For our first interview of the new year, we spoke with Hebrew-language TED Translators Liran Michaeli and Tal Hemo, both of whom hail from Israel and have been spearheading the growth of the burgeoning Hebrew translation community there. Read on to learn more about these dynamic translators and their current and upcoming projects.
Let’s start with the gathering that recently took place in Israel, which you both attended. How did the idea for it originally come about? What were the event’s goals?
Liran: Tal and I first met at TEDSummit 2019, and our introduction was one of the initial sparks for the event in Israel. Amid the amazing opportunity to meet many TED Translators from various other countries at the summit, I learned that Tal is a fellow Hebrew translator who, at the time, was translating TED Talks simply because of her passion for translation and sharing novel ideas; she wasn’t aware of the numerous TED gatherings frequently happening in Israel. As a TEDx organizer, I immediately realized that Tal would be a tremendous asset for both the Hebrew translation community and local TEDx events.
Our meeting also made me wonder how many other TED Translators like her there are in Israel—translators who contribute to and deeply value TED’s mission, but who aren’t aware that they can get involved with TED in tons of ways beyond translating. Thus our recent event, the goal of which was to reach out to active and potential members of Israel’s TED community and present them with various ways to further TED’s mission: translation, organizing TEDx events, introducing TED-Ed to schools.
Tal: As Liran said, he and I met at TEDSummit 2019, and that’s when I discovered how many other opportunities there are to contribute to TED in addition to translating. I also learned how huge and yet close-knit the global TED community is, so I made it my goal to essentially put faces to the names I interact with online every day; that’s a main reason why I participated in the gathering Liran recently helped organize.
What a wonderful connection to make! How many people were in attendance at the gathering? Has either of you planned any future meetups with new contacts yet?
Liran: More than 20 people attended. However, we expect the number of participants to grow as we put on more TEDx events and work to cultivate a larger community. I’ve personally made a lot of TED contacts thanks to gatherings like the one that just happened. Also, our language community now has a Facebook group that people are continually joining; there are almost 50 members so far. I’m confident that, with time, our community will not only grow, but we’ll better develop, clarify and accomplish our goals, too.
Tal: Several TEDx organizers approached me at the event in Israel, and we had a very fruitful discussion about TED Translators—how the program can bolster their gatherings and vice versa.
How can those TED Translators who’d like to join the Facebook group do so?
Liran: Just search for “TED in Israel Community” on Facebook and you’ll find us right away. Anybody can join, and I’ll approve your request to do so myself!
Can you tell us a bit about the Hebrew translation community? Is it largely centered in Israel? Are there active hubs, if you will, in other regions of the world?
Liran: Hebrew is mostly spoken in Israel and not very much outside of the country, so our translation community is, you could say, centered here. As of now, there are roughly two dozen active TED Translators in Israel; but as I said earlier, I expect that number to increase as we stage more events and continue to put TED and TED Translators on more peoples’ radars.
Tal: Israel has the largest population of Hebrew speakers in the world, so the Hebrew translation community is indeed centered here. The language was revived in the 19th century, and today there are only 5 million native speakers—which makes our task of preserving Hebrew all the more vital.
What upcoming events does the Hebrew translation community have planned?
Liran: I’m happy to report that I’m currently organizing multiple TED-related gatherings in Israel. These events are meant to be as inclusive as possible, so if anybody reading this interview would like to participate in one or all, please feel free to do so! There’s amazing potential for innovation at these gatherings.
And finally: Do you have any advice for new TED Translators?
Liran: Connect with TEDx organizers in your area. Since most usually aren’t aware of your translation work, I strongly recommend reaching out to them and offering to translate talks from their events. This can go a long way toward forging an ongoing working relationship between TED Translators and TEDx organizers, a collaboration that will undoubtedly yield benefits for everybody involved.
Tal: Reach out to other TED Translators. It’s easy to get stuck behind the computer and forget that translating TED Talks is a team effort. Try to find a fellow translator or translators with whom you can tackle translation difficulties together.
We’re extremely excited to announce that we here at TED Translators recently launched the TED Translators Mentor program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators and reviewers in order to optimize new translators’ work. The program is hosted on a platform where mentees can connect with mentors to collaborate and refine their skills. Along the way, participants receive useful reminders and resources to help make their connections successful.
As of now, we’re piloting the program in two of our largest and most active language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. The mentors provide mentees with personalized feedback, answer their translation-related questions and help accelerate the publication of mentees’ subtitles. Over 200 TED Translators are currently participating in the pilot program. Early next year will find us expanding the enterprise to TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities, followed by more communities throughout the year.
Recently, we’ve been exploring how we can improve the onboarding process for new volunteers joining us here at TED Translators. Today, we’re excited to announce a new TED Translators application process. The new application includes an animated video, which explains the most fundamental TED Translators guidelines and subtitling best practices (check it out below!).
After the video, new applicants will get challenged with a short quiz to test their knowledge. While it’s not intended to be exhaustive, the quiz checks that new volunteers understand the most essential information about the program from the start, before they begin subtitling.
The new application is just one feature of our revamped onboarding process that’s designed to deliver enhanced training to new volunteers, so stay tuned for further updates!
Hello, Translators! We’ve been away for a bit, but we’re back and extremely excited to announce that the application period for TED Translators Passes to TED2020 is now open. The flagship conference will run from April 20-24, 2020, in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. The TED Translators Pass covers the conference fee, and travel and accommodation expenses. Please note that in order to be eligible for a pass, you must be a TED Translator with at least one set of published subtitles. The application deadline is Dec. 9, 2019, at 5:00 p.m. EST, and you can apply here.
The theme of TED2020 is “Uncharted”. Under this banner, we’ll journey into unmapped territory as we explore our uncertain future: We’ll survey the potential windfalls and dangers of cutting-edge technologies; recent significant scientific developments; our perpetually in-flux political dynamics and contingencies; and the oceanic possibilities that arise when we individually and collectively ask ourselves which ideas are truly worth fighting and living for. We look forward to you joining us!
Following the successful TED Translators gathering in Lisbon in late September, TED Translators’ director, Jenny Zurawell, and deputy director, Helena Batt, headed to Spain to attend TEDxMadrid (which turned 10 this year!) and meet with the TED Translators participating in the annual conference. This year’s TEDxMadrid was held at the city’s famed Teatro Circo Price and themed “Retrofuturo”. It was an enriching and stimulating all-day exploration of how we—both individually and collectively—might navigate our unknown future using only the best of our accumulated knowledge and tools.
In between taking in the day’s talks, the TED Translators at the conference had the opportunity to meet each other (most of them were meeting in person for the first time) and exchange their stories and experiences within and outside of the TED Translators community. The translators also got to watch Javi Garriz, TEDxMadrid organizer and TED Translator-LC, give the TED Translators program a shout-out from stage. In addition, he detailed the initiative’s continual growth, and then played TED Translators’ promo video and encouraged audience members to volunteer.
Several hours after the conference wrapped up, the TED Translators regrouped for dinner and a discussion at Madrid’s popular Nubel restaurant. They were joined by a handful of guests, including Javi and a few of his TEDxMadrid colleagues, Madrid-based TED Translator Nerea García, and Brazilian artist and TED Speaker Angélica Dass (a big champion of TED Translators who gave her very first talk at TEDxMadrid in 2013). The conversation went on well into the evening and covered a range of topics: new-translator recruitment (particularly at universities) and mentoring, future TED Translators-TEDx collaborations, and various ways to improve translation skills, to name just some.
For the past week TED Translators’ director, Jenny Zurawell, and deputy director, Helena Batt, have been traveling to several countries in Western Europe and meeting with local TED Translators to further build and bolster our superb international community of volunteers. The first stop on Jenny and Helena’s tour was Lisbon, Portugal.
The gathering in the country’s capital took place on the panoramic terrace at the city’s renowned Lost In. For most of the attendees, this was their first time meeting their colleagues in person. The group quickly jumped into a wide-ranging discussion that covered topics from recruiting new TED Translators to how to improve translation skills to collaborating with the TEDx initiative.
In addition to their extensive, productive dialogue, the attending TED Translators met and spoke with Margarida Ferreira, one of the Portuguese language community’s most prolific Language Coordinators and translators. The keen insights she shared were complemented by an invitation from Norbert Amaral, who organizes the annual TEDxPorto conference, to the translators to attend the event in 2020. To wrap up the Lisbon gathering, Portuguese TED Translator Rhubia Albuquerque de Moura recounted her recent presentation of the TED Translators program to her fellow university students.
Jenny and Helena headed to Madrid next, so check back in with us shortly for a recap of that meetup!
Last week, we brought you an interview with TED Translator Allam Zedan, who was denied a visa to travel to the U.K. to attend TEDSummit 2019. This week, we speak with another TED Translator who faced the same refusal: Kurdish translator Ahmed Yousify. We talked with Ahmed about his personal experience as a TED Translator, how visa denials like his impact language communities, his advice for new TED Translators and lots more. Check out our conversation below.
Let’s start with the TEDxNishtiman 2019 conference that was recently held in Erbil, Kurdistan. You officially represented TED Translators at the gathering and helped spread awareness of our mission and excellent global volunteer community. Can you tell us about how you came to be TED Translators’ ambassador to TEDxNishtiman 2019, and also about the conference itself?
About a week before TEDxNishtiman 2019, the organizer of the event—whom I know from the same conference in 2017—reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I, as a Kurdish LC and TED Translator, would represent and promote TED Translators at the gathering. I accepted the offer. At the conference, we played TED Translators’ short introductory video about the initiative, and I manned a booth where I provided attendees more information about TED Translators and how to volunteer with us. I also collected emails from those folks who visited the booth so that I could later send them further related material (which I did). In addition, I assisted a small team that live translated the 12 talks delivered at TEDxNishtiman into English, Arabic and Kurdish.
How long have you been a TED Translator? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what about the enterprise inspires you nowadays?
I’ve been a TED Translator since April 2014, when TED Translators was still known as the Open Translation Project (OTP). In January 2015, I became the project’s first Kurdish LC. I was initially drawn to TED thanks to a TV channel which aired a variety of TED and TEDx Talks; this gave me a unique opportunity to learn about a wide array of subjects in one place. Because my English is good and I wanted to use and improve it in a meaningful way, I joined the OTP. I was inspired very early on by how both TED Talks and events continue to resonate in and positively influence communities around the world, and that fueled me to contribute to the enterprise as much as possible. Now that I’m an LC, I find a lot of satisfaction in mentoring new TED Translators. Keeping up to speed with the continually evolving universe of ideas created by TEDx gatherings inspires me, too.
Of all the talks you’ve translated, which one sticks out as your favorite so far?
You were invited to attend TEDSummit 2019, but were unable to travel to the conference because the U.K. denied you a visa. Can you share your thoughts on this experience with us? How do you think such denials have affected the Kurdish translation community?
I was thrilled to be invited to represent the Kurdish language community at TEDSummit 2019, and I really looked forward to exchanging ideas, perspectives and experiences with the global TED Translators community in attendance there. Alas, although the theme of this year’s Summit was “A community beyond borders”, borders were a primary reason why an astonishing number of talented and passionate TED Translators were unable to participate in the conference. If government leaders, policy makers, etc.—those who often create and control borders—can freely attend (and sometimes speak at) international TED events, why can’t TED Translators invited by TED do the same?
Had I made it to TEDSummit 2019, I would have been able to detail and discuss the Kurdish translation community with my fellow translators; I could have gained new insights from them, learned the best practices of their respective language communities, and then brought that knowledge back to mine. So, I think you’ll agree with me that my visa denial robbed the Kurdish translation community in a sense—as I’m sure other denials did to other language communities.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not busy translating?
Outside of translating, I spend my time watching movies and football matches, playing video games, following technology-related news, and going out with friends.
Finally, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?
First: Welcome to the TED Translators family! As a member of this amazing initiative, you are helping to spread groundbreaking ideas not only in your respective language communities, but also around the world. You have the power to share talks on vital subjects and issues on both a local and international level—that’s a wonderful privilege. Lastly, remember to enjoy and take pride in your translations.
TEDSummit 2019 has come and gone, but we’d still like to share with you the voices of several more TED Translators who were invited to attend the conference. In this third part of our TEDSummit 2019 interview series, we speak with Allam Zedan, who hails from Gaza, Palestine—one of the most besieged and impoverished regions in the world. Unfortunately, the U.K. denied Allam a visa to travel to Edinburgh (a trip which would have been the first time in his life he was able to leave Gaza), so Allam could not participate in the Summit. Read on below to get to know this extraordinary member of the TED Translators community.
How long have you been a TED Translator? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what about the enterprise inspires you nowadays?
I’ve been a TED Translator for more than five years now, and it’s been a beautiful journey every step of the way. Before I joined TED Translators, I was searching for volunteer work that would enable me to use my translation skills to make a substantive impact on our world. I was already watching TED Talks regularly when I happened upon the application page for TED’s Open Translation Project (which eventually evolved into TED Translators). I couldn’t believe that such an opportunity existed, and I immediately joined our global team of volunteers on their mission to spread fresh and innovative ideas around the world.
As for what inspires me about TED Translators—and has since the beginning of my journey—it’s simple: the tireless dedication and passion of my fellow volunteers and the powerful insights they continually share with the world.
What was the first TED Talk you translated? Why this particular talk?
It was Wendy Chung’s “Autism—what we know (and what we don’t know yet)”. Like anywhere else in the world, there are autistic children in Gaza. Before I watched Wendy’s talk I was very curious about the condition, but it seemed taboo to me to ask parents to try to explain autism to me. What’s more—and again, like anywhere else in the world—there’s a stigma here that surrounds the condition and those with it, and there’s a severe lack of adequate treatment, support and education. So I watched Wendy’s talk to see if she could answer some burning questions about autism I’d had on my mind awhile (She did!). And then I decided to translate it so that others who share my curiosity about autism might have some of their questions answered, too.
Of all the talks you’ve translated, which has been your favorite so far? Why?
“You are made for more”, which Liz Flores delivered at TEDxNormal. The title piqued my interest right away, but what Liz says has deeply resonated with me to this day. I love how she describes each of us as possessing our own unique “compass,” as well as her counsel that we should never allow anybody or anything to skew us away from our respective compass’ “north.” All of us are pioneers of our own lives. We can do anything and cultivate ourselves however we like: A successful businessman can also be a compassionate friend; a university student who studies political science can create amazing art, too; you can have a groundbreaking idea or goal that everybody tells you is “crazy,” but that’s usually because other people can’t see your ambitions as clearly as you do. In other words, listen to and consider others’ perspectives, but don’t let them deter or disillusion you if you disagree. Better yet: Don’t be typical; don’t die with your gifts in your hands.
Unfortunately, the U.K. denied you a visa to leave Gaza and travel to Edinburgh, so you were not able to attend TEDSummit 2019. Were the circumstances opposite, participating in the conference would have been the first time in your life you were allowed to leave your home country. Can you tell us a bit about living in occupied Gaza, as well as what it’s like working as a translator there?
Living in Gaza is akin to living as a bird in a cage in which flying is forbidden. You can sing sometimes, but nobody hears you besides the cage-master, who holds the key to your freedom. Although there are tens of thousands of university graduates and highly skilled professionals in the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel’s 13-year-old blockade on all movement of people and goods into and out of the occupied Palestinian territory has stripped so many talented, aspiring Gazans of any opportunity to work, travel and provide for their families. I am but one among so many living in Gaza who must confront and try to survive this reality on a daily basis.
After I earned a bachelor’s degree in Arabic and a graduate diploma for Arabic-English translation, I realized that I had to resist complacency—waiting for a miracle to change my life—and instead proactively find my own way out of the devastating oppression into which I was born. Work-wise, it was difficult to get my foot in the door, but I gradually built up a solid base of clients around the world through freelance projects. There was a lengthy period, however, when the international financial restrictions imposed on Gaza for well over a decade at this point prevented me from accessing the money I earned (payment methods like PayPal, for example, are not available in Palestine). I eventually acquired a prepaid VISA card online that enabled me to withdraw my paychecks.
Casting a terrible shadow over these hardships is the dire lack of electricity in Gaza. On average, the power here is on for only two to four hours a day. This means that my laptop battery lasts for a mere few hours, and then I have to wait about eight hours afterward until the electricity returns. So, as a professional translator I’ve had no choice but to work around the clock to meet deadlines and secure my clients’ trust. But it’s not only translators in Gaza who struggle as I do; a lot of creative designers and programmers often deal with the same impediments. The final calculus is this: Freelancing is fine, but how reliable is it when the internet connection is extremely fickle all the time? And how can one support a family in such constantly dicey circumstances?
Nonetheless, I’ve been an Arabic-language coordinator with TED Translators since 2017. I’m part of a fantastic team of LCs (Khadija, Ghalia, Fatima and Riyad) that supervises a large community of Arabic-English translators and conducts regular meetups and planning sessions with members. TEDSummit 2019 would have been a wonderful chance for our LC team to gather in one place, but both Ghalia and I were denied visas by the U.K. This denial was my first—and Ghalia’s third. Although the denials are vague in their reasoning, I have no doubt they were issued solely because I’m a Palestinian Arab and Ghalia is a Syrian Arab. Words can’t fully express how depressing this is for us—to anticipate traveling to TEDSummit and meeting scores of incredible colleagues, only to be notified that you aren’t going anywhere because of where you live. We are human beings with hopes and dreams just like anybody else; we are not monsters. When will the world wake up to this fact? Perhaps in the future, TED can hold a conference in an Arab country—or at least a country that welcomes people of all backgrounds.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not busy translating?
I read a lot, particularly poetry, and I often share my favorite lines on social media. I also love to watch Japanese anime; let me recommend “Attack on Titan” to anybody who wants to experience anime at its finest. Sometimes, though, I’m in tech mode, taking online courses in web design, e-commerce, etc. I’ve found that having knowledge and skills outside of translating has helped me to advance my career as a translator quite a bit.
As I discussed above, Gaza is virtually sealed off from the world, so travel is a passion I can only wish I could pursue. Consequently, I spend much of my time at home. But I get to see my mother, my family every day—that’s a blessing.
Lastly, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?
Welcome to TED Translators! We are a global community of volunteers who share a common goal. Don’t be afraid to ask a question or pitch an idea you may have. Focus on quality over quantity when translating. Always try to learn from the feedback your LC or reviewer gives you, and then apply that knowledge to your future translations. And don’t forget that as a TED Translator you’re a vital member of the TED family; your work is appreciated and valued by millions of people around the world.
Last week, we posted a quick update on TED Translators’ activities at TEDSummit 2019, and we promised to follow that up with more comprehensive coverage. So without further ado, here’s our full recap of TED Translators at TEDSummit 2019!
The translators kicked off the conference week on Friday—a few days before the official start of TEDSummit 2019—with a casual gathering among themselves, during which they got to meet and know each other over drinks and appetizers. After a warm welcome by TED Translators director Jenny Zurawell and deputy director Helena Batt, the translators shared their individual stories of traveling to and arriving in Edinburgh, and readied themselves for the next day’s full schedule of events.
Saturday saw the TED Translators exploring Scotland’s capital city together. After walking through the picturesque Princes Street Gardens to the world-famous Edinburgh Castle and learning a bit of Scottish royal history along the way, the group wound down with an afternoon tea reception. Later in the evening, the translators reconvened for an intimate dinner at Cannonball Restaurant & Bar in Edinburgh’s Old Town. It just so happened that the veteran Scottish band The Proclaimers was playing a concert nearby, so a quick listen to their distinct, catchy rock music was in order before heading into the restaurant. The translators then sat down to a formal dinner and bonded further over question cards set on the tables; the questions varied from “What is one tip we should know when visiting your home city?” to “Can you do an impression of your favorite accent?”
On Sunday, the TED Translators got down to brass tacks with an intensive workshop. The gathering began with presentations by both Jenny and Helena that respectively homed in on the growth of TED Translators since its inception 10 years ago, as well as exciting new partnerships and initiatives to support the community. Afterward, several translators offered their own individual presentations. To cite just a few of them: Maricene Crus discussed welcoming and mentoring new TED Translators; Cissy Yun focused on creating local-language style guides; and Khrystyna Romashko and Dina Bezsmertna looked at different ways to grow smaller language communities.
TEDSummit 2019 got underway on Sunday night, and for the rest of the week the TED Translators immersed themselves in the conference’s panoply of talks, workshops and breakout sessions. What’s more, TED Translators received multiple thank-yous and shoutouts from the stage for their continual, vital work to make TED Talks accessible to language communities around the world. And, they received tons of love from the TED Speaker community — Amanda Palmer is a huge fan! All in all, then, TED Translators’ participation in TEDSummit 2019 was a resounding success, and we’re already looking forward to TED2020. Keep an eye out in the near future for applications to that and other TED gatherings!
We here at TED Translators have officially kicked off our TEDSummit 2019 adventure in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland, with a stellar group of 50 translators from more than 30 countries. These amazing volunteers have been busy with a schedule chock-full of workshops and activities, and will spend the rest of the week engaging with the wider “Community Beyond Borders” at the conference: The TED Translators will participate in an array of discussions, and attend a panoply of performances and main-stage talks alongside hundreds of TEDx organizers, TED Fellows, educators and TED Speakers. We’ll have more in-depth coverage of TED Translators at TEDSummit 2019 to share with you very soon, so stay tuned!
In our second installment of interviews with TED Translators who will attend TEDSummit 2019 this week, we chat with Lidia Cámara de la Fuente and her daughter Marlén Scholand, who both live in Germany. Read on below to learn more about this dynamic duo of TED Translators who not only share a love for translating, but a priceless familial bond as well.
How long have you both been TED Translators? What initially drew each of you to the enterprise?
Lidia: I chanced upon TED 10 years ago, while searching for appealing multimedia material to use in the scientific-translation classes I teach. I was looking for something that would both motivate my students to immerse themselves in translating and encourage them to pursue knowledge at the forefront of the science and technology fields. The first TED Talk I discovered and watched was Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My stroke of insight”; I was inspired and overwhelmed by her passion for her work and how powerfully she connects science with emotion. Afterward, I stayed up watching TED Talks all night. I felt as if I’d found a new, panoramic lens on the world, one that I could take advantage of without leaving the comfort of my home.
Marlén: My journey with TED Translators began when my mother started watching and translating TED Talks and recommending them to everyone she could. I was quite young then, though, so I didn’t understand how to use the translation platform yet. But as I got older, my interest in TED Talks grew; in addition, I found TED-Ed videos extremely helpful for my school projects. I finally asked my mom about her TED Talk translations, she taught me to use the translation platform, and here I am—a TED Translator. It was a natural progression for me, given that translating words and sentences into different languages was instilled in me as a child: My mom is a linguist, my father is a professional translator and I was raised speaking three languages—Spanish, Catalan and German.
What was the first TED Talk each of you translated? Why this particular talk?
L: The first TED Talk I translated was Kevin Kelly’s “How technology evolves”—my first among 2,550 so far. At that time, I wanted to translate any and every talk that dealt in science and technology. I was—and remain—thrilled to have had the opportunity to translate TED Talks and simultaneously encourage my students to improve their own language and translation skills.
M: Well, the first talk I translated without my mom’s help was Analia Wu’s “Redefining the F-word”. The title initially drew me to it, but the content of her talk was not at all what I’d expected it to be, which was a pleasant surprise. Analia also surprised me: She confidently examines the definitions of failure and success in her non-native English, and reveals how attempting something unsuccessfully does not necessarily translate to failure. To this day, I admire both Analia’s poise and message, and I try to practice her approach to success and failure on a daily basis.
Of all the talks you’ve translated, which has been your favorite so far? Why?
L: I’m fascinated with neuroscience, so I was especially pleased to translate these talks:
Over the years, however, my interest in neuroscience has become more spiritually oriented rather than physically. I’ve increasingly been trying to understand human consciousness not only as our immediate knowledge of ourselves and our actions and reflections, but also as our unique ability to search for and create meaning in our individual and collective existences. One talk I’m particularly thrilled to have translated during my ongoing exploration of human consciousness is Emily Esfahani Smith’s “There’s more to life than being happy”. She helped me realize that the awakening of our spiritual consciousnesses occurs when, through introspection and self-knowledge, we each find our true self and purpose in life, which in turn generates our joy of living consciously.
M: A favorite of mine is one of the first TED Talks I ever watched: “The transformative power of classical music”, by conductor Benjamin Zander. I chose to translate this talk both because I’m a pianist and because Benjamin’s interaction with the audience is superb. Through a mix of playing the piano onstage and smart humor, he manages to explain classical music and its beauty in an engaging and inviting way.
Can you tell us a bit about what it’s like translating together?
L: When Marlén began translating TED Talks, I was always by her side so I could assist her if need be. These sessions were very long, often because we would stop our translating to discuss the content of the talk at hand. The two talks below are just some of those that found Marlén and I extending our interactions with them beyond translation, allowing the talks to foster conversations between us about topics and issues that affect us both.
M: I’m extremely thankful to my mom for taking the time and having the patience to teach me how to translate TED Talks; her early guidance is largely responsible for honing me into the TED Translator I am today. I’m also very grateful that my mom and I share a strong bond with each other and that we can converse on an array of subjects, TED-related or otherwise, for hours on end. And I love that she frequently introduces me to TED Talks that may pique my interest.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not busy translating?
L: I really enjoy traveling and exploring new places with my children and husband. I also relish walks through forests full of leafy trees; I feel peacefully connected with them, and this connection is reflected in another passion of mine: acrylic paintings lush with trees.
M: I love summer. I live in Germany, where warm weather doesn’t exactly abound, so I’m happy whenever the sun is out and I can go swimming—ideally in a river or the sea.
Making music is my other passion. After years of piano lessons, I started writing my own songs and I’m currently collaborating on a project with my friend. He’s well-versed in production and is teaching me about that side of crafting music. I’m partial to writing melodies and lyrics, though. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to create music together, and I’m looking forward to finishing our first song.
Lastly, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?
L: Here’s my quick tip guide for new TED Translators:
Take your time to translate.
Focus only on translating.
Enjoy translating without thinking about the final product.
If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Don’t emotionalize the reviewers’ corrections.
Remember that your work benefits both you and others.
Remember that you’re part of a great project.
M: Translating can be quite confusing at first, so my main advice is to exercise patience and to ask for help if you need it. Some TED Talks are long and require a substantial amount of time to translate; don’t stress if you can’t finish a translation in a day; you can always return to it at a later point. Focus instead on enjoying and learning from the translation process. And remember: Your translations enable people around the world to access amazing and vital ideas.
TEDSummit 2019 is just a month away, so what better time than now to get to know several of the TED Translators who will attend the annual gathering? We kick off the series with Kazunori Akashi, who hails from Asahikawa, Japan. He was generous enough to answer our questions and provide us with an insightful look at his experience as a TED Translator in the Japanese translation community. Read on below!
How long have you been a TED Translator? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what about the enterprise inspires you nowadays?
I joined the TED Translators community in 2012, when it was still called the Open Translation Project. I teach English in a public school, and at that time I was looking for a way to put my English skills to good use outside of the classroom; when I discovered TED Translators, I knew I’d found an excellent venue for doing so. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of sharing so many amazing ideas with Japanese audiences who don’t speak or aren’t fluent in English. This, along with being part of a thriving global community of fellow translators, is what continually inspires me in my work as a TED Translator.
What was the first TED Talk you translated? Why this particular talk?
Taryn Simon’s “The stories behind the bloodlines” was the first TED Talk I ever translated. I’m extremely interested in modern art and photography, so Taryn’s talk instantly resonated with me. I believe that much of the beauty of modern art stems from its power to reveal things we can’t or don’t see in our everyday lives, and to me, Taryn’s talk is a prime example of such beauty.
Of all the talks you’ve translated, which has been your favorite so far? Why?
A talk titled “You have no idea where camels really come from”, by Latif Nasser. When I was a kid, the world always evoked a strong sense of wonder in me. I loved to read books about ghosts, physics, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs. As I got older, however, this curiosity seemed to steadily evaporate and I grew into a skeptic. But Latif’s talk reminded me how much about our world we still don’t know yet, and that the world is essentially filled with infinite wonders; it was the reminder I needed to reinvigorate my long-dormant curiosity.
Let’s get a bit more granular. The Japanese Language Coordinator community is a very organized and diplomatic system of collaboration. Can you tell us a little about that and how it works?
We LCs usually keep in contact with each other through our Facebook group. When one of us has an idea, we post it, discuss its pros and cons, refine the idea and then execute it. We also make it a point to organize LC meetups whenever our language community hosts workshops and TEDx events; face-to-face communication is integral to our productivity and success. What’s more, every Japanese LC is highly talented and motivated, so it’s always an inspiring community to be a part of for everybody involved.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not busy translating?
I’m constantly reading books. My wife seems to have something to say about this obsession, but I can’t help it.
Lastly, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Cissy Yun has been a TED Translator for five years now. She took on her first translation way back in 2013, and she’s since become one of TED’s Simplified Chinese Language Coordinators (LCs). Cissy moved to New York in 2016, where she currently studies media and communications at NYU. Given all of this, we thought it would make for an interesting and enlightening conversation to interview Cissy about her work with TED Translators and the Chinese translation community. Read on below!
What inspired you to join TED Translators?
I should start with my discovery of TED, when I was in seventh grade. The first TED Talk I ever watched was Marco Tempest’s “The magic of truth and lies (and iPods)”, which he delivered at TEDGlobal 2011. I was mesmerized by his use of then-contemporary technology to explain a number of visual illusions we occasionally experience, and from that point on I was hooked on TED Talks. Around the same time, I realized that my fluency in English could enable me to translate and share insightful talks with friends, family and colleagues who aren’t English speakers. And because I believe language should never be a barrier to the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, it was a no-brainer for me to join TED Translators and put my language skills to work translating TED Talks.
Since then, I must say, volunteering as a TED Translator has given me a tremendous amount of joy. I studied Spanish in high school, and when I watched and translated a talk called “Poetry, music and identity”, which Uruguayan musician and poet Jorge Drexler delivered at TED2017, I was brought to tears (it’s my favorite TED Talk by far). Needless to say, I was thrilled to contribute to spreading Drexler’s brilliance with my translation. I’ve had many other similar experiences in my five years as a TED Translator, and they’re what keep me going and why TED Translators has become an inextricable part of my life.
How do you put yourself in the shoes of a TED Speaker in order to best translate a talk?
First, I try to select talks on subjects about which I’m knowledgeable; I’d rather not butcher talks whose topics I’m unfamiliar with. That said, if I’m assigned a translation with a subject that’s out of my bailiwick, I don’t shy away from the research required to translate the talk. Next, I always watch each talk in its entirety before I begin translating it. I think it’s essential to study both a talk’s topic and its speaker in order to home in on the most accurate context for translation.
One of the most challenging translations I’ve completed offers a detailed picture of my process. I translated a five-minute talk about tornado tracking that, despite its brief duration, is packed with distinct nouns and tornado jargon. As a result, I researched the basic science of the storms, including reading several Chinese science journals to find the accurate argot, for seven hours before I started translating the talk; I basically became a mini-expert on tornadoes. It was quite a surreal (in a good way) experience for me, and the satisfaction I felt after I’d completed my translation was beyond words!
What are some of the benefits you’ve derived from being a TED Translator? You’ll be attending TEDSummit 2019 in July?
Having lived in the U.S. for a number of years now, I “breathe” English every day, so my work with TED Translators has increasingly allowed me to keep my Chinese polished. It’s also encouraged me to stay current with the ever-changing language culture back in China so I can make sure I’m using the most accurate, up-to-date vernacular in my translations.
In addition, I was invited to attend “We the Future” last September—an annual collaborative gathering put on by TED, the Skoll Foundation and the UN Foundation, and which takes place during each year’s UN General Assembly and Global Goals Week. “We the Future” was held at TED’s New York headquarters, and its primary focus was how we can build a sustainable future for humanity in the face of global warming and climate change. I had the amazing opportunity to both talk with some of the top experts in this field and connect with LCs and TED Translators from a variety of other language communities. What’s more, after “We the Future” wrapped up, I translated a few of the talks delivered at the event and got to relive a bunch of the day’s highlights.
And yes, I will attend TEDSummit 2019 this July. I’m really looking forward to what’s sure to be an incredible gathering in beautiful Edinburgh, and to meeting new and old friends alike!
Can you share with us some powerful ideas coming out of China? Which kinds of TED Talks have you noticed are popular in China?
I’ve recently seen a lot of TED Talks that deal in environmental issues circulating on Chinese social media—talks about green energy and preserving endangered animals, for example. Also, many teachers in China incorporate TED-Ed videos into their lesson plans; and new university graduates entering the workforce, I’ve noticed, are extremely interested in TED Talks that explore workplace relationships, social etiquette and identity formation.
As for powerful ideas emerging from China, the country has a vibrant TEDx—especially TEDxYouth—community. Tons of middle- and high-schoolers are engaged with TED and regularly delivering very thought-provoking talks that are tailored not just to Chinese audiences, but their respective local cultures and social structures as well. And these talks span a wide array of subjects, from public health to urbanization to gentrification to art and food (to name a few!).
Lastly, what advice do you have for new TED Translators?
To me, the most magical aspect of being a TED Translator is that you don’t necessarily have to take on difficult tasks alone; the TED Translators community is always within reach if you need help with a translation. So, my advice to new TED Translators would be: Don’t shy away from asking a fellow translator or an LC for a helping hand, if need be. And one more thing: Always remember that translating for TED is so much more than completing a task; it’s a continual learning experience and “therapeutic” craft and a one-of-a-kind opportunity to connect with other people all over the world who share your passion for translation.
A few weeks ago, we posted a brief update on TED Translators’ activities at TED2019, and we promised a more in-depth recap to come. So, without further ado, we present to you our full report; check it out below!
The TED Translators contingent—made up of translators from 15 different cities around the world—kicked off their trip to TED2019 with a private dinner at Downtown Vancouver’s renowned Market by Jean-Georges restaurant. During this gathering, they had the opportunity to meet and mingle with each other, TED staff and TED’s Head of Media, Colin Helms. At one point in the evening, the translators shared their proudest moments as TED Translators. Carolina Aguirre, for example, recounted how volunteering with TED Translators enabled her to realize her passion for translating and subtitling—so much so that she changed her profession from law to full-time translation!
Before the first session of TED2019 got underway, the TED Translators attended a working lunch and workshop. The translators broke into three groups based on their respective language communities and then discussed the common successes and challenges their language groups have experienced. The TED Translators also brainstormed various new means of engaging with and expanding their translation communities both on- and offline. What’s more, several members of TED’s tech team and TED’s Director of Audience Development, Carla Zanoni, joined the workshop to plan future partnerships with local TED Translators in order to grow TED’s overall global audience and presence.
Toward the end of the week-long conference, TED Translators hosted a conversation with TED2016 Speaker Tim Urban. The discussion, which focused on the topic of procrastination, was open to other TED2019 attendees as well and took place just outside the Vancouver Convention Centre’s main theater. Tim explained that all forms of procrastination are not equal; there are countless productive ways to procrastinate. In fact, he specifically cited translation and the work of TED Translators as an example (sometimes) of productive procrastination! Asked to offer some concrete correctives to putting off tasks, Tim stressed not only the importance of setting personal goals and deadlines, but also the value in sharing goals and deadlines with family and friends so as to help keep oneself accountable and on track.
TED2019 wrapped up a few days later, and as the TED Translators in attendance parted ways, there was unanimous agreement among them that they were leaving Vancouver with fresh knowledge and insights to bring back to their individual translation communities.
TED2019 got underway last week, and a contingent of 15 TED Translators was on the ground from the start to represent and promote TED’s international translation community. In addition to attending talks by an impressive lineup of speakers who presented their innovative ideas and visions under the conference’s theme of “Bigger Than Us”, the TED Translators were busy with a schedule full of workshops and team-building events. Stay tuned for more in-depth updates on TED Translators’ activities at TED2019.
A few days after the TED Translators meetup in Mexico City, Jenny and Helena made their way over to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend TEDxBogotá: Resiliencia and to once more connect local TED Translators to TEDx initiatives in their city. TEDxBogotá brought together a stunning number of attendees—over 10,000!—at Bogotá’s famous Movistar Arena. The audience was treated to 10 speakers whose talks tackled some of Colombia’s most urgent challenges while also highlighting potential brighter futures for both the country and the region in general. What’s more, the TEDxBogotá team, headed by organizer Mauricio Salazar and co-organizer Katherin Gómez, warmly welcomed and embraced TED Translators; in fact, the TEDxBogotá team screened our most recent promo video for the crowd and invited attendees to volunteer with our global project. We hope you’re as excited as we are to see lots of new translations coming out of Bogotá soon!
Earlier this month, TED Translators director Jenny Zurawell and deputy director Helena Batt traveled to Mexico City to link up with several TED Translators from the region and connect them to local TEDx initiatives. The translators who attended were thrilled to meet each other in person and had the chance to speak with Marcela Garcia, a TEDx organizer based in Mexico City. Their discussion focused on building and strengthening the culturally dynamic city’s TED Translators community, as well as identifying the challenges and opportunities posed by this effort. All in all, the gathering was yet another productive step in growing TED Translators’ footprint in Latin America.
Since TED2019 is right around the corner, we’d like to introduce you to the TED Translators who will attend this year’s flagship conference. “Bigger Than Us” is TED2019’s theme, and we’ve invited some fantastic TED Translators from around the world to represent us at the gathering in Vancouver, BC. Read on to learn more about these extraordinary folks!
Seoul, South Korea, is where Seongjae makes his home and where he works as a software engineer. After studying computer engineering at university, he began his career as a fintech developer and, propelled by his fascination with cutting-edge technologies, utilized TED Talks to school himself on such advancements. At the same time, Seongjae also cultivated a deep interest in TED Talks which address sociocultural issues. He joined the TED Translator community in order to share far and wide the talks that inspire him, as well as to discover talks that animate his fellow translators.
Freelance translator Karin was born and raised in Ensenada, Mexico. Her passion for languages led her to study translation at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), where she developed a keen interest in multimedia translation. After discovering TED Translators, she decided to join the community to polish her skills as a translator and to help others around the world gain access to one of humanity’s strongest tools: knowledge.
Born in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Tatiana now lives in Prague, where she studies English literature and linguistics, teaches English as a foreign language and works as a freelance translator. When not busy with these pursuits, she enjoys reading (especially experimental fiction and philosophy), as well as occasionally writing and drawing. Tatiana joined TED Translators in order to contribute to a global community that encourages and propels engaging dialogue across numerous disciplines and languages.
Talia was born and raised in Haifa, Israel, and she currently manages a team at a startup enterprise that’s working to implement a sharing economy in the country. In addition to volunteering with TED Translators, Talia has mentored at-risk youth, and she recently participated in a seminar organized by Tech2Peace, “an independent initiative, created and conducted by a young staff of students and volunteers” who put on “IT and peace-building seminars, focused on creating a lasting positive relationship between young Israelis and Palestinians.” Since Tech2Peace, Talia has been studying 3D animation; she aims to use the technology to help improve her community.
Originally from Romania, Bianca has spent much of the last decade living, studying and working in various parts of the world, including China, India and the U.K. She credits her time in these three countries especially for introducing her to an array of new ways of thinking and living. In a similar vein, Bianca credits TED and TED Translators for revealing “a whole new world of ideas” to her—ideas she’s committed to making widely accessible to Romanian speakers who are not familiar with English. “What I also love about TED Translators,” she says, “is getting ‘lost in translation’—or perhaps ‘lost in reviews and approvals’ is more appropriate—particularly with management- and psychology-related TED Talks.” Bianca recently completed her master’s degree in HR management from Leeds University Business School, and she is about to begin pursuing her PhD in the study of the emergence of new forms of work in the digital economy.
Translator + subtitler Carolina makes her home in São Paulo, Brazil, along with her husband and their 6-year-old daughter. She’s had an intense interest in languages—particularly English—from an early age, but it wasn’t until she discovered TED and TED Translators that Carolina realized her passion for translating and subtitling too. This discovery also inspired her to switch her profession from law to full-time translation, and Carolina says she’s much more satisfied by her current work; she especially loves helping to spread the incredible ideas put forth in TED Talks around the world. When she’s not translating, Carolina enjoys the company of her family and friends, reading, watching TV, and traveling.
Ly was born and raised in Vietnam, and she’s currently finishing her studies in architecture at Hanoi Architectural University. In addition to her fascination for the aesthetics of words in both the design and calligraphy mediums, Ly “loves languages and translation”; hence her work with TED Translators. What’s more, she was so motivated by the reach and influence of TED Talks that she co-founded the Vietnam Organization for Gender Equality (VOGE), a project that “aims at spreading the ‘Gender is not a limit’ spirit [and] helping to build a human, equitable and civilized community in terms of gender.”
Hailing from eastern China, Jinchuan is now a student in economics and commerce at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He’s been both a TED Translator and involved with various TED and TEDx conferences for five years and counting. Jinchuan has also studied abroad in the U.S., at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
By way of India, Urjoshi is currently a PhD student in computer science and a graduate teaching assistant at Iowa State University. Her research is based in software engineering and focuses on testing highly configurable systems. Before beginning her post-graduate studies, Urjoshi worked for nearly four years as a systems engineer at Tata Consultancy Services. She cites her dedication to minimizing impediments to the free dissemination of knowledge as one of the key factors that inspired her to join TED Translators. Outside of studying, teaching and translating, Urjoshi practices yoga and can’t get enough of hiking and reading.
Frank was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and holds a degree in oil and gas engineering from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. He is currently a process safety manager for pipeline transportation for an oil and gas company in both Peru and Mexico. Frank’s TED Translators epiphany occurred after he watched his first TED Talk, Pranav Mistry’s “The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology”: “It was then when I realized how amazing it is to have free access to such stimulating information, as well as the importance of transmitting these ideas to as large of an audience as possible, regardless of borders, customs or beliefs,” he says. “And so I began volunteering with TED Translators.” Frank also loves to travel and interact with new people and cultures, and he finds that this dovetails nicely with his translation work for TED.
Originally from Japan, Moe has lived in Sheffield, England, for the last seven years while she’s pursued her PhD in theatre and performance studies. She also holds a master’s degree in the same field, in addition to degrees in both French and English literature. Moe’s PhD thesis centers on paratexts—which she describes as “those peripheral elements that lie at the thresholds of interpretation but give texts a unity, such as prefaces, intertitles, notes and appendices”—and their significance in terms of making meaning in contemporary performance work. Regarding TED Translators, Moe says that translating is “very much intertwined with my PhD studies—so much so that my first submitted thesis contains this acknowledgment: ‘I would also like to say thanks to TED Translators, which has been a productive procrastination for me to engage with whenever I find myself in a writing cul-de-sac.’” Thus her prolificness as a TED Translator. Aside from studying and translating, Moe teaches Japanese, is an aspiring literary translator, and writes tanka.
After finishing school in her home country of Germany, Tanja relocated to Argentina for a year to teach German. She then moved to Edinburgh and earned her bachelor’s degree in cognitive science. Tanja now lives in London, where she’s pursuing her PhD in computer science. She joined TED Translators in 2012 to, in her words, “help make TED content more widely accessible, and to have a productive way of procrastinating.” In her free time, Tanja enjoys writing and playing music, reading, films and running.
Jules was born and raised in France’s Brittany region, but he currently resides in Paris and works as a technology developer for a startup enterprise focused on creating innovative open-source development tools. Jules has also lived in Moscow, where he attended Moscow State University. In addition, he earned master’s degrees from both Sciences Po and Sorbonne University, two of France’s most prestigious universities. Jules’ passion for technology is matched by his deep interest in other cultures, and he attributes this combination to his decision to join TED Translators. “I love being part of a global community in which I can introduce extraordinary new ideas to French speakers around the world,” he says. When not working and translating, Jules can be found skiing or swimming.
Milan, Italy, is where Silvia makes her home, and it’s also where she earned her master’s degree in foreign languages and literatures (English and French) from the University of Milan. She is currently a sales manager for several Italian and multinational companies, and also works as a freelance translator. About her experience with TED Translators, Silvia says: “TED Translators has made me realize how amazing and rewarding it is to help spread powerful and inspiring ideas to people all across the world who don’t speak a second language—particularly since I strongly believe that communication brings people together more than anything else.” In her free time, Silvia enjoys baking cakes, reading, traveling, and live theatre (especially Shakespeare).
By way of Tehran, Iran, where she obtained her bachelor of sciences degree in Physics from the University of Tehran, Saba now resides in New York City. She initially moved to New York to earn her master’s degrees in both economics and business administration; afterward, Saba began her current job as a data analyst at a financial institution. As a bilingual speaker and a fervent believer in education and the free exchange of knowledge, she’s found a natural home at TED Translators. Saba’s hobbies include hiking and music, and she cites human communications, society improvement, and data and technology (including how they affect our daily lives) as her primary areas of interest.
Editor’s note: The three TED Translators below were invited to TED2019, but—we’re sorry to have to report—they will not be able to attend because their travel visas were denied by the Canadian government.
Sameeha hails from Nablus, Palestine, holds a bachelor’s degree in medical analysis, and currently works as an embryologist. She also plans to pursue a degree in the field of genetics research. Sameeha is a staunch believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, and she credits these words for her decision to join TED Translators. “I always try to take any opportunity I can to change our world for the better,” Sameeha says. “When I discovered TED Translators, I realized I’d found an excellent way to put Gandhi’s words into action: I could help spread important ideas and knowledge across languages and borders, while at the same time increasing the amount Arabic content available online.” In her free time, Sameeha enjoys hiking and reading.
Masoud hails from the historic Iranian city of Bam, which is known for its ancient mud-wall citadel. He holds master’s degrees in both translation studies and business management, and he currently works as a translator and an office coordinator at a holding company in Iran. Masoud’s passion for learning and sharing insightful knowledge and content is what led him to join TED Translators. “I wholeheartedly believe that translating and spreading powerful ideas as far and wide as possible can effect substantive change in the world,” he says. When not busy working and translating, Masoud enjoys traveling and immersing himself in different cultures.
Born and raised in Armenia, Grigor is a graduate of the French University in Armenia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in management. In 2015, he founded United Youth Union, an Armenia-based “non-profit organization committed to youth development and empowerment.” Grigor led UYU for two years before going on to found and lead another NGO in his home country called Youth for Change, which focuses on civil society development. (He now serves as UYU’s chairman.) He’s currently a Youth Program Officer at OxYGen as well. Grigor has also been prolific in his involvement with TED: In addition to his work as a TED Translator, he has been a member of TEDxYerevan’s organizing team since 2016, and he was previously the lead organizer of TEDxUFAR.
TED Translators work at the intersection of culture and language. They help big ideas transcend language and global borders. Together, TED Translators represent more than 115 unique languages, many of which contain certain words that don’t exist in other languages. We asked a few of the TED Translators attending TED2018 to share a word from their language that cannot be easily translated into English. Enjoy learning these 12 words—and let us know what untranslatable words exist in your own language!
So, I have a few follow-up questions to your last answer, but I was just hit out of nowhere (or maybe not: I’m listening to music through my earbuds at a bar as I write this) with a different question to ask first. Here goes…
It’s clear from reading your whole body of poetry—and individual collections like “Speak Low”, “Double Shadow” and “Wild Is the Wind”, for example—that music influences and is braided into your poems to varying degrees. Whom have you been listening to lately who’s possibly seeping into your current writing?
Also, here’s a song I’ve had on repeat for a little while now; to my mind it could be part of a soundtrack to “Wild Is the Wind”—especially those poems that seem to prize the wilderness over restraint. I’m curious what this song evokes for you.
A music question—I love it! Yeah, I listen to music all the time, it’s been a huge part of my life, and I sometimes think I came to poetry through music first, being a longtime fan of the singer-songwriter tradition—Carole King, James Taylor, etc. Though I listen to a pretty wide range of things these days: Currently in rotation are The Charlatans, Robyn, Janelle Monáe, The Innocence Mission. I’ve been returning to Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” a lot, as well as Sarah Vaughan’s album that she did with Clifford Brown. I’m not sure to what extent music seeps into the writing, but I do find myself sometimes wanting to write a poem that gets at the emotional gesture of a certain song that’s in my head; this happened recently with a Charlatans song, an instrumental piece called “Honesty”.
It’s hard for me to imagine the Conor Oberst song as part of a soundtrack for “Wild Is the Wind”, if only because I find his voice is too close to Dylan’s, which always makes me want to leave the room! But I take your point about wilderness and restraint; that song definitely gets at the idea that people aren’t easily tameable into what another person expects or wants; and toward the end, it gets at the idea of self-loathing and raises the question, for me, as to whether wilderness is its own thing, or is a manifestation of something else, inside, that may not be known or even knowable to ourselves.
It’s true: Oberst’s voice is quite similar to Dylan’s, and some people do find it too abrasive or his lyrics too heart-on-sleeve. But for me, Oberst’s music, particularly songs like “No One Changes”, brings to mind what the poet Michael S. Harper said in an interview about writing poetry (though I think his advice applies to the creation of most, if not all, art): “[D]on’t fear being too personal, too idiosyncratic, too bizarre, too (Monk) ‘straight, no chaser…’” And this in turn reminds me of your “Postcard: Advice to a Young Poet” (which, I must tell you, has continued to be invaluable guidance for me since I first read it roughly five years ago). So, as both a university professor and the Yale series judge, what are some fundamental “lessons” that you try to impart to the emerging poets you work with? Does any of your teaching or judging involve the negotiation between wilderness and restraint that we talked about earlier?
I had forgotten all about that postcard! I think what I say there pretty much answers your first question. The fundamental lesson I try to impart is that you should write what you have to write, regardless of outside expectations. The one unique thing we can bring to a poem is our own sensibility; to compromise that makes for inauthentic poetry. As for wilderness versus restraint, I believe what’s important is a careful calibration between the two, when it comes to making a poem that is athletic, physical, visceral. Too many poets are afraid of wilderness, and tend to make poems that are polite, give no real offense, but ultimately also fail to yield much personality. That’s my biggest challenge as a judge of poetry: manuscripts that do no harm, that merely behave. As with people, that makes for an uninteresting manuscript.
Who are some young or emerging poets you’ve been reading lately whose poems you think achieve that careful calibration between wilderness and restraint?
Well, it would be easiest to point to Yanyi, whose manuscript I selected for the Yale series last year; that book, “The Year of Blue Water”, will be out this spring. I also loved a book called “Three Poems”, by Hannah Sullivan, a book that dares to consist of three long poems, that’s it! (Editor’s note: “Three Poems” was awarded the 2018 T.S. Eliot Prize on January 15 of this year.)Catherine Barnett’s “Human Hours” and Diane Seuss’ “Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl” are two books from 2018 that I am continuing to learn so much from. I note that these last two poets aren’t what some people would call young or emerging, since they are over 30 and they have previous books. But I was just today saying on Twitter how the poets I most admire are the ones who never stop emerging; they keep surprising themselves, and their readers, by evolving in unexpected directions. I think that the older we get, the more experiences we accumulate, and experience is what gives us something new to wrestle with. I have gotten this sense that many younger poets are not interested in keeping up with writers who have been writing for what amounts to a long career. But Bob Hass, to give one example, is writing poems that are vastly different from where he began, and for me it’s thrilling to see how a poet keeps changing on the page even into old age. He is still writing work that we can all learn from.
I’ve also gotten the sense that younger poets aren’t interested in keeping up with writers who’ve had long careers, and I think it’s an attitude, if you will, that younger poets (myself included) should resist. There’s so much one can learn from reading, say, Chase Twichell’s body of work right up to her new collection—lessons in form, economy of language, risk, evolution—that to take the opposite stance seems to me a kind of self-deprivation in terms of evolving as a poet.
That said, Catherine Barnett is wonderful—as both a poet and person! She taught one of my craft courses in grad school and, funny enough, she had my class read Robert Hass’s collection “Time and Materials”. And Yanyi: I’m really looking forward to reading “The Year of Blue Water”; these three poems from the book are lacerating in so many ways. They also bring to mind your prose poems, which to me are more so prose poems with deliberate line breaks (in “Wild Is the Wind”, poems like “Courtship” and “Gold Leaf”, for example; or, one of my personal favorites, “The Jetty”, from “Silverchest”). What attracts you to this prose form? Why do you often break the lines in these poems as you do? And, when writing a poem, what might signal to you that a prose structure best suits the piece?
Hmmm… Well, I guess the first thing to make clear is that I have never written a prose poem. As you mention, there are line breaks, and the only absolute thing that can be said about prose poems is that they relinquish the line break and have to figure out how to make up for the absence of that particular tool. You can tell “The Jetty” isn’t a prose poem, for example, because the lines don’t go to the page’s margin; that means they’ve been deliberately broken, which means these are lines of poetry. Same with “Courtship” and “Gold Leaf”. These poems have long lines, but there are poems with much longer lines in the book, which shows that the margin goes beyond where it does in these two poems. Another way you can tell is if you compare the left and right margins: The left is flush left; if this were a prose poem, the right-hand margin would also be flush, meaning there would not be an unevenness to where the lines end at the right.
Not that I want to give you a lesson in the prose poem! But I have noticed—again, with younger writers—that there is confusion about the prose poem, so I hope in my small way to clear that up. I do have one poem in a forthcoming book, where one section is a poem, and the other section is a prose poem. That’ll be my first sort-of prose poem, I suppose, but even then it’s a hybrid. If it makes you feel better, a review of an earlier book of mine in The New Yorker went into a whole theory about a so-called prose poem in the book—when it wasn’t and isn’t a prose poem. LOL, as they say!
Ah, the clarification is much appreciated; let’s call it a valuable mini-lesson on the prose poem!
As we wrap up, I’d like to ask about your translation of Sophocles’ play “Philoctetes”. What drew you to translate this particular work? Do you regard translation as an integral part of writing poetry, as something all poets should try their hand at? And for those translators reading this, what do you believe goes into creating a successful translation?
Well, I wasn’t initially drawn to it. It’s part of a series that paired poets with translators (only in my case I already knew Greek, so I did the translating myself); I had wanted to do Euripides’ “The Bacchae”, but I was told that was taken, and I was assigned “Philoctetes”. As I revisited and really dug into the play, though, I realized that it’s the only all-male Greek tragedy that survives, and that there’s a certain homoerotic claustrophobia to the play. It also is more like a philosophical dialogue, in many ways, than a play: not a lot of actual action or plot, but a lot of invitation to meditate on trust, betrayal and duty—to oneself, to the state… So it ended up having a lot of intersections with my own work.
I don’t know that every poet needs to try translating, no. I think poetry would be a lot better if more poets knew other languages, and had access to other sensibilities than those that English carries with it. But I do think that all poetry is a form of translation, a translating of fleeting experience and perception into something briefly fixed.
As for what I think goes into creating a successful translation, I suppose it’s very important to try, as much as it’s possible, to really get inside the sensibility of the work being translated, and to try to keep one’s own sensibility out of it. None of this is entirely possible, of course. But when people read my translation, I want them to feel they are getting what Sophocles intended, not what Carl Phillips thinks he intended. I do think that my style seeped into my translation—how could it not?—but as it happens, a lot of my style seems to have been shaped by my having studied ancient Greek, so in that sense there was a good fit. What I don’t like to see in translations is contemporization of old texts, even though I know that’s popular with many. But if someone is only going to read, say, one translation of Virgil’s “Georgics”, I don’t want it to take place in contemporary rural Iowa. Having said that, I do think Derek Walcott did something pretty masterful when he translated the “Odyssey” into a Caribbean setting, with “Omeros”.
Finally, what project(s) are you currently working on? You mentioned a forthcoming book of poetry; can you tell us about that?
This fall, I have a chapbook—my first ever deliberate chapbook—coming out from Sibling Rivalry Press. It’s called “Star Map with Action Figures”, and consists of 16 poems that I wrote last summer in a kind of flurry. They’re a little different, in that they ghost a more traditional narrative, I suppose, though in the end that narrative isn’t entirely revealed. The poems came out of a little emotional storm that has since passed elsewhere, as storms do. I don’t know if these poems will be in a future book or not.
Meanwhile, I have a regular book of poems, “Pale Colors in a Tall Field”, out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the spring of 2020. It’s always hard for me to say what my books are “about,” but if I have to do so, this book seems to look at how to accept the weight of memory, to resist memory’s ability to harden us to anything new— when it comes to risk—and to take the risk, again, of making a life with another person. Which is to say, the book continues the ongoing, ever-shifting meditation I’ve been involved with, all these years: How do we live? How do we know who we are or should be? How to love another without compromising the self? The usual easy questions that a life comes down to.
Toward the end of last year, we introduced and highlightedTED-Ed’s then-new animated poetry series, “There’s a poem for that”. The first installment features Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo reading her poem “To Make Use of Water” while animation with the texture of water, or perhaps watery memory, mirrors the poem’s movements. Afterward, there’s a brief interview with Elhillo in which she is asked: “What is a poem you think everyone should experience?” Her unequivocal answer is Carl Phillips’ poem “Blue”.
Around this time, I had just finished reading Phillips’ most recent poetry collection, “Wild Is the Wind”, his 14th volume in an output that’s spanned over 25 years and garnered more literary awards than could possibly be listed here. I discovered Phillips’ poetry nearly a decade ago, fell in love with it immediately, and I’ve been reading it on repeat ever since. His inimitable idiom and syntax have yielded incisively meditative lyric poems that come as close as any to conveying what Elizabeth Bishop called “a mind in action.” Indeed, Phillips himself has written that his sentences “are pretty much models of how I actually think.” As for what he contemplates in his poems, some of life’s most slippery experiences feature prominently: sex, risk, restlessness, subjugation (of and by others), loss, love. But Phillips’ poems do not attempt to answer or resolve the inevitable questions about life that arise from examining these experiences; rather, as Phillips himself says, his poems aim to “liv[e] within and beside” these questions. And it’s this ambiguity, this refusal to confine life and its multitude of experiences to easy explanation or description that makes Phillips’ verse some of the most thrilling, introspective, generous, philosophical, human poetry in contemporary American literature. In short, and without hyperbole, his poems will enrich your life like no others.
Carl and I spoke via email for a month or so, beginning last December. We ended up discussing so much that our conversation will appear in two parts. The first installment is below; the second will be published tomorrow.
While preparing for this interview, I scrolled through your recent tweets and found this one that you posted for World AIDS Day. It occurred to me shortly afterward that your poems, especially your later ones and particularly those in “Wild Is the Wind”, maneuver similarly to Thom Gunn’s (despite the fact that your work and his are quite different stylistically): They wrestle with order and unpredictability, restraint and risk, in ways that, as the New York Times Book Review remarked of Gunn’s poetry, make “even [your] freest compositions have a disciplined music” to them. “If You Will, I Will” comes to mind, with its shifting, wending meditations that ultimately coalesce into a ruminative whole (or at least feel like it); and, of course, with its lines like these: “I like a wreckage I can manage myself, / the chance it offers for that particular version of power / that comes from winnowing cleanly the lost from the still / salvageable, not erasing disorder exactly, but returning / order to a fair footing, at least, beside a wilderness I wouldn’t / live without.” Has this Gunn-like juxtaposition (if you agree it exists in your work) always been important to you as a poet? What do you suspect attracts you to it?
Yes, it’s definitely a juxtaposition that has been important to me, really from the very start. I think I first started engaging with it—as in, thinking about it—when I studied Greek tragedy as an undergraduate, and saw how often those plays center on the tension between how we’re told to conduct our bodies and how we find ourselves compelled to conduct them. Restraint is what we’re taught, but release is what the body so often wants. I know one of the reasons I feel such an affinity for Gunn’s work, and for the work of writers like Frank Bidart, is that early on they made me realize I wasn’t the only one with these feelings, and that these feelings were contemporary, not just the stuff of ancient Greece.
Which I suppose brings me to your second question: What do I suspect attracts me to this juxtaposition? I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to it; rather, it’s who and what I am. Necessarily, then, it’s what I write from. I agree that this seems more the case in the later work. I think that has a lot to do with getting older, and being mystified that the wilderness inside me doesn’t seem to have diminished, which makes for a lot more work for the other part that prizes decorum.
Many, if not all, of the poems in “Wild Is the Wind” suggest, or at least intimate, that there is no attainable permanent balance between our capacities for restraint and release; rather, we’re at the mercy of one or the other at any given time (our so-called free will notwithstanding). Is that a fair reading? Do you prize the wilderness or decorum more? Or is either not rich without the other?
That is indeed a fair reading—of life itself, in my opinion. I think we’re always trying to balance instinct against societal expectation, discipline against desire. I don’t prize either more than the other, because they require each other, in order to be knowable to us. I certainly don’t claim to have invented this thought. I think I first learned in Milton’s “Comus” about the idea that the sacred isn’t knowable without the profane. Or how, in the Shakespeare sonnet, there’s an argument for promiscuity as a means of narrowing down what true devotion might look like. For what it’s worth, I think a successful poem is one in which we’ve temporarily brought release and restraint into calibration, both prosodically and in terms of content.
Would you say, then, that we can interpret the wind in “Wild Is the Wind” as a metaphor for our selves, for our constant buffeting between discipline and desire, sometimes with control (or at least the convincing illusion of it) and other times without any, all of this motion unseen but for how it moves what it passes through? If so, is there a poem in “Wild Is the Wind” that, for you, speaks to or embodies this interpretation the most?
Well, the wind itself, like everything else from the natural world in my poems, is always only itself; I never have in mind that a tree or a fox or a wind stand for anything but what they are. But the wind in the book’s title has to do with the song “Wild Is the Wind”, from which I got that title. In the song, love is compared to the wind, in that it’s unpredictable, sometimes gentle, sometimes not. And a big part of the book is built around the desire to make something sturdy—or maybe a life that’s been spent trying to make something sturdy—out of what is ultimately unpredictable: human emotions, the effects of time, and maybe especially how memory works, in a wind-like way, coming and going, shifting, and again unpredictable. Unreliable.
I suppose the poem that speaks most directly to this is the title poem, how it talks about memory, but also especially how there’s this idea at the end, that the desire to stay with someone should count for something. I like to think I’m speaking there to how unstable intimacy and fidelity can be, and yet how compelled we are to try to fight that instability, if only for now.
One of the many poignant parts of the title poem arrives in the last two lines: “That I keep wanting to stay should / count at least for something. I’m not done with you yet.” That last sentence, especially, is freighted with both tender possibility and ferocious innuendo—an excellent note, some may argue, on which to end the collection. But after “Wild Is the Wind” we find the book’s final poem, “The Sea, the Forest”, one of the collection’s shorter pieces:
Like an argument against keeping the more unshakeable varieties of woundedness inside, where such things maybe best belong, he opened his eyes in the dark. Did you hear that, he asked…I became, all over again, briefly silver, as in what the leaves mean, beneath, I could hear what sounded like waves at first, then like mistakes when, having gathered momentum, they crash wave-like against the shore of everything that a life has stood for. —What, I said.
You’ve been including short poems like this in at least your last half a dozen or so collections—homed-in snatches of experience or meditation that, for what they so deftly reveal and withhold at the same time, bring to mind the works of Dickinson and Tomas Tranströmer, even Louise Bogan. What do poems like “The Sea, the Forest” represent for you, in terms of what they’re meant to convey on their own and how they figure in the sequencing of your collections?
Well, with “Wild Is the Wind”—but maybe ever since “Riding Westward” back in 2006—I’ve noticed the poems lean toward being longer and, not coincidentally, more philosophical, meditative, narrative, depending—modes which require more words, frankly, more space within which to develop and work through an argument. But I’ve always been a fan of the short lyric, and in maybe the last five or six years I’ve come to think that a poem can consist of “mere” gesture, a slight movement of the mind from A to B, equivalent to an eye shifting its gaze, or a body turning slightly in sleep. For me, these gestures are their own form of maybe unresolved argument. They open up an argument’s possibilities.
So, in “The Sea, the Forest,” it consists merely of an exchange of words between two people. But all around and in between the dialogue, such as it is, there’s the suggestion that not everything is meant to be said—or admitted to—and there’s the deliberate decision to deceive, to pretend not to have heard the approach of something potentially disastrous. What does that mean, to withhold what one knows, when it comes to intimacy? Is ignorance better? How much can anyone know of us, truly, if they only know what we tell them? All of that is in that poem, or that’s the idea, even though nothing ostensibly happens.
As for sequencing, yes, the ending of the title poem of the book would be the more resounding, powerful ending, I suppose—but it would also be how so many people expect a book of poems to end. I resist expectation, whenever possible. Meanwhile, the book as a whole is really much more about living within and beside the large questions of a life—it’s not about resolving them. I think “The Sea, the Forest” leaves the reader on a more ambiguous, though maybe no less triumphant, note. It’s also meant to give a feeling of “There’s more to come, Reader, it’s you I’m not yet done with.” That, anyway, is the goal.
I agree with you that ending “Wild Is the Wind” with the title poem would be too predictable, too neat. And I fully endorse resisting expectation whenever possible, especially in poetry. You’ve been resisting expectation as a poet since your first collection, “In the Blood”, which was published in 1992—namely the expectation that as a gay biracial man you should or would write poems that speak primarily to those aspects of your being and experience. You wrote about this expectation at length in your 2016 essay “A Politics of Mere Being”. Since then, have you noticed an increase in this expectation as America has rapidly shifted rightward politically? In his 2013 New Yorker piece on your poetry and then-new collection “Silverchest”, poet Dan Chiasson writes:
“The ordinary markers of identity—[Phillips] is black, he is gay, he grew up in a military family, crisscrossing the country—have at times been hard to find in his work, which suggests that identity abides not in the outer fringe of autobiographical fact but in the inner circle of emotional life. This emphasis on the inchoate private life has a polemical edge.”
Viewing your work from this perspective, have you ever considered your resistance to expectation—your continual exploration and interrogation of our abstract-yet-palpable interiors, as well as the implications or consequences this seeking and asking have on our physical worlds—as political in itself, whether or not you intend it to be? And, in the context of poetry in general, what’s your take on the old maxim that the personal is political and vice versa?
I do think the political is personal, in that what happens in the political arena affects each of us as individuals. Likewise, I think the personal is political, if by personal we mean an assertion of and insistence on our individuality, a refusal to fall in line with what’s assumed to be the general view. And I think it’s in this latter light that my poems could be considered political: They’re an argument, I hope, for the value of—the necessity for—introspection, for plumbing the self as a way of engaging more meaningfully with the world, and it’s this engagement with the world that becomes our contribution to a working society. Have I intended the poems to be political? No. I just write poems. But as I said in the essay you mentioned, I have found that just writing about being a queer man who thinks and loves has been perceived as political—maybe that’s the proof that the personal is political?
The point of my article was to argue against narrowing identity to only one or two things. I’m not just a queer man of color, I’m many things, and I think about many things. Including, for example, morality. I wrote the article because I have long been told that I’m not in fact a queer poet or a poet of color because I don’t write about queer, black things. Is morality not a queer, black thing? My point isn’t to avoid writing responsibly, but to hold oneself accountable for writing responsibly about all of one’s perceptions—and my perceptions are not limited to two facets of a multifaceted self. I don’t know if the expectations have changed as a result of a rightward political shift. I’ve never paid much attention to expectations, when it comes to my writing. Sure, I have a sense of what gets said, but I can’t let that distract me from writing the poems I need to write. Even the refusal to write toward outward expectation seems political, to me. It also involves distancing oneself from things like popularity/celebrity. Of course I hope people will read my poems, but I’m not strategizing for that to happen; it’s another way in which I’m maybe old-fashioned, I don’t know. I feel like the last poet in America who doesn’t have an agent! Give it time, maybe I’ll end up succumbing…
I was unaware that you don’t have an agent. It’s refreshing to learn that, especially nowadays when it seems like every published writer has one (or believes they ought to). So, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: Why have you chosen to go the agent-less route?
And to briefly branch off our discussion of the short lyric, I’ve always found the epigraphs to your collections intriguing, sometimes even flooring—lines from Elizabeth Bishop in 2001’s “The Tether” and Tu Fu in “Silverchest”, for example. The epigraph to “Wild Is the Wind” reads as follows: “more rough, less blue, more lit, and patternless”. Is this your own? What is this epigraph’s function, if you will, in “Wild Is the Wind”? What purpose do epigraphs in general serve in your work?
Ha! Two very different questions. I wouldn’t say that I have chosen the agent-less route; it’s more the case that until maybe five years ago or so I hadn’t heard of poets having agents—what would we need agents for? Or I guess I knew that Robert Pinsky got an agent after he was named Poet Laureate, but I imagined being PL would involve so much more correspondence and business that one would need an agent to keep track of things. Now it seems everyone has an agent, even before they have a first book. Which made me wonder if I should look into the matter, so I asked around, and it mostly seemed the case that poets wanted agents because they had difficulty doing things like keeping a calendar, arranging a flight ticket, remembering where to go and when—things that, to me, are just part of being an organized adult. Since those are things I do all the time, on my own, why should I pay someone else? Another reason for an agent, I was told, was to generate more readings. But I feel happy with the number of invitations I get already. So, I find myself not quite knowing what it is that I would want from an agent. But that isn’t to judge those who do have agents, and I do understand that I’ve been around for a long time; beginning writers might need an agent just as a way to get some notice, to get their “brand” out there, so to speak. I’ve never been much about that. Also, besides being an old-timer, I also think agents are more appropriate for people whose work is more immediately accessible, both in terms of the writing and in terms of subject matter that can serve as a “hook” for a news story; I don’t think my work is marketable in that way.
Epigraphs… I think a good epigraph, for a book, does two things: It speaks to the sensibility or subject matter or mood or psychology of the poems that are to follow; and it becomes part of an active dialogue between two writers, the author of the epigraph and the author of the poems. I especially like this idea of being reminded that we are always in conversation with all of the voices that came before us. It’s a kind of marker, too, of how our contemporary concerns have always been human concerns: Desire, war, sorrow—these have been around forever. The epigraph works, then, as a kind of homage.
But having said that, the epigraph to “Wild Is the Wind” is an exception. It’s an excerpt from the concluding sentence to my poem “Rubicon”, which appears in my book “Speak Low”. In that poem, the words of the epigraph describe the act of forgetting. But I came to use these as the epigraph after I’d had difficulty assembling “Wild Is the Wind” into a book shape that worked for me. After weeks of frustration, to the point where I thought maybe I don’t really have a book here at all yet, I stumbled upon the earlier poem, and the ending words struck me as a directive: I’d been trying too hard to find the perfect shape for the book, to make things seamless, when maybe what I needed was something “more rough, less blue, more lit, and patternless.” Just like that, I knew how the poems should be sequenced, though I can’t explain how or why. And then once I’d picked it, the epigraph seemed as well to speak to the sensibility behind the poems themselves: a newer, more open way of living and of thinking about making a life together with another person.
That’s fantastic—stumbling upon earlier work and extracting a sort of life-giving force from it that both brought “Wild Is the Wind” into its “natural” order and, it seems, reinvigorated you with new perspectives and possibilities. Now I wonder how often we move on from fragments or lines that we don’t realize still want to speak to us?
On a different note, you mentioned beginning writers in the first part of your previous answer. You’ve long been involved with cultivating, if you will, talented younger poets, through your teaching at Washington University in St. Louis and as the Yale Series of Younger Poets judge. Alas, not all writers of your stature (poets or otherwise) are as generous with their time and energy when it comes to fostering their younger counterparts. What draws you to be as nurturing of younger poets and their work—as “accessible”—as you are?
I always save all of my drafts and notebooks, precisely because I find there are lines that didn’t work at the time in a certain context, but then months or years later I’ll find I see them differently, they become a starting point for something new, or they turn out to be the exact thing that’s missing from a current draft. In that sense, I never feel I’ve wasted time when I write, even if I don’t come away with a poem. It’s more like I’ve added to my storehouse of material.
And on to your question about nurturing younger poets… I suppose it’s as simple as that I’m passionate about teaching. I went to grad school for an education degree, in order to teach high school, and I ended up teaching high school Latin for eight years. From the very start, I loved working with that age group, and I loved how, as the only full-time Latin teacher, I usually had the same students for all four years of high school. So I really was part of their growing up. It felt like mentoring in some of the most important senses of the word; not just in terms of Latin language and grammar, but mentoring in terms of how to be a responsible adult, how to wrestle with feelings, how to find one’s way toward oneself. I had teachers like that, as a kid, and I was excited to be such a teacher myself.
Obviously, it’s different now, where I mainly teach graduate students who are, technically speaking, all grown up. But I have the same eagerness to help them find their strengths, on the page and off. Teaching is one way of doing that. Another is serving as a judge so that I can help bring new voices into the literary world; and in terms of the Yale, at least, I consider the job more than just the act of selecting a manuscript, but of offering guidance to the poet in terms of editing and other feedback, to whatever degree it’s wanted. I suppose for me the main point of being alive is to help give further life in a meaningful way—helping future generations seems a big part, I suppose, of my moral purpose. I don’t mean to sound high and mighty when I say that. But if we’re only here for ourselves? I just don’t get that.
Greetings, Translators! We’re thrilled to announce that the application period for TED Translator Passes to TED2019 is now open. The gathering will run from April 15-19, 2019, in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. The TED Translator Pass covers the conference fee, and travel and accommodation expenses. Please note that you must be a TED Translator with at least one set of published subtitles in order to be eligible for a pass. The application deadline is Jan. 6, 2019, at 5:00 p.m. EST, and you can apply here.
The theme of TED2019 is “Bigger than us”. Under this banner, we’ll explore technologies that evoke wonder and tantalize with superhuman powers; mind-bending science that will drive the future as significantly as any politician; the design of cities and other powerful human systems that shape our lives; awe-inspiring, enlightening creativity; and most of all, the incredible possibilities that open up when we ask which ideas are truly worth fighting and living for. We hope you’ll join us!
On November 6, TEDxParis took place in la Ville Lumière at the Grand REX concert hall and cinema. The theme of this year’s gathering—which happened to be the 10th annual TEDxParis conference—was “X”, L’Inconnu (in English: “X”, The Unknown). And speakers and attendees convened to discuss and explore just that: a world in which ever-accelerating science and technology continuously present us with ever-increasing unknowns in all aspects of our lives.
A delegation of six TED Translators, led by Jenny Zurawell and Helena Batt, was among those in attendance, connecting local translators with TEDxParis organizers in order to further build and strengthen the relationship between TED Translators and TEDx organizers in general. The success of this group’s efforts at the gathering was made clear when TEDxParis organizer Michel Lévy Provençal gave a generous shout-out to TED Translators from the stage, screened the new TED Translators promo video, and encouraged audience members to volunteer with TED Translators to help make ideas globally accessible.
When all was said and done, at least one thing was certain: The TED Translators program continues to expand and gain momentum around the world—and it shows no sign of slowing down.
At the end of October, Helena Batt, deputy director of TED Translators, traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, to meet with local translators and TEDx organizers ahead of this year’s TEDxSãoPaulo gathering. The goal was to connect these folks in order to further bolster the thriving Brazilian TED Translators community.
The evening before TEDxSãoPaulo, Helena and a dozen or so translators and organizers convened at Seen restaurant, where they discussed the extremely productive network these two cohorts have built together. As Helena puts it: “The Brazilian TED Translators community—with its consistent collaboration between translators, as well as between translators and TEDx organizers—is a model of success for other translation communities. Vital to this success is the excellent training and mentoring that Brazilian Language Coordinators provide new translators, in addition to their efforts to include TED Translators in local TEDx events.”
TEDxSãoPaulo went down the next day, October 24, and saw TED Translators from numerous parts of Brazil come together to participate in activities and conversations co-organized by the Skoll Foundation. “It was refreshing and inspiring, especially in a country currently quite divided by politics, to witness and be a part of such a warm and synergetic community in action,” Helena says. “TED Translators looks forward to continuing to help develop the Brazilian translation community and to identifying its best practices to apply to other translation communities around the world.”
Poetry and animation may seem an unlikely combination upon first consideration: After all, how does one translate a poem—its language, action, imagery, idiom, emotion, syntax, rhythm—into visuals that are commensurate to what the poem is saying and doing on the page? Well, our friends at TED-Ed have accomplished just that with their new animated poetry series called “There’s a poem for that”.
The series recently launched with the poem “To Make Use of Water” by Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo. It’s a devastating but starkly beautiful lyric elegy spurred by the speaker’s reflections on dislocation, identity, estrangement, distance, home. While she struggles with both the privilege and guilt of leaving behind her family and culture to pursue a life in America (“/stupid girl, atlantic got your tongue/”, the speaker chides herself in the poem’s first section as she recalls Arabic and English words she’s forgotten), she also contemplates and interrogates her new world and the inclusion and exclusion she’s found there.
In TED-Ed’s short video, Elhillo reads “To Make Use of Water” (with accompanying subtitles) while animation with the texture of water, or perhaps watery memory, mirrors the poem’s movements. The images hover, swirl, dissolve (which is the title of one of the poem’s sections) into each other as they give shape to the speaker’s argument with herself. To be sure, “To Make Use of Water” stands on its own as piercing piece of art; but its coupling with animation heightens the poem’s drama of longing, of seeking impossible closure, of trying to reconcile two different selves that are nonetheless inextricably intertwined. The result is an arresting literary-visual work that demands to be watched and heard—and will certainly be relished—by anyone in search of a transformational artistic engagement. Go check it out here.
P.S. After Elhillo’s animated poem, stay tuned for an insightful interview with the poet.
A few days after the Paris gathering, Jenny and Helena met with TED Translators in Barcelona, one of Europe’s many hubs for international students and professionals. The Green Spot restaurant was the venue, and nine translators with quite varied backgrounds and representing an array of languages convened there to brainstorm more effective ways of connecting local translators and identifying potential new Language Coordinators and mentors. In addition, as in Paris, Jenny, Helena and the group analyzed onboarding research and some of the latest TED Translators projects. A thoroughly productive engagement, this gathering underscored that not only is Barcelona’s translation community thriving, it’s also growing its ranks at a steady pace.
Late last month, Jenny Zurawell, the director of TED Translators, and deputy director Helena Batt traveled to Paris for a team-building rendezvous with local TED Translators. Jenny, Helena and half a dozen translators gathered at the renowned Chez Prune restaurant, where they celebrated the local translation community and discussed how to better connect local translators, onboarding best practices for new translators, and recent projects to help develop the TED Translators program.
Of all the positive takeaways from the gathering, perhaps the most significant was that several of the translators had met previously, at TED@BCG 2016 in Paris, and they remain in touch today, organizing smaller meetups and events in the city (such as this translate-a-thon, which was put on by TEDxVaugirardRoad organizer Stéphane Roger). Suffice it to say that the TED Translators community in Paris is alive and well—and only continuing to grow.
Maurício Kakuei Tanaka was born and currently resides in São Paulo, Brazil. He studied English and computer science at university, and he’s now on his way to completing coursework in translation and interpretation. Since joining the TED Translators program in 2017, Maurício has fast become one of the most prolific translators in the Brazilian Portuguese translation community. As we learned in our conversation with him below, his remarkable output derives from his love of languages, learning, and sharing ideas. Read on to get to know Maurício and the flourishing translation community that inspires him and in which he himself is an inspiration.
How did you initially get involved with TED Translators? What drew you to the program?
It all started for me with this talk at TEDxSãoPaulo 2009, in which Bruno Buccalon recounts his discovery of TED and joining the TED Translators program. In March of last year, I watched the video of his talk in one of my classes in the Translation and Interpretation course (English <> Portuguese) at Associação Alumni. That evening, after class, I burned the midnight oil watching TED Talks and researching TED Translators.
I joined the program in April of 2017. Soon afterward, I received an email from TED Translators welcoming me to the team, as well as a delightful email from Maricene Crus, one of the program’s Brazilian Portuguese Language Coordinators (her note opened with this greeting: “Welcome, Maurício! This is not an automatic message sent by a robot. :)”). Maricene’s email further piqued my desire to work with TED Translators, as it reassured me that actual people participate in and curate the program.
My first two translations were published just two days after I joined TED Translators. Today, over a year later, I continue translating TED and TEDx Talks, and I’m more psyched than ever to contribute to such an amazing program!
What was the first talk you translated? Why did you choose this one as your first?
I chose this talk because I was advised to translate a short one to kick off my work with TED Translators. In addition, the interesting content, particularly the poem, drew me in. Although Daniel’s talk is brief, I found it challenging to translate: Not only was this my first time creating subtitles for a video of any kind, but I also had to make several key word choices for the poem in order for it to cohere in Brazilian Portuguese.
What kind(s) of TED Talks do you gravitate toward when picking one to translate?
I generally gravitate toward talks that deal in humanity, personal growth and life experiences. It’s important, too, that I feel a connection with the speaker, since my job is to tell her story in my language.
On a related note, TED Talks are quite sought-after in Brazil, so sometimes it’s difficult for Brazilian Portuguese TED Translators to find a talk to translate. For example, if you were to check the tasks listed in Amara at the time of my writing this, you’d see that no TED Talks await translation into Brazilian Portuguese; they’re all taken!
Can you describe your translation process?
I first watch the entire talk I’m translating with English subtitles. Next, I open the subtitle editor, online English-to-Portuguese and English dictionaries, and online thesauruses in the same languages. I then translate each English subtitle directly into Amara’s editing feature. Depending on my schedule, it may take me a few days to finish translating a talk. So, my process tends to be rather meticulous.
I should add that I also research the talk’s subject and speaker; the facts, places and links that are mentioned; and specific terms—especially in fields like medicine, technology and sports. (I once spent hours translating a short TED-Ed Talk because I had to research certain terms that were unfamiliar to me.)
After I finish a translation I check it for grammar, and make sure it adheres to TED’s style guide and reads naturally in Brazilian Portuguese. Then come some technical steps, like correcting the number of characters in each subtitle and adjusting the subtitles’ reading speeds. Due to the many differences in syntax, cadence and other linguistic variables between English and Brazilian Portuguese, a small subtitle in the former language may translate as a larger subtitle in the latter; this is why I often split and merge subtitles. Finally, I adjust the subtitles’ sync to ensure that each one appears and transitions to the next at the proper time.
When I’m satisfied that a translation is fully complete, I watch the talk again in Amara with simultaneous English and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles. Sometimes I find errors I missed earlier and fix them; but if everything looks good, I submit my translation for review.
It’s evident that language and working with it are passions of yours. How do you engage with language outside of translating? Do you write? Are you an avid reader? Both?
As I mentioned earlier, I currently attend the Translation and Interpretation course (English <> Portuguese) at Associação Alumni, which demands a lot of studying, writing and reading. That’s where most of my time and energy go when I’m not translating. I also watch TV shows, movies and news in English, and participate in translation and interpretation workshops and gatherings; it’s important to me to hone my English-language skills through as many avenues as possible.
This November, I’m going to discuss my work and inspiration as a TED Translator at PROFT, a symposium of translators in São Paulo. I plan to write about the experience, and I hope to publish the piece when it’s done.
Are you currently translating any TED Talks? If so, which ones?
What has been your favorite talk to translate thus far?
Well, I discovered a lost treasure of sorts that’s reigning as my favorite at present: “Programming for unlimited learning”. This talk was delivered at TEDxYouth@Valladolid by 8-year-old Antonio García Vicente, who lives in Valladolid, Spain. Antonio lays out his vision for sharing resources so that everybody has an opportunity to learn and create. He’s a wonderfully bright kid, and he’s inspired me quite a bit for my aforementioned PROFT talk in November.
On a related note, shout out to Brazilian Portuguese Language Coordinator Leonardo Silva for reviewing and approving my translation of Antonio’s talk. Both he and Maricene (whom I mentioned earlier) have reviewed and approved most of my work, and their guidance has been indispensable.
What’s in store for you as a TED Translator in the near future?
I intend to transcribe more English-language talks, as I’ve been doing. Not only is this a great way to improve my English skills, but it also affords me the chance to have my work reviewed by TED Translators of different nationalities. Perhaps, though, the most interesting aspect of transcribing English talks, to me, is that I’m a starting point, if you will, for translations of the same talks in the over 100 languages TED Translators work in.
I also plan to keep searching for those “lost-treasure” talks—fantastic talks like Antonio García Vicente’s that have yet to be translated. After I “rescue” such talks with my translations, it’s so satisfying to see their viewership skyrocket.
Is there anything you’d like to add in closing?
The TED Translators program has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. I’m immensely grateful to TED for accepting me as a translator and for enabling me to spread amazing ideas in Brazilian Portuguese. I’m honored and proud to be a TED Translator!
In addition, I want to extend a big thank-you to the Brazilian Portuguese Language Coordinators who have reviewed my translations and provided me with very detailed and useful feedback. I’ve learned so much from these generous folks, and their outstanding review and approval work makes them essential to the continued success of the Brazilian TED Translators community.
Good news, TED Translators: We’re now accepting applications for TED Translator passes to TEDSummit 2019! As you may already know, TEDSummit is an event that brings together TED’s various communities under a common theme. The theme for 2019? “A community beyond borders”. Attendees will include TED Translators like yourselves, TEDx organizers, TED Fellows, over 150 previous TED Speakers, and others. What’s more, TEDSummit 2019 is set to feature a fusion of workshops, community brainstorming sessions, discussions, performances, outdoor activities and an eclectic program of mainstage talks—all in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland.
So, what does a TED Translator pass get you? It covers the conference fee, as well as travel and accommodation expenses. In order to be eligible for a pass, you must be a TED Translator with at least five published subtitles. TEDSummit 2019 will take place July 21-25, 2019, but all accepted translators are required to attend pre-conference activities that begin on July 19.
You can find the application here. Please note that the submission deadline is November 1, 2018. Late submissions will not be reviewed.
Dr. Essam Daod is a Palestinian psychiatrist, psychotherapist and medical doctor who currently resides in Haifa, Israel. This year, he became the first-ever Palestinian citizen of Israel inducted into the TED Fellows program. Also a longtime human rights activist, Essam and his wife, Maria Jammal, traveled to the Greek island of Lesvos in late 2015 to join other aid workers there in providing humanitarian relief to Syrian refugees arriving by sea after fleeing their country’s brutal civil war. What he and Maria encountered on this trip drastically changed the trajectory of their lives and work: death, suffering, despair, dehumanization—every terrible consequence that war—which is “the total failure of the human spirit,” as veteran Middle East and war correspondent Robert Fisk has put it—inevitably produces. (One of Essam’s first interactions with refugees on Lesvos found him trying in vain to resuscitate a woman who had drowned while trapped facedown in an overcrowded, flooded dinghy.)
Yet, amid rafts and ships frequently capsizing and corpses of all ages washing up on the beach, Essam relentlessly spent several weeks rescuing refugees at sea, administering medical aid on the shore and treating, when he could, the psychological traumas sustained by the newly arrived. Maria, meanwhile, tirelessly devoted herself to rehabilitating refugees in the island’s hospitals and camps.
Back in Haifa after their initial trip to Lesvos, Essam and Maria realized what was (and still is) severely lacking in humanitarian relief for refugees: comprehensive mental health treatment. The couple says that despite the fact that psychological trauma is inherent to becoming and living as a refugee, mental health treatment remains marginalized, even stigmatized, in humanitarian work in crisis zones. That crucial realization catalyzed Essam and Maria’s decision to start Humanity Crew, an international aid organization that, as its website states, “deploy[s] mental health and psychosocial support to displaced populations in order to improve their mental health and wellbeing, to restore order in their lives, and to prevent further psychological escalation.” For almost three years now, Humanity Crew—which consists of nearly a dozen trained professionals, including Essam and Maria, as well as hundreds of qualified volunteers—has been carrying out its mission on the various frontlines of the refugee plight in Europe, from rescue boats and shorelines to hospitals and camps. And the organization has achieved considerable results by any measure: According to its website, Humanity Crew has provided “over 26,000 hours of mental health support to an estimate of over 10,000 refugees.”
Earlier this year, at TED2018, Essam delivered a powerful, poignant, undeniably urgent talk— “How we can bring mental health support to refugees”—that not only highlights Humanity Crew and its work, but also gives us a sobering glimpse into the magnitude of the refugee crisis in Europe and how extremely vital mental health treatment is to mitigating the psychic toll this catastrophe takes on its victims. Certainly, Essam and Humanity Crew’s extraordinary efforts are reason enough for us to want to talk in depth with him about how he and his colleagues are tackling psychological trauma among refugees; but there’s also an element of translation intrinsic in their work that might not immediately reveal itself to us, but which we’d all be the better for discerning and understanding: the translation of trauma into empowerment. Essam was generous enough to discuss all of this and more with us over email. Check out our conversation below.
Before founding Humanity Crew, you and your wife, Maria, traveled to Lesvos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, in order to provide aid (medical aid, in your case) to Syrian refugees arriving there after desperate, treacherous journeys from Turkey. Although words cannot fully convey the horror you witnessed and tried to ameliorate on the island’s shore, can you recount—for those of us who haven’t experienced the refugee crisis first-hand—some of your initial encounters with refugees on Lesvos?
Many stories come to mind whenever I’m asked about that early trip to Lesvos, but this is the first time—and I don’t know why—that the question has elicited my memory of an exchange I witnessed between an elderly Syrian man who had just been rescued from a refugee boat and a young European man who was working at a clothes-distribution station on the shore. The Syrian man was about 70 years old, shivering and practically begging the European man, who was about 20, for a different dry jacket because the one he’d been given was a woman’s jacket—which humiliated the elderly man. The young man refused the request, saying, “This is no time for choosing what you like; just take the jacket and say ‘thank you.’” The Syrian man returned the dry jacket and took back the soaked one he’d traveled in. He put it on and told the young man in Arabic, “I may have lost my house, but I haven’t lost my dignity.”
I think this interaction sticks with me because it shows how both refugees and those who help them are traumatized by what they experience. I could tell that the young man had a big heart and was doing the best he could with what little training he might have had, but he was also exhausted and shocked by everything happening around him and unprepared to negotiate the cultural gap between the Syrian man and himself; in other words, the young man was too traumatized to empathize with the elderly man. But perhaps more poignant for me was the Syrian man’s ability to maintain his amour propre during this exchange—especially after all he’d endured to reach Lesvos.
How did this direct engagement with refugees’ extreme traumas affect you (or translate for you)?
Overall, the engagement was, and remains, more so with the refugees themselves rather than their traumas. Of course Humanity Crew focuses on mitigating each person’s respective traumas, but we regard the refugees first and foremost as people, not tragedies. That said, I think my interactions with refugees, whether at sea or on the beach or in a camp, are the kind that rarely occur in everyday life: meetings between two human beings without any shields or concerns about identity; encounters based on pure empathy. These are not easy engagements, to be sure, but I think each one has made me a better person.
In an interview with Haaretz, you said that as vital as the medical aid you were providing on the shoreline was, Maria’s work at the time “was far more significant.” Can you describe what she was doing, as well as how she and her tireless efforts helped to catalyze the creation of Humanity Crew?
About a week after we returned home to Haifa from our first mission on Lesvos, Maria and I were sharing stories about our time in Greece with a few friends. At some point, I showed them a widely published newspaper picture of a child whom I had resuscitated after a large shipwreck on October 28, 2015. Maria looked at the photo and said, “This is Ahmed.” That was the first time I could put a name to any of the refugees I’d helped. Maria went on to tell us how Ahmed had arrived at the hospital in a catatonic state due to trauma: He barely reacted when an IV was inserted into his hand; doctors had to close his eyes at night to prevent them from getting too dry and so hopefully he could sleep. Maria slept beside Ahmed for three days, hugging and gently talking to him in Arabic. After he finally started moving again, he took Maria’s hand, led her to the glass door of the hospital room, put his hand against the pane and said in Arabic, “I want to go home.” I started crying once I heard this, because I realized right then that, despite my efforts to rescue refugees, I had neglected their psyches, their souls; yes, I’d provided lifesaving CPR, but I hadn’t done anything to address the refugees’ psychological traumas. So, both Maria’s story and her work on Lesvos woke me up to the fact that refugees need mental health treatment as urgently as they need medical aid; I was also reminded that I’m not only a medical doctor, but a psychiatrist too. This epiphany, if you will, happened on November 7, 2015; on November 28, Humanity Crew sent its first delegation of therapists to Greece. This is why I say that Humanity Crew is the spirit of Maria.
Why did you and Maria choose to name your organization Humanity Crew?
We wanted a name that did not identify in any way with race, religion or politics—a welcoming name that would not make refugees or volunteers feel uncomfortable or exploited.
Humanity Crew’s website states that the organization’s mission is “to translate trauma and suffering to healing and resilience.” What kinds of mental health treatments does Humanity Crew utilize to accomplish this translation?
The success of this translation doesn’t depend so much on the types of treatments we provide as it does on how, where and when we provide them. The traumas that refugees endure are most responsive to treatment when they’re addressed as soon as possible, whether on rescue boats, on the shore or early in the camps. In these small, crucial timeframes, we can both prevent post-traumatic stress disorder and transform traumas into empowering experiences. The longer mental health treatment is delayed, however, the more embedded traumas become and the more at risk refugees are of developing PTSD and other mental health issues.
In your talk at TED2018, you tell the story of Omar, a 5-year-old Syrian boy, and the emergency intervention you administered to him. What are some of the important, or even necessary, differences between how you approach child refugees and how you approach adult refugees?
Children’s brains are still developing, which gives them much more plasticity than adults’ brains. This allows for not just the prevention or reduction of trauma in kids, but also the opportunity to transform their traumas into empowering experiences. But, as with Omar, it’s vital to treat child refugees as soon as possible, before trauma can permanently and immutably take root in their psyches.
Adults are a different story. Their brains are fully developed and absorb the traumas of their journeys wholesale. As with child refugees, time is of the essence when treating adult refugees, but interventions with the latter focus more so on assisting these women and men process their traumas in ways that attenuate the inevitable psychological damage that refugees sustain.
In the end, whether I’m treating a child or an adult, the goal is to maximize the individual’s capacity to cope with the trauma they’ve experienced.
I believe the term “mother tongue” speaks for itself: What else in the world can comfort us in times of intense crisis as much as our mothers’ words, the language or languages we’ve heard since birth? In addition, research has demonstrated that psychosocial intervention in the mother tongue of the patient is four times more effective than an intervention administered in a foreign language or through a translator.
Many people don’t realize that traveling across seas on dilapidated, overcrowded rafts and boats is only one part of the trauma inflicted upon refugees in their migrations. Why are the periods before and after the sea journey often their own nightmares?
More often than not, refugees are fleeing countries destroyed by war; they’ve witnessed and endured onslaughts of some of the worst acts human beings can commit against each other: indiscriminate bombing and shelling, executions, torture, rape, slavery. Compounding the nearly indescribable psychological distress refugees suffer as a result of the carnage in their countries is the loss of their homes, families, friends, work, finances, education—all of the “normal” things that anchor us and provide us a solid sense of self—in essence, their lives as they know them. And refugees are risking their lives to leave their countries not because they want to, but because they’ve lost everything and fleeing to Greece or other European nations is their only chance to possibly rebuild their lives.
Then, of course, comes the nightmare of arranging and making the sea journey. This involves negotiating exorbitant costs with shady smugglers who typically lie about the ease of the trip and provide refugees with fake, non-buoyant life vests. Then come the rubber dinghies so flimsy and overcrowded that water starts entering the rafts right after they’re seaborne, forcing some refugees to toss their luggage into the sea to reduce weight, while others will actually get into the water and hang on to the sides of the rafts to lighten the load. Sometimes, the dinghies are so crammed that passengers can barely move an inch and people in the middle of the rafts end up trapped face-down in the accumulated water and drown. Or the rafts, as with the overcrowded, unseaworthy boats and ships refugees travel on too, capsize and sink because these vessels simply cannot handle sailing when over capacity. This is usually when we witness refugees drowning by the hundreds.
Those refugees who are lucky enough to reach shore and survive then must confront segregation and isolation in ramshackle camps where their lives are stripped of identity and dignity: Obtaining citizenship and employment, for example, is almost impossible for refugees who land in Europe. These grave circumstances tend to feed on and fuel themselves, leading to massive poverty, and hatred, extremism and violence directed against or by refugees. Our mission at Humanity Crew is to prevent, as much as we can, refugees from falling into such socioeconomic and -political black holes.
Many people are also unaware that a considerable number of refugees trying to get to Europe belonged to the middle and upper-middle classes in their home countries. You’ve rescued and treated a lot of such individuals. What have you learned from them about their circumstances? What are some of their stories?
I’ve learnt that war does not distinguish between rich and poor. Moreover, the fact that somebody belongs to the middle- or upper-class doesn’t afford them any more of a right to pursue survival and protect their family than someone who belongs to the lower class. The stories told to me by refugees I’ve treated are very similar, regardless of their previous class affiliations. And they could just as well be my stories or yours—stories, really, of people who want only to live in peace, comfort and security.
Why have Humanity Crew’s operations in both Lesvos and Thessaloniki, Greece, been on pause since last year?
Sadly, finding funding to support our kind of humanitarian work is extremely difficult; even in the realm of philanthropy, mental health is largely marginalized. Because of a lack of funding, we had to make the difficult decision to close down our operations in Lesvos and Thessaloniki late last year.
On a positive note, our Athens operation has remained open and has expanded to include seven different locations throughout the city. We’ve also launched our online clinic and our training program, both of which extend Humanity Crew’s work beyond our Athens sites.
You and Humanity Crew are proof that ordinary people, people outside of governmental geopolitics, can do something about the refugee crisis—and something positive at that. From your perspective, then, how can people the world over gain a better understanding of the crisis, and what can they do to alleviate it?
Close your eyes and imagine you and all the people you love fleeing bombs, snipers, summary executions, torture, rape, slavery—all the horrors of war I mentioned earlier. Imagine then having to make a quite potentially fatal sea crossing like those I described above—only to reach shore safely and come face to face with hostile people, people who fear you’re a terrorist or a criminal or an economic threat, people who would rather push you back to your death. Now, contrast this response to that of Humanity Crew: We’re a small but dedicated group who will greet you with hugs, comfort, support, and a commitment to helping you regain your dignity and humanity. So, decide who you want to be in this crisis: the one who turns desperate people back to their deaths, or the one who embraces and shelters them?
Greetings, TED Translators and readers alike! We’re thrilled to share with you our new TED Translators video short, which we produced to help spread the word about the TED Translators program even farther and wider around the world. We’re always seeking new volunteers to join us in translating TED Talks into over 100 languages, and we hope the video above—which features several of our most prolific TED Translators from countries like Brazil, Italy, Tanzania and more—will inspire you to start translating your own favorite talks with us. Enjoy!
(Editor’s note: To produce this video, we posted a call on Facebook for TED Translators to submit clips of themselves in their home countries highlighting the program and their work with us. We were not able to include all of the submissions in the final cut, but we’ve posted a compilation of those that do not appear in the main video below.)
At TED2018, TED Fellow and journalist Olga Yurkova delivered a talk that unflinchingly addressed the media scourge of fake news and how it’s spreading misinformation in Ukraine. She also discussed how we can combat this critical problem, pointing to StopFake.org, the independent fact-checking organization she cofounded, as one powerful antidote available to us. Here at TED Translators, we thought it would be interesting to speak with the Ukrainian translators who subtitled and reviewed Olga’s talk. Read on to meet Marta Demkiv and Mila Arseniuk, and get their perspectives on the translation process, fake news in Ukraine, the Ukrainian translation community, and more.
Why did you decide to translate this particular talk?
Marta: I should start with the fact that I’m currently obtaining my master’s degree in English-Ukrainian translation, and translating TED Talks was part of my assigned studies. I sought out what I thought were timely talks that fell within my sphere of interests, and Olga’s was one of them: She discusses a very urgent problem in Ukraine (and much of the rest of the world too)—fake news—and I wanted to share her perspective and efforts to curb the dissemination of fake news with as many folks as I could.
Mila: Because of its relevance to our times. Of course, fake news is not a new problem, but it’s proliferated at an alarming rate over the past few years, especially in Ukraine—and there’s little sign of this spread stopping anytime soon. We now live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information, much of which distorts or obscures truth and facts, often with detrimental social and political consequences; so it’s vital that we teach ourselves to identify and weed out fake news (as StopFake.org does) in order to stay adequately informed.
Can you describe your translation process for this talk? How did you begin, and what were the steps that followed?
Marta: I began by watching Olga’s talk several times to familiarize myself with her cadence, tone, accent, etc. Then, line by line, I rendered a translation. Every five minutes, I played back the talk to check the subtitles’ accuracy and readability. The final step was revision, after which I sent the subtitled talk to an LC for review.
Mila: As the reviewer of Marta’s subtitles, my work started when I saw that a Ukrainian-language review was needed for Olga’s talk. So, Marta completed the main translation, and I was essentially her editor.
Were there any words or phrases in the talk that were difficult to translate into Ukrainian? How did you go about finding approximate translations for these?
Marta: Actually, for me, the most difficult aspect of translating Olga’s talk was sticking to the 40-character limit for each line. There were certain points where 40 characters were not enough to fully convey what Olga said. In these cases, I had to opt for the shortest and most striking target equivalent.
Mila: I didn’t encounter any translation difficulties during my review. Some English words that might seem tricky, like “fake” or “post-truth,” are actually common in Ukrainian and translate easily. I personally find talks by native English speakers much more challenging to translate.
The subject matter and tone of Olga’s talk are clearly serious and urgent. Did you have to make certain word or phrase choices in Ukrainian to maintain the talk’s tenor?
Marta: Certainly. With subtitles, a translator has only words at her disposal, and those words can’t communicate emotions displayed through gestures and intonation. So in the instances when Olga emphasized the gravity of her talk’s subject with a motion or shift in tone, I had to make sure the words surrounding these non-verbal stresses reflected the expressed emotions as closely as possible.
Mila: I agree: The bane of fake news in Ukraine is clearly serious and urgent. Because most Ukrainians already realize this, though, no special words, phrases or “tricks” were needed to preserve the talk’s tenor.
On a different note, what is the Ukrainian TED Translator community like? What has it been like to work with other volunteers?
Marta: Well, I’m quite new to the TED Translators community, so I’m still familiarizing myself with it. That said, I really enjoy translating TED Talks. The feeling I get when I see my subtitles published on-screen is indescribable. I will definitely translate more talks in the future!
Mila: Ukraine has a large, inspiring community of TED volunteers, and TED Translators is a steadily growing part of it: I see Ukrainian subtitles added to talks on an almost-daily basis; I’ve worked with TEDxKyiv since 2014; and Khrystyna Romashko, a Ukrainian LC, has either translated, reviewed or transcribed 984 talks so far! (She and I live in Lviv and Kyiv, respectively, and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person soon.)
Finally, can you tell us a bit about yourselves? What are your passions outside of translating?
Marta: Outside of translating, I’m a very active person: I enjoy skiing, swimming, cycling, traveling. When I’m home, I can read for hours (which helps hone my English) or I’ll seek out interesting films to watch. Oh, and I watch TED Talks quite often too.
Mila: I work in communications for WWF Ukraine. In this capacity, I help people understand the importance of rare species to Earth’s ecosystems and why conservation of brown bears, lynxes, sturgeons and other endangered species in Ukraine is vital to maintaining an ecological balance. Because of the passion I have for this work, for the environment, I try to translate TED Talks that deal in ecology, sustainable consumption, renewable resources, etc.
Also, thanks to my dad’s love of the game, I’m a huge fan of ice hockey. In fact, part of my planning for holiday always involves finding out if there will be a game I can attend wherever I might be going. If there isn’t one that fits my schedule, I don’t mind rearranging my plans so I can catch a game while traveling. It’s no surprise, then, that I own lots of hockey-related souvenirs; some of them have even been given to me by friends who picked them up for me during their own holidays.
21 translators (ranging from a father and his two children to a 14-year-old student to a translator with a casted broken foot) traveled from various parts of South Korea (including Jeju Island) to participate. In addition to meeting and getting to know each other, the attendees shared and discussed their respective TED Translators experiences and knowledge, as well as their ongoing efforts to build translation communities where they live. “We all believe in the power of translation to communicate important ideas around the world regardless of the distances and boundaries between people,” JY said, “and so we’re thrilled to contribute as TED Translators to the strengthening of the global translation community—whether through gatherings like this or our individual translations.”
Given such energy and enthusiasm, it’s safe to say we can look forward to the continued growth of TED Translators in South Korea.
Near the end of last month, Tomoyuki Suzuki, one of 15 TED Translators who attended TED2018 in April, organized and put on a translator gathering in his home country of Japan. The one-day event, which went down in Tokyo, included a hands-on translation workshop, an open-discussion session and time for the translators to meet and get to know each other. While most of the attendees were locals, one translator from the north of Japan (1,000 kilometers away) and another who had temporarily returned to the country from the U.S., joined the participants.
The translation workshop was divided into two parts. In the first, Tom briefed the audience on TED2018, highlighting with photos some of the conference’s significant talks and developments. “My goal was to expose the translators in attendance to the remarkable array of activities and inspiration on offer at TED conferences,” Tom says. “I also wanted to convey the intimacy of watching and listening to TED Talks in person, as well as the wonderful opportunity such conferences afford TED Translators from around the world to meet and build translation communities face-to-face.” The workshop then shifted into a study session whose aim was improving translation quality.
Tom’s first-draft translation of the initial four minutes of Steven Pinker’s talk at TED2018, “Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers”, was used for the workshop’s exercise. The participants split into groups of three and created a spreadsheet to collectively track changes, corrections, edits, etc. in their reviews of Tom’s translation. Active discussions abounded among the trios as they worked. Toward the end of the workshop, the groups shared their insights into the review process. Kazunori Akashi, one of the attendees, had this to say: “I was intrigued to learn that each translator has their own preferred method for reviewing. For example, while one may begin the process by simply watching the talk under review, another translator may start by researching and fact-checking the talk’s content. This exchange of reviewing processes and philosophies was one of the many positive and productive results of this event.”
After the workshop wrapped up, everybody headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner and then to a bar for libations and further conversation. Old and new acquaintances alike connected, and the gathering wound down with a palpable inspirational energy in the air. All of the translators agreed that this local event (along with similar ones in Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka throughout the year) was a valuable contribution to the continual building and strengthening of the Japanese translation community.
On Saturday, April 14, the inaugural TEDxDrewUniversity conference went down at Drew University in Madison, NJ, under the banner of Life as We Don’t Know It. Six diverse, insightful, animated speakers and roughly 100 attendees gathered in the university’s concert hall to explore a panoply of contemporary ideas and concepts that often seem black-and-white to us, but upon closer examination reveal themselves to be more so gray areas from which we can potentially extract groundbreaking, progressive concepts and ideas we’ve yet to imagine. TEDxDrewUniversity was organized by a remarkably affable and efficient team of Drew students led by TED Translator Gabriel Lima. Hosting duties were carried out by The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief, the incomparable Robert Franek, who both delivered a spirited welcome to the audience and provided the speakers with equally lively introductions.
The first session of the conference took place in the late morning and featured three speakers: Michael DePalma, an entrepreneur and a health technologist; Dr. Kate Ott, a writer and an associate professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew University Theological School (also known as the Theo School); and Olivia Blondheim, a marine biologist and an ocean conservationist currently studying biology and Spanish at Drew.
Diving right into one of the most urgent problems almost all of us face today—data privacy—Michael’s talk proposed that we undertake grassroots measures to ensure that each of us exercises complete control over her digital data—control that’s founded on what Michael called “decentralization with order,” which would effectively replace the data-handling middlemen we currently rely on with “smart contracts” and crypto-currencies.
Dr. Ott followed Michael with a talk that addressed present women’s-rights movements (like metoo.), particularly in light of the recent, continuing revelations of sexual assault and harassment allegedly committed against women by a seemingly endless litany of famous, high-profile, influential men. Her call for new forms of women’s empowerment that are rooted in a rebalancing of gender power dynamics in all spheres of life could not come at a more necessary time.
Before the midday lunch break, Olivia Blondheim directed our attention to the health of our oceans’ ecosystems, warning that many of the world’s fisheries could collapse by the year 2050 if we don’t drastically change how we extract and consume our oceans’ resources. She also discussed how we can observe the behaviors of sea creatures like pyrosomes to determine the status of our oceans’ well-being.
After a leisurely catered lunch, everybody reassembled in the concert hall for the conference’s second session. Before the next speaker took the stage, the audience was treated to an excellent a capella choir set by a group of Drew students—a performance that segued nicely into the fourth talk.
“The New-Age African Artist”: That’s what Cynthia Amoah, a spoken-word poet-performer and writer, delineated through an impassioned mix of her own poems and stories that touched on her dual identities (Cynthia has spent much of her life in the U.S., but she’s originally from Ghana, West Africa), her journey to poetry, and the responsibility of artists like herself to engage with subjects such as identity, race, gender and social justice. In this day and age, as we continue to witness governments and elites wage assault after assault on our civil liberties and those of countless individuals worldwide, it’s more vital than ever that we listen to voices like Cynthia’s—voices demanding a holistic humanism to serve as an antidote to the dangerous policies that would rather have us fall in line behind racism, xenophobia, sexism, war-mongering, anti-intellectualism and a bevy of other destructive ideologies.
Educator, consultant and nonprofit leader Ulcca Joshi Hansen hit the stage next to highlight and advocate for “student-centered learning experiences that celebrate and maximize the unique potential of individual children regardless of their background, circumstances, physical or cognitive differences.” She homed in on the need for more schools that focus on imbuing students with a strong sense of belonging and purpose, as well as on the necessity of providing young people with viable ways to connect with their communities.
Finally, to cap off the first annual TEDxDrewUniversity conference, Ross Michaels, a music producer, artist manager and an original founder and the co-president of Park Avenue Artists, gave an animated, witty, unflinching talk about trusting our gut instincts and following them fearlessly to our goals. “Feeling is the human business,” Ross emphasized, as he shared several candid anecdotes about the key experiences in his life that led him to this realization—and eventually to become a cultivator and curator of feeling through music. (One of these stories involved a rough breakup and the restorative power of the raw emotion expressed in Phil Collins’ iconic song “In the Air Tonight”.) “Feel every situation you find yourself in,” Ross said, “and don’t discard what you intuit as your true path, no matter who tries to dissuade you.” Excellent advice, especially now, when so many voices and distractions from every direction make it easier than ever for us to submit to the status quo.
And an excellent note on which to close a conference that was a resounding success. The novel ideas put forth by the speakers brought into clearer resolution many important gray areas in our lives, and the departing audience was undeniably invigorated to reexamine the human experience through more perceptive lenses. Here’s to building on this success at next year’s gathering!
On April 10, TED2018 kicked off in beautiful Vancouver, BC, under the banner of The Age of Amazement. More than 2,000 attendees from 57 countries converged on the city for five days of, well, amazing talks from over 100 speakers and performers. Here are just a few of those who took to the stage: renowned psychologist Steven Pinker; Diane Wolk-Rogers, a veteran Florida public-school teacher and LGBTQAI activist who’s taught since 2001 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, where a horrific mass shooting occurred on February 14; and Yasin Kakande, an investigative journalist and writer who reports on human rights abuses against migrant workers in the Middle East, and who was forced to deliver a brief but impassioned message via video after the status of his asylum application in the U.S. prevented him from traveling to TED2018.
We here at TED Translators sent our own delegation of translators and staff to the conference in order to represent their respective language communities and highlight the vast diversity of our program, as well as to give TED Translators more visibility overall. Along with watching live talks and participating in the panoply of activities on offer at TED2018, the translators got to connect with each other at several TED Translators gatherings and outings. They also met with members of TED’s mobile and editorial teams to explore new ways to cultivate a larger international audience together. At the translators’ final meetup, they exchanged ideas on development and translator recruitment in their individual language communities.
And, lest we forget: True to its Age of Amazement theme, TED2018 introduced the world to TED’s bold new initiative for turning revolutionary ideas into reality, The Audacious Project. The project, as you may know, features various innovative and far-reaching ventures to mitigate or solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems: climate change, lack of access to adequate healthcare, species depletion and extinction, for example. The TED Translators team hosted a Facebook viewing of The Audacious Project’s unveiling so that our members abroad could watch a livestream of the Audacious Session from wherever they happened to be. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see the amazing advances The Audacious Project will yield around the globe. And we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next year, at TED2019.
In our final TED Translators at TED2018 spotlight, we talk to Arabic TED Translator Hany Eldalees. As some of you may remember from this post, Hany was unable to attend TED2018 because the Canadian government denied him a visa. However, that won’t stop us from bringing you a brief but illuminating conversation with Hany that conveys (as his responses prove) what a brilliant, dedicated translator and individual he is. See for yourself below.
How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?
I started my journey with TED Translators in early 2015. But I was familiar with TED Talks before then, and I well understood their power to educate viewers on an enormous array of subjects. Because I believe that even a small idea can change a person’s life positively, and because I want to contribute to the spread of ideas which empower people, it made perfect sense to me to begin translating into Arabic the talks I find most insightful, compelling, inspiring, etc., in order to make them accessible to a larger Arabic-speaking audience. And this continues to be my mission with TED Translators.
Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?
I can’t pin down just one talk. That said, three-dimensional printing fascinates me, so I’ve translated a number of TED Talks related to that. 3D printing enables the relatively quick production of a variety of extremely useful objects, like medical equipment and musical instruments; and, because it’s a somewhat new and rapidly evolving “industry,” those folks working in it are quite free to share and enhance their designs with each other around the world. Given this, 3D printing has the potential to be even more of a revolutionary development than it’s been to date.
What do you do when you’re not busy translating?
My previous answer may make this one obvious, but I love building 3D models—ships, cars, buildings—especially because, as a model takes shape in my hand, I gain more appreciation for the mechanical or architectural brilliance it contains. I also love reading.
The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?
I’d like more people to know about the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII)in Qatar, the first institution of its kind in the Arabian Gulf region and where I earned my master’s degree in audiovisual translation (the first degree of its kind in the Arab world). Also offering a master’s in translation studies, TII was founded by Dr. Amal Al-Malki, who, after becoming Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation, transferred TII to the university and established it as the core of the CHSS. TII, I believe, is doing much to grow and strengthen the Arab world’s translation and interpreting communities, and I encourage everybody who reads this interview to learn more about the institute and the excellent work being done there (and even to visit, if you can!).
TED2018 got under way in Vancouver, BC, earlier this week, and speakers and attendees there have been immersing themselves in amazing ideas for a few days now. TED Translators sent a contingent of remarkable folks (pictured above) from around the world to represent the TED translation community at the conference. Over the next week, we’ll bring you more in-depth coverage of TED2018 and TED Translators’ activities there, so stay tuned!
This week’s TED Translators at TED2018 feature turns the spotlight on Argentinian TED Translator Analia Padin. Read on to learn more about why she can’t stop translating, how to deliver an artful TED Talk, a few of Argentina’s natural wonders and more.
How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?
I started translating with TED in the summer of 2017. I was drawn to TED Translators for a combination of reasons: I love learning and exploring new ideas, I love languages and translating, and I wanted to volunteer for a good cause; TED allows me to do all of these, so it’s perfect for me.
What keeps me going? I can’t really stop! Translating TED Talks has become a sort of “happy place” for me, and I can’t imagine not doing it. I take great satisfaction in researching a topic, finding the best word, polishing a translation until it’s just right and helping out with the extraordinary amount of work we have to do. I’m extremely proud to be part of the TED Translators team. Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?
One of my favorites so far is “His name was Nikola Tesla”, by physicist and storyteller Hadar Lazar. It’s quite a poetic talk, and Hadar is very expressive onstage—a great example of how you can artfully talk about science. What do you do when you’re not busy translating?
When I’m not translating (or working, or spending time with my family), I like to hone my language skills with books and films in different languages. Also, I started playing piano 18 months ago and I try to practice as much as I can. The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?
Argentina is an amazing country with a variety of landscapes: subtropical forests; arid mountains; fertile, grassy plains; and nearly 5,000 kilometers of Atlantic coastline.
One of the most stunning places to visit is Los Glaciares National Park in the Patagonia region, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty. Nestled in the Andes mountain range, the park’s name stems from the fact that roughly half its surface is covered by glaciers and multiple glacial lakes, including Argentino Lake, which, with a surface area of 1,415 square kilometers, is the largest freshwater lake in Argentina. Some of the glaciers are prone to calving into the icy, milky waters of the lake, creating spectacular splashes and floating icebergs. Perhaps the most striking site in the park is the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. At 60 meters tall and with an approximate area of 200 square meters, it is almost as big as Buenos Aires. What makes this glacier so special, though, is not so much its size (it’s not even the largest in the park) as the fact that it’s still growing and expanding, while most glaciers in the world are shrinking due to global warming. Glaciologists continue to debate the reason for this. What’s more, Perito Moreno possesses one of the most awesome natural phenomena on Earth. As it advances, it forms a dam that blocks a narrow channel in Argentino Lake called Brazo Rico, cutting off this passage from the rest of the lake. This obstruction causes Brazo Rico to fill with water produced by other glacial melting and from various rivers, to the point where the channel rises nearly 30 meters above the lake’s water level. The buildup of water in Brazo Rico creates enormous pressure that pushes against Perito Moreno, and gradually melts and carves a passage through the glacier to Argentino Lake. This process not only balances the water levels on both sides of the glacier, but it also forms Perito Moreno’s famous ice bridge and can cause this structure to rupture roughly every four to five years (though sometimes more often), when the bridge becomes too thin to support its own weight. The most recent rupture occurred on March 12 of this year, but it couldn’t be witnessed because it came crashing down at night. Prior to that, Perito Moreno last ruptured in March 2016, and the event was broadcast on live TV. Quite an amazing sight, especially if you’re lucky enough to catch it in person.
On March 17, TEDxCampinas went down near the city of São Paulo, Brazil, at the Municipal Theater José Castro Mendes. The sold-out event was organized by veteran TED Translator and TED2017 Translator delegate Mario Gioto, and had as its theme O Presente do Amanhã (The Gift of Tomorrow). Over 700 attendees (including a number of TED Translators) converged on the theater to hear talks by a dozen speakers from all over the country. One of these speakers, Daniel Dias, a Brazilian world-record-holding paralympian, moved the audience to a standing ovation with his talk. Jenny Zurawell and Helene Batt, TED Translators’ director and deputy director, respectively, also took to the stage to represent the TED Translators program and highlight some of its recent achievements. TED Translators received a hearty round of applause when Jenny and Helene announced that Brazilian TED Translators have collectively translated over 6,000 talks to date.
The day after TEDxCampinas, 25 TED Translators gathered for a workshop at the iconic KAÁ Restaurant in central São Paulo. The participants, who ranged from new to veteran translators to Language Coordinators, broke into small groups to discuss a range of issues related to TED, TED Translators and ideas worth spreading throughout Brazil. A few of the key topics: various ways to motivate fellow volunteers; how to encourage more review-task completions; and how to elevate translation quality overall. Following the workshop the translators headed to Ibirapuera Park, where some continued their discussions and others relaxed or played games. The day came to a close as the sun set over São Paulo and a palpable energy filled the air—an energy which made clear that the weekend’s events were just the start of bigger future developments in the Brazilian Portuguese translation community.
Our third installment of TED Translators at TED2018 features Japanese TED Translator Tomoyuki Suzuki. Among other things, he discusses with us the satisfaction that translation brings him, a Japanese professor who’s navigating new frontiers in mathematics and the frightening possibility of “the singularity.”
How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?
It’s been over four years since the thrill of discovering TED Talks inspired me to join TED Translators so I could help other folks access the novel ideas I encountered (and continue to encounter) in the talks.
One of my biggest motivations for my work with TED Translators is the “eureka” moment that occurs when I find the optimal word, phrase, sentence, etc. for a translation: Not only am I doing justice to the talk, but I’m also improving my translating skills. In addition, meeting and staying in touch with other TED Translators always energizes me.
Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?
Renowned physicist Martin Rees’s talk “Is this our final century?” In it, Rees explains the fabric of the universe, from its most granular subatomic components to its larger structures, before he examines our ever-accelerating technological development and how it could possibly doom the human (and other) species in the future. What do you do when you’re not busy translating? I love books; I read one or two a week. I also enjoy wandering around and exploring new places. The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about? I would like more people in the world to know about Professor Shinichi Mochizuki, a mathematician who teaches at the University of Kyoto. In 2014, he introduced and developed the p-adic Teichmüller theory, which, as you can see, is extremely complicated—so much so that it takes several years’ work to validate the theory. (Professor Mochizuki, as a result, runs workshops to help those mathematicians who are interested in doing so to better understand the theory.)
I bring all this up not just because I want to share with you Professor Mochizuki’s brilliance, but also because I believe Professor Mochizuki and his theory demonstrate the limitless potential of the human mind—a potential that I think we must continually remind ourselves of and maximize as artificial intelligence (AI) gains in its capabilities. While AI promises us plenty of beneficial innovation, it behooves us to be vigilant and wary of AI’s hyperspeed progress. Left unimpeded, advances in AI will eventually lead us to a point in our history often called “the singularity,” when AI will exceed human intelligence and continue doing so exponentially as artificial general intelligence (AGI), thereby surpassing (to say the least) even our most ingenious capabilities. It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that the singularity is AI’s existential threat to humankind. But it’s a threat whose realization we can avoid—if we use our own intelligence and reason to responsibly develop AI. And so we should regard brilliant minds like Professor Mochizuki—and all of those who show us the boundless power of our brains—as testaments to the fact that we humans possess the means to both push forward and control AI.
In this week’s edition of TED Translators at TED2018, we chat with Iranian TED Translator Leila Ataie about the “therapeutic” value of translation, her favorite TED Talks, the Jalali calendar and several other topics. Check out the interview below!
How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?
I joined TED Translators in 2013, with the desire to share TED’s inspiring talks and their ideas with my fellow Iranians. Education, I believe, is power. I must admit, though, that working with TED Translators has become “therapeutic” for me, too: It’s done a lot to further my personal exploration and growth. Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?
It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite; I have many. In general, I gravitate toward talks in the fields of photojournalism, AI and GMO sciences, and humanitarianism. What do you do when you’re not busy translating?
I love to travel to and explore new parts of the world. At home, I usually spend time with my family and friends, work out and read. Reading, especially, has been vital to me since I was a child; it’s one of the first ways I learned I could discover new ideas, people and places. The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?
Many people around the world aren’t aware that Iran follows its own calendar, one that’s more exact than the widely used Gregorian version. The Iranian calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, has its roots in the 11th century, when Seljuk Sultan Jalal al-Din Malik Shah I, the calendar’s namesake, convened a committee of astronomers to devise a more accurate way to track the years. Omar Khayyam, the Iranian poet perhaps best known for his work The Rubaiyat, was among the scientists on the committee. Though the Jalali calendar followed in Iran today has been refined over the centuries, it still hews quite close to its original model.
Last week, we introduced you to the TED Translators slated to attend TED2018 in April. As we’ve done in the past, we’re following up with several of these folks to get to know them a bit better. Our first mini-interview is with Maricene Crus, a Brazilian film translator and English teacher, who was gracious enough to tell us about what fuels her as a TED Translator, her activities outside of translation, an amazing Brazilian doctor and more.
How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?
I’ve worked with TED Translators since November 2014. After using TED Talks as engaging and effective teaching tools in my English classes, and after a move out of São Paulo took me away from my longtime volunteering with GRAACC, I decided to join TED Translators to both contribute to TED and give myself a new way to volunteer.
As for what keeps me going with TED Translators, a big factor is the recognition I receive for mentoring the incredible translators in our community on a daily basis. Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?
Ah, there are so many, but I love this talk by Linda Cliatt-Wayman with all my heart. What do you do when you’re not busy translating?
I love hanging out and playing with my nieces and nephew whenever I can. I also enjoy watching movies, walks in the park, reading and craftwork (especially fuxico). The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?
I think the world should know more about Dr. Sérgio Petrilli, a brilliant 71-year-old pediatric oncologist and an incredible human being. In 1991, he helped mobilize doctors, volunteers and partners to found GRAACC. Since then, thanks to donations and a great business-management model, the hospital has grown from an old two-story house into an eight-story state-of-the-art complex that each year treats, free of charge, over 15,000 cancer-afflicted children and adolescents from all over Brazil—with a 70-percent success rate in most cases. Dr. Petrilli’s leadership has also overseen numerous important scientific studies at GRAACC, including stem-cell research in pursuit of cures for various forms of cancer. What’s more, the hospital provides gratis lodging and emotional support for the families of patients that come from outside São Paulo and cannot afford these services on their own.
I am proud to have worked with this vital and respected institution, and I’m thrilled to have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Petrilli, a man of impeccable character and dignity who embodies professionalism and humanitarianism.
Yes, it’s still March, but April will be here before we know it, right? And that means TED2018 is fast approaching! The Age of Amazement is this year’s theme, and we’ve invited some amazing TED Translators from around the world to represent us at the five-day event in Vancouver, BC. Read on below to learn more about these remarkable folks.
Tomoyuki was born in Nagoya, Japan, but currently resides in Yokohama. He holds a master’s degree in mining engineering, and he’s worked as both a petroleum engineer and geophysicist for a Japanese oil- and gas-exploration company. Tomoyuki’s career has afforded him the opportunity to travel the world extensively and live for a combined 10 years in Malaysia, Australia and the U.K. His free time finds him reading books on the natural sciences, particularly cosmology, particle physics, mathematics and genetics. Tomoyuki says his passion for these sciences is why he especially enjoys translating and reviewing TED-Ed lessons (which abound with natural-sciences content), and why he launched a website to introduce these talks to Japanese viewers.
Originally from China, Yanyan now studies digital media at theUniversity of Queensland, Australia. In addition to translating TED Talks, she also translates films and is a Bollywood aficionado. In fact, one of Yanyan’s guiding mottos comes from the words of Bollywood icon (and TED speaker) Shah Rukh Khan: “To have faith is to have wings.” To this she adds: “Keep smiling!”
Alena hails from Belgorod, Russia, a city located just north of Ukraine. She holds multiple degrees—in English, German and law—and works as both a legal adviser and an English tutor. Because she constantly seeks out new learning experiences, Alena is studying and adding Spanish and Italian to her language wheelhouse. The inspiration and empowerment she derives from TED Talks, as well as the desire to share with others the ideas that move her, are what have motivated Alena’s translation efforts since she discovered TED Talks. Which makes perfect sense given that her guiding maxim, in life and work, is: Education doesn’t change the world; education changes the people who will change the world. When not busy putting this motto into practice, Alena is usually reading, traveling, dancing or drawing.
With a degree in translation studies from São Paulo State University (UNESP), and as an accredited specialist in advanced English-language studies from the same school, Sarah has worked as both a professional translator and English teacher for over 10 years now. It was only natural, then, that after she discovered TED Translators in 2016, she joined the community in order to combine her deep affinities for translation and TED Talks. In Sarah’s own words: “(As a TED Translator,) I love how much I can improve professionally and learn about so many different things at the same time.” Outside of translating and teaching, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband, hanging out with their dog, reading, cooking, watching TV series, and the company of her friends and family.
Currently a lecturer at MGIMO University, Natalia, who’s based in Moscow, has previously worked as an editor and a freelance translator. Besides lecturing, she devotes her time to reading, learning new languages and researching memory and personal identity through a philosophical lense. Ask Natalia what she believes we should all seek most in life, and she’ll tell you: Understanding.
Adrienne holds a master’s degree in interpreting and translating, and an undergraduate degree in English. After having her fill of cubicle jobs, she made the leap to full-time freelance translating. Adrienne’s translation work includes big-screen films, TV shows on video-streaming platforms and Charles Dickens’s unabridged David Copperfield. In her own words, “Apart from being a happy workaholic,” she’s “passionate about traveling, learning new languages and practicing yoga—both on and off the mat.”
Kelwalin was born in Bangkok to a multicultural family, and grew up in Thailand’s capital city. She spent seven years in Scotland, where she researched malaria vaccines and earned her Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Edinburgh. Now back in Thailand, Kelwalin works as a patent specialist for an intellectual-properties law firm, and also teaches science to schoolchildren part-time. Her professional and volunteer efforts, she says, are motivated by her belief that science and cultural diversity ignite people’s curiosity, which is a catalyst for innovative ideas that change the world. When Kelwalin isn’t immersed in patents and education, she’s usually learning a new language or honing her calligraphy skills.
A Seoul native, Jae Yoon holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering, and he’s currently a research fellow at the Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology (KICT). After he discovered TED Talks and the huge number of translators dedicated to spreading innovative ideas around the world, Jae Yoon joined TED Translators so he, too, could help such knowledge reach new audiences regardless of language, cultural, geographical and other barriers. He’s a strong believer in TED’s power to steer our world in positive directions—and in the existence of other lifeforms (read: aliens) in the universe.
Maricene began cultivating a passion for languages at an early age, and since then, English especially has been a significant part of her life. In addition, she’s fluent in Italian and currently studying French. Maricene holds a journalism degree, but she’s devoted much of her last 18-plus years to translating for various Brazilian film festivals, including the International Film Festival of São Paulo and the Jewish Film Festival, among others. On top of all this, she’s worked as a private English teacher for two decades. Maricene joined TED Translators after a move took her away from her longtime volunteer efforts with São Paulo-based organization GRAACC, which provides support for a cancer-care hospital for children and teens. She says translating TED Talks gave her an ideal alternative to the volunteering she had to leave behind: Now she can both volunteer and continue to refine her translation chops. Singing, photography, watching movies, reading and enjoying nature are what occupy Maricene’s free time.
Born and raised in Japan, Misato holds a bachelor’s in English from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and she now lives and works as a freelance translator in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Immersing herself in the country’s rich and rhythmic Trinbagonian English and taking care of her lovely cat, Tama, are what Misato enjoys most outside of translating. She regards TED Talks as powerful tools that enable people the world over to encounter a seemingly infinite amount of diverse and inspiring perspectives.
Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Analia studied civil engineering at university. Alongside her love of mathematics, science and all things technical, she’s maintained a lifelong fascination with languages and a special interest in translation. Analia moved to London in 2004 to pursue a management consultancy career, which allowed her to visit many European countries. She currently works as a business analyst in digital transformation projects, where she uses her engineering mindset to find creative solutions to business problems; in particular, Analia enjoys analyzing data and bridging the gaps between tech teams and end users (“which,” she points out, “is also an act of translation!”). An avid learner with a wide range of interests, she feels at home with TED Translators—for which she translates from English, French, Italian and Portuguese into Spanish—and only wishes she’d joined the team years ago. In her spare time, Analia plays the piano, reads (and writes a little) poetry and takes in as much as she can of London’s art and culture.
César calls Chiclayo, Peru—a city located in the country’s northwest, quite close to the Pacific coast—his home, and it’s there he works as a freelance translator and interpreter for several international organizations, including the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which, in its own words, “Give(s) the gift of hearing to those in need, empowering them to achieve their potential.” In addition, César is an English- and Spanish-language monitoring and evaluation specialist for an online South Korean translation platform. On his work with TED Translators, he says: “TED Talks have many times shown me just how powerful ideas can become, especially as they spread; so I joined TED Translators in order to help expose the global Spanish-speaking community to these potent ideas.” Besides languages, César’s other interests include (as his portfolio of subtitled talks indicates) cognitive sciences, technology and art. His personal motto? Follow thy inner passion; she knows the right way.
Leila Ataei (Iran) Economic + commercial policy officer, Embassy of Netherlands, Tehran
Leila comes to TED Translators from Tehran, Iran’s capital and most populous city—and what she calls the country’s “dynamic beating heart, the place where one can get a handle on modern Iran and its likely future”. Though Leila studied English translation at university, she spent a fair share of her career in business, and she now works as an economic and commercial policy officer for the Embassy of Netherlands in Tehran. She says that TED Talks have fascinated her from the first time she watched one, especially because they brilliantly spotlight and impart on a global scale so many indispensable stories in the realms of science and education. A fervent believer in empowerment through education, particularly for youth and women, Leila joined TED Translators to spread TED Talks’ world-changing ideas to Farsi-speaking communities everywhere. She also loves meeting new people, reading and exploring new locales.
Describing herself as a “Bangkokian with a bit of an American accent when I speak English”, Sritala credits her work with TED Translators for leading her to a career in digital marketing. She also teaches Thai and English part-time. When she’s not busy with either of these endeavors, Sritala enjoys learning new languages, reading, and visiting museums.
Zeineb was born in Bizerta, Tunisia, the African continent’s northernmost city. She grew up in a multicultural family that has members in both her country of birth and Switzerland. Both sides of her family, she says, inform her identity. Zeineb’s intense interest in languages and different cultures began at an early age, so it’s no surprise that she holds a master’s degree in translation from the University of Geneva. She’s worked for various international organizations, including the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières, and she’s volunteered in some capacity for most of her life. One of Zeineb’s primary aims as a translator is to help break boundaries between different cultures. She spends her time away from languages and words hanging out and traveling with her two children.
Editor’s note: The two TED Translators below were invited to TED2018, but—we’re sorry to have to report—they will not be able to attend because their travel visas were denied by the Canadian government.
Ahmad was born and at present resides with his wife and daughter in Jordan. With a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature already under his belt, Ahmad teaches English and is pursuing his master’s in diplomatic studies and international relations—his biggest passions, he says—at the University of Jordan in Amman. He plans to eventually obtain a Ph.D. in the same field. It makes sense, then, that Ahmad’s personal motto is: If you don’t do politics, politics will do you. As for his work with TED Translators, Ahmad considers it an obligation of his bilingualism to translate the new and important ideas highlighted in TED Talks so that folks of any language, cultural, educational and/or geographical background can access them freely in this age of ever-increasing globalization.
Hani was born in Doha, Qatar. He earned his bachelor’s degree in software engineering from Canada’s Thompson Rivers University, and he received his master’s in audiovisual translation from Qatar’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University, where he studied and worked in the school’s Translation and Interpreting Institute. With TED Translators, Hani’s goal has been to enrich online Arabic content, and he’s certainly been doing just that: In fact, Hani is one of TED’s most prolific Arabic translators.
Some time back, you may recall, we started a culture series for the site to highlight TED Translators’ cultural interests outside of translation. We’re happy to report that we’re resuming the series and that we plan to publish contributions on a regular basis. To kick off this return, yours truly is throwing his hat in the ring with the music recommendation below. But before that, one more thing: If you, dear readers, would like to make your own recommendations (in this case, music), feel free to do so in the comments section; we’d love to know what’s inspiring you and feature it in a future post.
Winnipeg, Manitoba-based folk-rock singer and songwriter John K. Samson has been crafting distinctly profound and poetic music for over two decades now. In 1993, while a bassist and sometimes-vocalist/lyricist for punk band Propagandhi (who also hail from Winnipeg), Samson began a long stretch of recording and releasing his own material—a stretch that continues to this day. During this time, he’s arguably become known most for fronting yet another Winnipeg act, The Weakerthans, but it’s safe to say that Samson’s solo work stands on its own, traversing and exploring a vast landscape of emotion and experience as sincerely and empathetically as any of his other music. Also a published poet, Samson writes songs that abound with the qualities of excellent verse, as put by British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “…the best words in their best order.” Samson’s lyrics possess no fluff, no decoration, but they’re far from spare; they often encapsulate whole lives or histories with what seems like effortlessness—but an ease which belies the meticulous writing and editing actually behind them. This extends as well to the melodies, harmonies and tempos of Samson’s work. As for his vocals—well, they’re hard—perhaps impossible—to describe without resorting to facile comparisons. I’ve yet to try, and I won’t here. I only humbly suggest you listen to them yourself, and then decide if you agree with me that their valence with regard to Samson’s music is near-perfect. In short, one listens to a John K. Samson track and thinks (among other things): I can’t imagine this song, its words, its music any other way.
While Samson’s first “official” solo record, 2012’s Provincial, largely reckons with isolation, with lonely people in remote places who seem trapped in their circumstances (for example, a tuberculosis patient warehoused and forgotten in a sanatorium, or an overweight schoolteacher jilted by her ex-lover/principal and mocked by her students for her figure), Winter Wheat, his 2016 follow-up, surveys what such isolation can do to us and what it can make us do. Depression, addiction, self-delusion, retreating farther into loneliness—the 15 songs on Winter Wheat, colored in large part by Neil Young’s 1974 album On the Beach, grapple with all of these and more. But running underneath these struggles is a current of redemption, or at least an attempt at it, that slowly but surely reveals itself with each listen.
Here, where one might expect a track-by-track or selected-track analysis of Samson’s two LPs, I’ll spare you that predictable tedious exercise that never comes close to hearing a record for yourself, and I’ll steer you over here and here instead, where you can listen to Provincial and Winter Wheat, respectively, in their entireties—and watch videos for three songs. Enjoy, fellow travelers!
Here at TED Translators, we’re well-aware of the tremendous amount of work our volunteers put into each and every TED Talk translation in order to spread novel ideas and indispensable knowledge around the world. Even so, we always appreciate when folks outside the translation community express their gratitude for TED Translators’ continuous efforts; such shout-outs go a long way toward reaffirming the mission of our volunteers, as well as inspiring them to keep plugging away.
To have your words—indeed your spoken words—translated into so many languages, most of which you don’t speak yourself, is thrilling and fascinating, and I’m so grateful for all the time the translators and reviewers have put into my talk. It’s exciting to know that your words can reach more people, in particular those with hearing impairment, simply because they are transcribed and translated. Thank you, translators and reviewers!
And here’s Carol’s thank-you on the TED Translators Facebook group page.
As we head into another year chock-full of TED and TEDx gatherings, accolades like Roger’s and Carol’s will certainly add fuel to TED Translators’ fire to continue their vital work.
On November 28, the inaugural TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering went down at London’s Here East. The event, produced by TED and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany through the TED Institute program, convened 16 innovators in healthcare, art, technology, psychology and other fields to speak under the banner of “Breakthroughs”. Among the attendees was a contingent of veteran and new TED Translators from London and neighboring areas who came together not only to engage with the speakers’ novel ideas, but also to connect with each other in person and share their translation knowledge and experiences.
Of the wide variety of talks delivered at TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, one which resonated most with the TED Translators was Tiffany Watt Smith’s The history of human emotions. A research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, Smith probed how the words we choose to describe our emotions can in turn affect how we feel; furthermore, our emotional lexicons often change in response to shifts in cultural expectations and perceptions. “[Emotions] are shaped not just by our bodies,” she explained, “but by our thoughts, our concepts, our language…[A]s language changes, our emotions do, too.” This observation drove home a crucial point for the TED Translators, especially since one of the translator’s key, frequently painstaking jobs is to distill ideas into their appropriate words: If language can influence emotions, then the translator’s quest to find the right words for her translations must extend into the realm of emotional accuracy as well.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the initial TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering was itself a breakthrough, giving everyone who attended and spoke plenty of new food for thought. For their part, the TED Translators group wrapped up their time at the event feeling inspired, better-connected with each other and more committed than ever to the art of translation.
Greetings, Translators! We’re thrilled to announce that the application period for TED Translator Passes to TED2018 is now open. The gathering will run from April 10 to 14, 2018, in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. The TED Translator Pass covers the conference fee, and travel and accommodation expenses. Please note that you must be a TED Translator with at least one set of published subtitles in order to be eligible for a pass. The application deadline is December 22, 2017, and you can apply here.
TED2018’s theme? The Age of Amazement—which we think more than accurately describes our present era. As politics, globalization, technology, the future of work and even what it means to be human are all continually reinvented before our eyes, it’s time for us to take a collective breath and assess and prepare for the momentous shifts ahead. To that end, TED2018 will go all-out to bring you visibility into the key developments driving our future—from jaw-dropping AI to glorious new forms of creativity to courageous advocates of radical social change. We’ll include critics and skeptics, as well as the quiet heroes advancing novel ideas we can rally around. And through it all, we’ll seek exciting and insightful ways forward. We hope you’ll join us!
On November 18, TEDxBeaconStreet took place at Boston’s JFK Library. The gathering featured a remarkably rich and diverse speaker lineup that included, among others, former NASA astronauts, Harvard and MIT professors, and a cast member of the critically acclaimed musical Hamilton. Also in attendance, to represent and promote TED Translators, were the program’s director, Jenny Zurawell, and deputy director, Helene Batt.
During one of TEDxBeaconStreet’s multiple sessions, Jenny and Helene presented an overview of TED Translators and its indispensability in terms of spreading TEDx Talks globally. The duo detailed the program’s current scope (30,000 volunteers across 157 countries who work in 115 languages), how anyone interested in transcribing or translating her favorite TEDx Talks can join TED Translators, as well as the unparalleled exposure the program can provide TEDx Talks.
To underscore the last point, Jenny and Helene cited Robert Waldinger’s talk at TEDxBeaconStreet in 2015: Following its English transcription, the talk was soon translated into Ukrainian, Arabic, Thai, Hebrew and dozens of other languages–an international ripple effect of translation that brought Waldinger’s talk to audiences it otherwise might not have reached. And, since TEDx Talks are officially published on YouTube, Jenny and Helene emphasized the fact that YouTube videos with subtitles are watched more often than those without them–which means that transcribing and translating TEDx Talks is the optimal way to maximize their views.
It’s safe to say that when all was said and done at this year’s TEDxBeaconStreet gathering, the attendees left encouraged and invigorated to get involved with the TED Translators program and begin spreading their favorite talks from the event around the world.
A few weeks ago, we highlighted the mid-September collaboration between the Syrian TED Translators and TEDx communities for the TEDxYouth@JahezTranslateathon in Damascus, Syria. On September 26, the two groups teamed up again at the Syrian Computer Society in Homs, Syria, for an Open Translation Week that ran through September 30. The third of its kind since it was initiated earlier this year, the event was organized by TED Translator Ghalia Turki and the TEDxMimasStreet team, and it was sponsored by the UNFPA.
At the Open Translation Week’s start, the 40 participants were divided into five groups of eight, in which they remained for the duration of the gathering. First on the agenda were several workshops and activities that introduced the attendees to each other and familiarized them with language and translation fundamentals. A two-day translateathon of 35 TEDx talks followed. During the translation portion, designated trainers supervised and helped each group work effectively, and then reviewed the groups’ translations for accuracy. Throughout the Open Translation Week, the groups acquired points for their “performances”; gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the top-three scorers on the final day of the event.
The participants, inspired by their Open Translation Week experience, have begun building a larger translation community in Homs. According to Ghalia, they’re planning a special translation-related gathering for the near future, so check back in soon for details on that.