Culture TED Translators

Meet the translator: Els De Keyser, who brings you talks in Dutch

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ElsDeKeyserTED Talks are available in 97 languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese, thanks to the tireless work of our translators. So far, more than 8,800 volunteers have created the upwards of 34,000 translated talks. To celebrate this huge accomplishment, every week the TED Blog will be bringing you a Q&A with one of our most prolific translators. Today, meet Els De Keyser.

Where do you live and what do you do by day?

I live in Mechelen, Belgium. By day, I work for the Financial Services and Markets Authority, in the department of supervision of the rules of conduct. Basically, we check whether financial institutions act honestly, fairly and professionally in accordance with the best interests of their clients.

What drew you to TED?

I stumbled onto TED in 2010 while preparing my MBA thesis on transparency as a competitive advantage in insurance. (I worked for an insurance company at the time.) Alan Siegel: Let's simplify legal jargon! Alan Siegel: Let's simplify legal jargon!  As a lawyer with a keen interest in plain language, I found Alan Siegel’s talk “Let’s simplify legal jargon” very inspiring.

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

I wanted to share Siegel’s talk with my colleagues at work. But that meant I had to overcome the language hurdle. I saw the “Translation” menu on and I thought, “Why not give it a try and translate it into Dutch?” The fact that the talk was only four minutes long helped too.

What have been your favorite talks to translate? Why?

I have a couple of favorite speakers, like Hans Rosling and Clay Shirky. They really changed my mindset. And they’re funny — I love the challenge of doing justice to their jokes. But the most moving talks, the ones that really stick with me, are often by speakers I would never have heard of if it hadn’t been for TED, Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness -- from the inside Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness -- from the inside like Elyn Saks’s testimonial on schizophrenia and Alberto Cairo’s “There are no scraps of men.” Last but not least, I like to translate talks I saw live at TED or TEDx events, because working on the translation brings back fond memories of the experience.

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

This summer, TED-Ed videos were added to the Open Translation Project. I translated a TED-Ed lesson on the art of metaphors, in which the animation illustrated the English imagery. I couldn’t just use the Dutch equivalent — because it would make the animation meaningless. In 3 or 4 seconds, I had to convey the meaning in Dutch and respect the original English image. This six minutes translation took me much longer than many an 18-minute TED Talk.

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

I would propose a word: “pretoogjes,” which refers to the eyes of a chuckling person who is up to mischief. It was the Dutch contribution to the Words Worth Spreading tray designed by Dick Lundgren and presented by the TED Translators at TEDGlobal 2012.


TED translators Dick Lundgren and Els De Keyser with the Words Worth Spreading trays.