Culture Open Translation Project

Meet the translator: Katja Tongucer, who translates TED Talks into German

Posted by: Dimitra Papageorgiou

KatjaTED Talks are available in 102 languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese, thanks to the tireless work of our volunteer translators. So far, more than 10,000 volunteers have created upwards of 44,000 talk translations — and today, the TED Blog brings you a Q&A with one of them. Here, meet German translator Katja Tongucer.

1. Where do you live? And what do you do by day?

I am German, but have been living with my husband and my two daughters in Moscow, Russia, for almost four years now. We moved here for my husband’s job. Before I came to Moscow, I was working as a translator and translation coordinator for a small company in Germany. But after moving, I stopped working and focused on helping my children get familiar with the new environment. It was, and still is, a challenge.

2. What drew you to TED?

I first heard about TED on a German TV show in January of 2010 — they were presenting a bunch of interesting websites. After that, I visited and was simply fascinated. When I learned about the Open Translation Project, I immediately applied to be part of it. As a professional translator, it gave me the opportunity to further develop my language skills, to get familiar with subtitling and to do something useful at the same time. It is a win-win situation for me. I support the spreading of ideas with my skills and, through the Open Translation Project, I became part of a wonderful group of people who have become such a part of my life.

3. What was the first talk you translated and how did you pick it?

Erin McKean: The joy of lexicographyErin McKean: The joy of lexicographyI think the first talk that I translated was Erin McKean’s The joy of lexicography. As far as I remember, I had watched it because I am especially interested in languages and linguistics. When I saw that it was available for translation, I picked it.

4. What have been your favorite talks to translate? Why?

There are so many talks that I really enjoyed translating. In fact, through the translation of TED Talks, I rediscovered the joy of my profession. Translating is a very creative process, but it also requires accuracy. You have to research expressions and you learn a lot. It is always a good feeling to work on a translation that you feel represents the best of the original version.

If I have to choose one translation that I enjoyed most, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single storyChimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story I’d pick Chimamanda Adichie’s The danger of a single story. I loved the way she used language to tell her story, and it is still one of my favorite TED Talks. I am very happy that I had the honor to translate it.

5. Which talk was the most difficult for you to translate and why?

Every talk is a challenge. Every speaker has a different style — sometimes there many specialized terms, sometimes the subtitles are very long and appear only for a short time, so you have to find a way to keep the translation short and readable. That’s difficult because a German translation is usually longer than the English original. But the biggest challenge is translating poems. I had the pleasure of translating C.K. Williams’ Poetry of youth and age. I hope my translation reflects the spirit of the original.

6. What’s a phrase in your language that you wish would catch on globally?

That’s vey difficult to answer! I can’t think of one. But I do want to say that I wish German speakers would take more care of their own language. We tend to use more and more English expressions and don’t care about the correct use of phrases. Orthography is becoming less important, and we’re forgetting about the beauty of our own language.