Live from TED TED Translators

In the OTP's first year: The translators at TEDActive

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Every year, TED is simulcast to an intimate gathering of doers and thinkers in Palm Springs called TEDActive. Here, attendees watch the all the talks from the TED mainstage as they happen and attend workshops, activities and social events driven by their needs. This year, several of TED’s most prolific translators became an integral part of this community, inspiring everyone with their incredible dedication to providing TEDTalks to everyone in the world in as many languages as possible. Here are a few of those translators, remembering the experience in their own words:

What was your experience at TEDActive like?

152731_291x218.jpgDominik Weickgenannt: It felt like coming home, even though it was my first TED conference — 500 people that are as excited about meeting you as you are about meeting them. Watching TED Talks at home is awesome, watching the four-day webcast of TEDGlobal was already transformative, but engaging in a crowd of like-minded people, watching talks, talking about them and life in general is an entirely different experience that I find hard to put into words. The best way to describe it is maybe the difference between listening to your favorite song at home alone and going to a four-day music festival with your best friends.

22062_304008724481_600094481_3377147_6898116_n.jpgJenny Yang: TEDActive was my first TED conference. Being able to interact directly with TED translators, TEDx organizers, speakers and experts is where the TED memories were made for me. The energy in the crowd was amazing. I was especially overwhelmed by the level of appreciation and respect given to the volunteers. I can’t remember how many times the translators were asked to stand up and we received the warmest applause and standing ovations from the crowds. I can feel the emotion run down my spine and it makes me feel proud and want to do more. The whole week of events was packed with interesting activities and remarkable discussions — it is truly a place where we share our unique gifts in a way that enriches us, and others around us.

88748_291x218.jpgBill Hsiung: I’m sure you all are very familiar with the expressions that people usually use to describe their experience at TED, such as “awesome,” “amazing,” “fascinating,” “overwhelming,” “drinking from a fire hose,” etc. For me, the experience was just beyond what words can describe. All those big adjectives are absolutely correct but still far from enough. TED is nothing like your ordinary conference. The experience of TED actually started months before the “conference” took place with email, the TED Blog and the TED Bookclub to help you prepare and get in the mood for the big event. Also, TED community tools for the attendees (the Google group and Twitter list) help you reach out and connect with people even before you meet. It’s also about the energy in the atmosphere — a typical day at TEDActive literally starts at 7 am and lasts all the way till midnight, non-stopping. People slept very little during the whole conference, yet everyone looked full of energy and nobody fell asleep in the middle of a talk. However, it’s mostly about people — all the attendees that I met at TEDActive were very friendly, open minded and positive. They spontaneously and generously offered to organize events and to share their knowledge or professional skills with others. Not to mention each and every one of them had a unique personal experience, story or idea that they were ready to share. Lastly, the experience didn’t end with the conference either. During the conference, you met a lot of people and also made lots of new friends. Most of us will keep in touch with each other via email or social networks (such as the Facebook group or Ning group). Some of us even started our own monthly local TEDsters meetup. All in all, TEDActive is really a life changing experience and it just keeps getting better!

What was it like to meet the other translators in person? Did anything come out of discussions you had there?

152731_291x218.jpgDominik Weickgenannt: – Eye-opening on so many levels. One of the conversations that stuck in my mind is that some translators really have to decide carefully which talks to translate and which not because of possible consequences they might face in their home country. Other than that, it was really interesting to hear peoples perspectives on translating, why they do it, how they approach it. The discussions motivated me to do two things: Translate more — after all, if you hear that Anour translated a talk on his ride from the airport to the hotel, how can you not feel lazy? — and second, pay even more attention to the exact words I use, because it does make a significant difference to the readers.

136474_291x218.jpgRodrigo Herrera Vegas: Some translators had an amazing track record, I couldn’t believe how many talks some people handled! Some shared innovative ways and tools to optimize their translations.

88748_291x218.jpgBill Hsiung: To meet with other translators from all around the world is just amazing — oops did I use that word again? :P Our experience in translating TEDTalks is so much alike, yet we can have different solutions to a common problem or struggle, so we all learn from each other and together we can make this translation project better. Also, knowing other translators did such wonderful jobs on their part is a big motivator for us to want to do better. One of the big things after TEDActive for us was that Masahiro (a Japanese translator) shared a tool that his friend developed with us that largely improved the efficiency of communication between translators and reviewers and made the reviewing process much quicker and easier. Things like this wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t meet and have discussions in person at TEDActive.

What’s one thing you’ve learnt from translating TEDTalks?

22062_304008724481_600094481_3377147_6898116_n.jpgJenny Yang: Line by line translating TEDTalks is different from just listening to them. You learn so much more by immersing yourself in each sentence, each word. It creates an intimate exchange with the speaker and the topic. Usually I will try to look up some other materials related to the talk during translation, and drift into reading many other good books and articles. It eats untold hours of my life, but it’s truly a wonderful “lost in translation” experience. Most of my translations were done late in the night. When everything is quiet, I can hear myself reading the subtitle I just translated, and that brings me great satisfaction. I think the most important thing I learned from translating is to take action to do what you truly love. We often gain more by giving. I am a very busy working mother, I never thought I would have extra time to work on translation projects, but translating TEDTalks really made me a better mother. I have fed my 7-year-old many TEDTalks I worked on. We played the “marshmallow problem” together. He cooked his first meal when I was working on Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food. I really hope by helping plant small TED seeds, it will help grow wise and humble hearts.

152731_291x218.jpgDominik Weickgenannt: The power of writing: To translate something, you really have to understand every detail of a TEDTalk, so you end up reading Wikipedia and thinking about word alternatives a lot. But, because you actually write every sentence and word down, you make new connections in your brain and the talk comes to your mind a lot. This really ingrains the message in your life and you start living them. As sad of a statement this is for the current educational system, I can honestly say that I learned more for life translating 30 TEDTalks than I did in three years of college.

A year into translating TEDTalks, did you expect to see this many translations? Or to have translated this many yourself?

136474_291x218.jpgRodrigo Herrera Vegas: I’m not surprised at all considering the success and quality of TED. I feel honored to have translated every one of the talks I did.<

88748_291x218.jpgBill Hsiung: I probably didn’t expect to see this many translations that have been completed, at least not in the first place. But believe it or not, I was hoping that I could finish more than that I have translated now. :P

If you could name one goal for the next year of the OTP (Open Translation Project) what would it be?

152731_291x218.jpgDominik Weickgenannt: Get it into education even more. In schools, from high schools to universities, when learning a new language we often use random texts that we hardly care about. This is not only boring, it also isn’t that good for learning. And I think we shouldn’t wait for anyone else to do this, instead talk to people you know that are learning a language and show them TED. If they like it, they can suggest it in class. That way, you not only spread the ideas you love and care about, but also ensure high quality translations reviewed by a “professional.”

22062_304008724481_600094481_3377147_6898116_n.jpgJenny Yang: Today all the TEDTalks are given in English. I think we should start a project to create one TEDTalk in each native language, and then translate them to other languages. It could be a symbol to show that the world can talk and listen to each other through this open platform.

88748_291x218.jpgBill Hsiung: Of course we would love to know if the usage of non-English subtitles is hugely increasing when people watching TEDTalks on, but it’s hard to set a goal on that. The easiest way and also the most straightforward way to set a goal for the next year is probably still based on the number of translations that have been completed. Dominik (a German translator) actually suggested that we set our goal to have 10,000 translations completed by TED2011, which is still nine months away from now. But based on the statistics of that number in the first nine months and the first year of the OTP, we now know that in the first nine months, we completed almost 5,000 TEDTalks. And we finished more than 7,000 in the first year. So, even being very conservative, I would say the estimated number of completed translation should be at least 12,000 by TED2011. And, I want to suggest that we bump that number a little bit higher, say 15,000. I think that should be a reasonable and practical goal for us to pursue. :)

A special TEDActive shout-out to all the translators who attended this year: Dominik Weickgennant, Ali Mooeny, Anour Dafa-Alla, Masahiro Kyushima, Hristo Aloksiev, Sophal Ear, Mihail Stoychev, Rodrigo Herrera Vegas, Jenny Yang, Hanseok Ryu, Bill Hsiung, Albara Alohali and Javier Fadul. And, thank you to all the translators for bringing TEDTalks to to the world!