Culture TED Translators

Translation by collaboration: A translators workshop in the Balkans

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“In this place, you can connect to people that have been drawn apart for years by nationalists and the war. You can put them together in the same room and … people are talking about the greater good.”

This quote was recorded at the first regional Open Translation Project workshop held in Novi Sad, Serbia, on September 14. At the workshop, translators from five countries in the Balkans region — Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina — gathered for a day of learning, meeting and knowledge sharing. Until mid-’90s these countries were part of Yugoslavia and shared a language, Serbo-Croatian. But after the country’s breakup, different dialects developed into separate languages. Still, people from these countries are able to understand one another.

For translators in the Balkans, the workshop was a unique opportunity. Some traveled hours to attend. Participants came from different backgrounds and many kinds of fields — from engineers to teachers to hospital interns to editors to high school students. They talked about the technical aspects of translation, but also about ways to collaborate across cultures and use the similarities of the languages to more efficiently produce subtitles to allow TED Talks to reach the widest audience in the region.

The Open Translation Project has been wanting to hold a regional workshop like this for some time. As a team, we’ve been thinking about the importance of personal contact, and decided that regional workshops were a unique way to strengthen local groups, grow local communities and reach out to speakers of smaller languages. As a Language Coordinator for Serbian, I was honored to hold the first workshop. I thought it would be great for the translators in my region to meet and exchange thoughts and experiences, simply because people work better together after they’ve met in person.

At the workshop, translators gave talks about their experiences and took part in group discussions that will help to shape the future of the OTP project. It was an opportunity to suggest improvements in the workflow, discuss ways of inviting new volunteers, and even suggest an honor code and quality control standards. (To see more of what happened at the workshop, and to hear from individual translators, watch the video above, recorded and edited by Aleksandar Korom.) Another interesting theme that came up: “When translating, you should avoid seeing the translation as ‘yours.’ It doesn’t belong to you just because you are translating it. Rather, make sure to work in the best interest of the talk and collaborate on that basis.”

After the workshop, translators continued their conversations into the night. Some of them applied to be Language Coordinators, others decided to collaborate on other TED initiatives. They all agreed this was a meaningful experience that will inspire them as they continue to work for the Open Translation Project.

And this is just the beginning. The next OTP regional workshop will be held in Pune, India, gathering together speakers of up to 20 different Indian languages and dialects. We know it will be a fascinating day, all about collaboration.