Language TED Translators

Meet the translator: Unnawut Leepaisalsuwanna, who translates talks into Thai

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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 Unnawut Leepaisalsuwanna, who you can call by his Thai nick name “Oh.”

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

I’ve been working as an IT consultant based in Bangkok for the past year.

What drew you to TED?

The first TED Talk I watched was when my professor showed the talk in one of our Scientific Presentation classes back in university. Obviously some of the remarkable talks that got me hooked were Sir Ken Robinson’s “School Kills Creativity” and Hans Rosling’s “Stats that Reshape Your Worldview.” I was not a really big fan of TED until a year or two later, when I started to understand more about the people around me and the place I lived in, and began to understand that changes can only happen when people take actions. TED speakers are like role models who make things happen. To me, they are changing the world.

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

The first talk I translated was Barry Schwartz’s “Paradox of Choice.” Back then, I had just came back from a 10-day volunteer camp in the rural part of Thailand and one of the questions that I brought back home is whether we’re happy enough with what we have, or do we need more? The talk fit in perfectly and answered a lot of things regarding choices.

What has been your favorite talk to translate? Why?

I would say David Christian’s “History of Our World in 18 Minutes.” He was able use his speech to draw the whole history of the universe in a concise and understandable way. While translating this talk, I felt as if I were taking part in drawing out that universe. It was as if I were flying through space and time as he spoke.

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

Brian Greene’s “Is our universe the only universe?” The talk is packed with information and scientific ideas, many of which are very new concepts. When translating, you need to think whether your audience in the target language will understand what you translated. A lot of scientific words can be transliterated directly, but it would not be so useful if a talk is full of transliteration that the audience does not understand. It’s a big task for us to transliterate, as well as try our best to provide explanation or find more suitable words that also needs to fit in as subtitles.

What’s a phrase in your language that you wish would catch on globally?
“ความรู้เปลี่ยนโลก” basically means “Knowledge changes the world.” This is an important phrase to me because, underlying any changes that we would like to happen in this world, the human factor is almost always the toughest. The best tool we have is knowledge. This phrase encompasses everything that I do for TED Open Translation Project. To me, this is the ultimate message of our translation work.