Language TED Translators

Meet the Translator: Matti Jääaro, who brings TED Talks to life in Swedish

Posted by:


TED Talks are available in 94 languages, from Albanian to Vietnamese, thanks to the tireless work of our translators. So far, more than 8,500 volunteers have created the upwards of 33,000 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 Matti Jääaro.

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

I’m from Stockholm and live half time in Hong Kong where my wife works as technical designer for a Swedish fashion company. When I don’t run my small IT consulting company I try my best to live according to the Holstee manifesto.

What drew you to TED?

I ended up in a conversation with two friends at a party — they were both sleep-deprived from watching too many TED Talks and could not believe I had never heard of it. I thought that being addicted to online lectures might be taking the whole geek pride thing a step too far. But, I had to see what it was all about, and few days later I had watched 30 talks myself. Open Source software, sharing ideas and participating in global collaborations around computer software is something I have always taken for granted —- but I kind of assumed was a concept that only worked for a certain type of person in the high-tech community. However, here I saw all kinds of people; students, artists, business leaders, ex presidents. They all shared this same urge to run out and tell as many people as possible about their new ideas, rather than locking them in a safe. I realized this was something bigger, and that I had to be a part of it.

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

It was Renny Gleeson’s talk on antisocial phone tricks, and I have to admit that the main reason was that it was short. (It’s a three-minute talk.) I had no idea back then how much work a translation would be, or if I would have a hard time meeting deadlines. It turned out that a month is plenty of time in most cases to finish a translation.

What have been your favorite talks to translate? Why?

Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness.This is my all-time favorite TED Talk. The beauty of doing a translation is that you really have to take in and understand every single sentence in a text. You don’t just do a direct translation of the words, you really need to sit down and think about where the speaker is coming from and what he is trying to convey. I must have watched this one at least five times before I started translating it but still learned so much that I had previously missed or not fully grasped.

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

Lucy McRae: How can technology transform the human body? When June Cohen from TED Media said that “All of our speakers are on the edge of their fields, and therefore on the edge of language”, she couldn’t have been more correct. This was one of those talks where some of the terms don’t even exist in my language. Sometimes Lucy also uses a poetic way of expressing herself — which meant I had to break apart those sentences, find the inner meaning, and then reconstruct them in Swedish. It took a lot of teamwork between me and my reviewer before we were finally satisfied with the result.

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

The English phrase “Speak of the devil, and he shall appear” is “Tala om trollen så står de I farstun” in Swedish. It translates to, “Speak of the trolls, and they’ll be on the porch”, making it much better adapted to modern day chat rooms where trolls outnumber devils five to one.

Interested in getting to know more TED translators? Check out more Q&As we these global wordsmiths.