100K subtitles and counting!


In 2009, TED launched its Open Translation Project (OTP) to enable TED Talk viewers around the world to freely translate and share talks in any language. The project kicked off with 300 translations in 40 languages, courtesy of 200 volunteer translators, and it spurred a remarkable increase in new translations—a prolific output that continues today.

Eventually, the OTP expanded to include TEDx talks, TED-Ed lessons and content for TED’s global distribution partners. Earlier this year, the project rebranded itself as TED Translators, evolving to an identity that more personally represents TED’s volunteer-translator community.

Now, seven years after its initial inception, we’re very excited to announce that TED Translators has published over 100,000 subtitles. Reaching this milestone is due in no small part to our nearly 25,000 volunteer translators, who currently work in over a hundred languages and in 155 countries. Without their tireless, meticulous efforts, TED Talks like Matt Cutt’s and Derek Sivers’s (which are among the most translated and viewed talks on TED.com) would not, it’s safe to say, enjoy the worldwide popularity they do.

As always, though, TED Translators has its sights set on the future, on building upon its success. New subtitle languages are regularly added to our talks (Mauritian Creole and Rusyn are recent additions), and new volunteers continue to join TED Translators at a steady rate. What’s more, languages with relatively small populations of native speakers, like Nepali, Galician and Kazakh, account for some of TED’s fastest-growing subtitle groups.

The future of TED Translators will focus on supporting the community’s needs so that they may continue to extend the reach of great ideas. “First and foremost, TED Translators is about growing the global exchange of ideas,” TED Translators Director Kristin Windbigler says, “and that’s exactly what we’ll continue doing. Of course, our community of transcribers and translators is key to this growth, and we’re extremely grateful for our amazing volunteers’ ongoing contributions. Without their unending hard work, we might never have reached this milestone.”

TED Translators in Latvia

Photo: Aleksandar Korom/TED

This past weekend, several TED Translators conducted a workshop at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Latvia. Co-hosted by TED Translators staff Dimitra Papageorgiou and Krystian Aparta, the gathering focused on enhancing collaboration and communication between TED Translators, particularly those based in the Baltic states and Russia.

Following local TED Translator Kristaps Kadikis’s introduction, Hanna Baradzina, a Belarusian TED Translator, presented TED Translators and Endangered Languages, an insightful look at her and others’ efforts to promote widespread Belarusian translation in her Russian-language-dominated country. Afterward, the attendees discussed Baradzina’s presentation and its implications, and then broke into groups to home in further on collaboration and communication.

Some of the main issues taken up during the breakout session were how to better recruit new translators and how to encourage more veteran translators to review others’ work. Professional translators and linguistics students were identified as key potential candidates who could help in these areas. The workshop attendees also highlighted various usability concerns related to Amara—concerns which the ongoing Amara upgrade will address.

As the gathering wrapped up, plans were made for future workshops and similar events to bolster the Baltic and Russian translation communities; the consensus was that such meetings will go a long way toward enhancing collaboration and communication among TED Translators in the region.

Amara development news

A sneak-peek at part of the Amara dashboard developed in phase 1.

At the recent TEDSummit 2016, we announced that Amara was undergoing a series of upgrades to enhance its collaboration capabilities. We’re pleased to report that the first  of three development phases has been completed. The second phase is currently underway.

Although these upgrades won’t appear on Amara until all three development phases are finished, we’d like to give the community visibility into our progress thus far. For starters, we carried out front-end development and platform integration on the dashboard and video page. We also completed design on a number of components, including:

  • The video index: where volunteers find videos and new assignments.
  • The subtitle-management page: where staff and admins manage community assignments.
  • The messaging center: an email-style communication system.
  • The subtitles page: where the latest subtitle revision appears with crediting information.
  • The member directory: where volunteers find and message others.
  • The member-profile page: where volunteers see current and past assignments.
  • The application-review page: where staff approve new applicants.
  • The activity page: where volunteers see community and language stats.
  • The team landing page: where new users sign up.

We’ll have an update on the second part of the development roadmap soon, so stay tuned.

An interview with TED Translator Meriç Aydonat

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Meriç Aydonat was born in Turkey, educated in Turkey, the US and Canada, and she currently lives in Chicago. With several years as a prolific TED Translator under her belt, we figured it was high time to get to know Meriç a bit better. Read on to learn more about her translation work, why she regards herself as a global citizen, Hünkâr Beğendi and what she’d do with her TEDPrize wish.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Izmir, Turkey, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. However, thanks to my education and career, I’ve lived in seven different cities in three different countries in the past decade. Because of this experience it’s easy for me to feel at home just about anywhere, and I’ve come to consider myself a global citizen. But Izmir is definitely my favorite place in the world, and I’d love to live there again in the future.

As for my passions and interests: I’m quite a bookworm and news junkie, and I can’t get enough of documentaries or TED Talks. My love for learning and sharing what I learn with other people was why I began translating TED Talks, and it’s why I don’t plan to stop translating anytime soon.

You studied engineering and business. What drew you to these fields?

I became interested in electronics and computers at an early age; I loved to take things apart and put them back together. When I got older, I decided to study electrical and computer engineering so I could learn both the physics that make electronics work and the algorithms that make electronics useful to us.

At the same time, I wanted to try to figure out why (beyond obvious design factors) only certain electronics and software products succeed, so I also decided to study business.

My current job has a foot in both of these worlds, and I love it.

What is the Turkish translation community like?

It’s a very strong and vibrant one. Turkish volunteer translators are always eager to produce new translations as accurately and quickly as possible. If anyone needs help with their work, they don’t hesitate to reach out to more-experienced translators for assistance. Sometimes, speakers will contact the Turkish translation community directly and request a translation for one of their talks, and in these cases I’m always amazed by how fast the volunteers respond.

You currently live in the US. How does that influence your relationship with the Turkish translation community?

Fortunately, current technology makes it easier than ever to communicate over long distances, so I’m constantly in touch with Turkish translators via Amara, Facebook, Twitter and email to help mentor them and solve their technical problems. These exchanges are often very fruitful for both the volunteers and myself. I consider all the translators I’ve worked with friends, no matter how far away from me they might live.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d offer to a new TED Translator? And to a veteran TED Translator?

I’d advise a new TED Translator to focus on conveying the tone and “feel” of the speaker and her talk. This may require swaying a bit from a literal translation, but that’s fine: viewers will follow more seamlessly a translation that’s attentive to fluidity and engaging language.

To a veteran TED Translator, I’d suggest remembering that you’re a mentor to novice translators, so keep courtesy at the forefront of your feedback and corrections; this way, newer translators will be more inclined to learn and grow from their mistakes.

Have recent political events in Turkey, like the attempted coup, impacted the Turkish translation community?

Unfortunately, recent events in Turkey have been turbulent to say the least, and it seems almost every day brings upsetting news from the country. Even if the turbulence doesn’t directly impact the Turkish translation community, it takes a psychological toll on all of us. But I think we all try our best to not let the bad news steal our joy; yes, we each process what happens, in our own ways, but we eventually return to doing what makes us happy—namely translating TED Talks and spreading ideas.

Your TED profile says people don’t know you’re good at cooking. What’s your favorite dish to cook? How do you make it?

Yes, I love cooking. My favorite dish to make is a Turkish one called Hünkâr Beğendi, which translates literally to “The Sultan liked it.” It’s a traditional dish that originated in the kitchens of Ottoman royalty. As such, Hünkâr Beğendi takes a while to prepare, since dishes with short preparation times were considered an insult to the Sultan. Generally, though, Hünkâr Beğendi consists of a dairy-based eggplant paste served with lamb stew.

Is there a work of art (a book, film, painting, sculpture—anything) that’s resonated with you recently?

I just read Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I loved it. It’s the story of a woman—Lacks—who died of cervical cancer in the 1950s, and her tremendous legacy. After Lacks died, doctors harvested cells from her body for future study without her family’s permission—cells which eventually yielded amazing breakthroughs in the field of genetics. Needless to say, the Lacks family was stunned when it learned the fate of Henrietta’s cells.

One of the many powerful ideas the book conveyed to me, through the Lack family, is that recognition is sometimes more important to people than monetary reward: Henrietta’s family is proud of her contribution to medicine and science, to humanity, and only asks that Henrietta be credited for it. Funny enough, this reminds me of TED Translators everywhere: we don’t seek an award for our contributions, just due recognition. And TED does a great job of recognizing our efforts.

What would your TEDPrize wish be?

It may be far too big of a wish for TED (or any other organization) to realize, but I’d like to see the borders we’ve drawn between countries dissolved. I think these borders are arbitrary constructs that do more to divide than unite us: they separate people into nationalities and races, categories which obfuscate the fact that we’re all human beings. This in turn leads to dangerous and irrational group psychologies, like nationalism, racism, xenophobia and, sadly, so many more.

But if we were somehow able to do away with borders, I think we’d take a huge step toward preserving and strengthening our collective humanity, as we’d begin to free ourselves from the physical and psychological divisions that borders impose on us. And no, I don’t think this would lead to a migration “crisis”: plenty of research shows that people around the world prefer, whenever possible, to stay in or near their birthplaces, with family and friends. In the end, I believe we’re all obligated as global citizens to make the world as livable and accessible for each other as we can, and dissolving our borders would be a giant commitment to fulfilling our duty. Easier said than done, perhaps—but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

An interview with TED Translator Jihyeon Kim

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Jihyeon Kim was born in South Korea. Before joining TED Translators in 2014, she studied TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in Vancouver, and Education at Michigan State University. We recently chatted with Jihyeon over email about her translation work, teaching English as a second language in South Korea, her philosophy of “Love to learn, learn to love” and much more.

What do you enjoy most about being a TED Translator?

I’d say the fact that being a TED Translator enables me to grow and develop not just as a translator, but also as a learner and an idea generator. If I weren’t a TED Translator, I’d probably watch only talks related to my interests and miss out on so many compelling ideas presented in other talks; fortunately, though, my translation work exposes me to a panoply of TED Talks, and translating these forces me to engage deeply with new ideas as I push and reshape my own.

Can you tell us a bit about the translation community in South Korea (for example, its size, participant demographics, goals)?

Right now there are about 1,200 South Korean translators, from all sorts of backgrounds: education, media, engineering, business and many more. A lot of students, from every grade level, participate in the translation community, too. Most of the translators collaborate and communicate through Facebook and Amara.

Why did you decide to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) in South Korea? How has this experience impacted your TED translations, and vice versa?

It’s funny—I watched tons of Sesame Street as a kid, and I think that’s when I started to fall in love with English. At the same time, my dream was to become a teacher and/or a musician. Fast-forward to now, and voila—my dream’s come true.

That said, I think now more than ever it’s vital to know English, especially since roughly 80% of the information on the Internet is in English. I want to teach others this important language to empower them, whatever their individual backgrounds and goals might be.

One of the great things about teaching ESL is that I can use almost any English-language resource in the classroom. Of course, TED Talks are one of my favorite teaching tools; I’ve been using them since 2011, and my students can’t get enough. In this way, I think I’ve been able to pass on a lot of the ideas and knowledge that translating with TED has given me. In turn, using TED Talks in the classroom has helped me home in on how to improve subtitle quality in my own translations.

In the end, I think teaching and translating are two sides of the same coin for me; they both boil down to conveying ideas clearly and accurately to an audience, be it in the classroom or online.

Your TED profile says that one of your passion is books. What’s one book you think everyone should read? Why?

I’d like to recommend The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, because of its deep insights into human nature and what it means to be a human being. One of my favorite lines in the book is “What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.” It always causes me to reflect on what makes people truly beautiful: each one of us hides endless ideas and potentials waiting to be harnessed. But pretty much every line in The Little Prince is imbued with similarly concise profundity, and can be interpreted and applied in as many ways as there are readers of the book.

How long have you played both piano and violin? Do you find that translating sheet music into actual music with these instruments complements your work as a TED Translator in any way?

I took several piano lessons as a kid, about ten years ago, but I’ve mostly taught myself since then. I’ve been playing violin for three years.

(Side note: I was delighted to find a number of pianos situated around the recent TEDSummit. One night, I posted up at a piano in the Kinnear Centre and played for a while. It was awesome!)

Before answering this question, I’d never thought much about how playing music relates to my translation work, but I think it’s a very interesting relationship to examine. What immediately comes to mind is how a piece of music can sound quite different when played by different musicians and/or instruments; in other words, a piece of music can be interpreted in many ways, depending on who and what are involved in the interpretation. I think the same holds true for translating TED Talks: a particular talk can be cast in various molds by different translators. Looking at my translation work in this light drives home to me the responsibility I have as a TED Translator to render the best translations I can.

How was your experience at the recent TEDSummit 2016? What did you take away from the gathering that you’ve since applied, or plan to apply, to the South Korean translation community?

It was a wonderful experience! I met tons of lovely, inspiring people every day. One of the highlights for me was passing out idiom stickers to my fellow attendees; it gave me the opportunity to approach and talk with folks I hadn’t met before (including Chris Anderson). Another highlight was the recognition and appreciation given to volunteer translators by the speakers, TED staff and many others in attendance; to have our efforts acknowledged like that was extremely gratifying. I posted about this great reception on Facebook to let my fellow South Korean translators know just how much our work is valued.

If you could give any TED Talk, what would it be?

Ah, I get excited just thinking about this!

My personal philosophy is “Love to learn, learn to love,” so I’d give a talk centered on this. More specifically, I’d explore how we all can learn something from just about anyone, anything or any situation. If we adopt such an open-minded attitude, we’ll connect with more people and places, and our understanding of the world will inevitably expand. At the same time, we’ll help reduce unnecessary frictions between ourselves—stereotyping, vilifying and so on. In short, if we can cultivate a love for learning, we’ll learn to take care of each other much better than we do now.

An interview with TED Translator Indra Ganzorig

Indra blog photo
Photo: Aleksandar Korom

Indra Ganzorig is a TED Translator and TEDx organizer based in Bangkok, Thailand. Born and raised in Mongolia, Indra attended the country’s National University, where she began translating TED Talks into Mongolian. She’s helped organize various TEDx events in Mongolia, including TEDxYouth@Ulaanbaatar and TEDxBagaToiruu. In addition to attending TEDSummit 2016, she’s recently hosted two TED Translators workshops in Mongolia. We talked to Indra over email about the growing translation community in her home country.

Why did you start organizing TED Translators gatherings in Mongolia?

Before I discovered TED, I didn’t attend or organize such gatherings. But in college, one of my professors asked me to translate an event called TEDMEDUlaanbaatar. That experience motivated me to get involved with several local TEDx events and TEDActive 2015, after which I really started to understand the power of community. I think for volunteer work—whether that’s translating or any other kind—it’s extremely important to build and nurture community, a sense of belonging for the participants. Furthermore, I felt very lucky to have attended TEDActive, and thus responsible to share what I’d learned from the conference with my fellow local translators.

How many TED Translators are active in Mongolia?

Right now, there are five or so regular translators, but we had only three for the last couple months. Recently, though, a lot of new people have been joining our effort.

Also, during the recent TEDSummit, TED’s Kazakh Language Coordinator and I discussed organizing a regional workshop with Mongolian and Kazakh translators in 2017. This was because while roughly 95% of the country speaks Mongolian, Kazakh and Tuvan are used heavily in western Mongolia.

Can you give a rough breakdown of the participants? For example, are there more women than men? Do youth get involved?

Most of our participants are women between the ages of 16 and 25, but our latest gathering had about 40% men, which was great. We have a few older translators, but we usually attract young people who like TED Talks and those who want to improve their English-language skills while doing something meaningful for themselves and others.

An important thing to note is that some of our translators work or study abroad, including me, so our gatherings are also a way for us to stay connected to the Mongolian-language community, to home. We’re planning to do more activities online to hopefully attract more volunteers abroad.

How are TED Translators gatherings in Mongolia structured? Is there a leader or moderator? How are goals set and tackled?

I usually moderate our workshop gatherings. I also invite guests, such as local TEDx organizers and Mongolian-language professors.

When I hosted our first translators workshop, the atmosphere was very serious, with icebreaker activities, slides and other visuals; I was totally over-prepared, and I didn’t allow enough time for collaboration and engagement. So for our second gathering, I abandoned a strict agenda and instead set goals for the group; then we used sticky notes to brainstorm ways to tackle these goals. I’d say we made more meaningful connections in this informal setting than in the sit-down workshop.

Have you noticed an impact from hosting these gatherings?

It’s hard to say yet, since we’ve had only two gatherings, but we’ve definitely made a lot of new friends. Many of the people who attended the gatherings told me how thankful they were to be brought together like this. Also, because we discussed our current challenges and their solutions at the last gathering, I think everyone involved now has a better understanding of the whole project; we have a good plan to move forward.

What have you learned about the Mongolian translation community through these gatherings?

Some of my responses above answer this question, but I’d like to add that both gatherings served as good reminders of how tricky the Amara platform and translation processes can sometimes be—especially for translators just joining us.

What types of TED Talks are TED Translators in Mongolia currently most interested in translating?

We actually discussed this during our recent meet-up. Shorter talks, for obvious reasons. And it seems like most of our participants enjoy self-help talks and those that examine current social issues. Science talks aren’t as popular, because some of the new terminologies in the field don’t have Mongolian translations.

What, if any, difficulties or obstacles have you encountered in organizing TED Translators gatherings in Mongolia?

Venue spaces are always challenging. There were over a hundred registrations for each of our gatherings, but I had to turn down most of those people; there’s simply no affordable venue space that can accommodate such large attendance. Our gatherings have been free of charge, because I think a price tag would discourage lots of potential translators.

Have you implemented new ideas in the Mongolian-language community after attending two TED events?

Yes, several. I created a map that shows where all our translators live, and I plan to use it for future gatherings and Google hangouts. Also, after delving into the abundance of underused translation resources at the recent TEDSummit, I’ve been developing infographics that essentially visualize what we have on OTPedia.

If a genie gave you three wishes for the Mongolian-language community, what would they be?

1. I wish we’d stop copying English-language commas in our translations. You see, in Mongolian we don’t use many commas, but for some reason our translators insist on keeping all of them. I guess their brains are more English-oriented.

2. A free venue space that can accommodate 50 people, and that also has desks, chairs and super-fast internet.

3. To transcribe and translate more Mongolian talks into English. I believe there are roughly a hundred TEDx talks that were given in Mongolian and still await English translation.