop our shared future.
    It`s just a beginning. Subtitles gives a chance that Tedtalks will transform itself into international tool for joining us together by power of ideas. I really believe in it.
    My applause.

  • Javier Belmonte commented on Feb 23 2009

    A first step should be to allow comments to be writen in any language, I just had to sacrifice my ortograph for the clarity of my comment.

  • Javier Belmonte commented on Feb 23 2009

    Se me ocurrio hoy, que seria bueno subtitular las conferencias.. asi que busque en Google “TED translation”, como siempre, la inteligencia global de TED no podia defraudarme. Me alegro saber que los pasos mas importantes para este proyecto habian sido dados, hay tanta gente con la que me gustaria compartir esto!!

  • Leandro Vasco commented on Feb 9 2009

    I was thinking about this on weekend.
    Many of us only need the original transcription from English to start to work on a translation.
    Now we can share TEDTalks with our non english speaking friends and family.
    Great news!

  • Daniel Howard commented on Feb 9 2009


    Will it be possible to view more natural, lightly-edited version of the videos? A lot of the TED Talks I watch on this site jump so aggressively I actually feel a bit ill when I watch. Given that talks are typically quite short, it would be nice to be able to enjoy a talk in all its fullness, even with those pesky multi-second gaps where the speaker pauses for a breath and allows a thought to sink in. Thanks!


  • Ben Rigby commented on Feb 9 2009

    This is so mega-dope. I can’t wait to wrap up this functionality into our upcoming iPhone volunteerism application: Using the crowdsourcing model to expose the deep intellectual power of these TED talks into SEO-friendly and multi-language accessible format is a big net gain for social good.

  • Virginia Postrel commented on Feb 9 2009

    The underlying technology was developed by, which has a website worth browsing for other videos awaiting crowd-sourced subtitles (and some that already have some subtitles).

  • Christopher Robinson commented on Feb 15 2009

    I am thrilled that TED has made the move to subtitle the presentations. For some time I have encouraged my Deaf and Hard of Hearing colleagues to look to to access as many of the TED talks as have been posted. Now- I’ll be able to hold TED presentation viewing sessions at my office and all will be able to access the content- Deaf or not.