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.

TED Translators and speakers meet at TEDSummit 2016

meeting speakers
TED speaker John Hunter was thrilled to learn that Martin Hassel’s translation brought the World Peace Game to children in Norway. Photo courtesy of Martin Hassel

At the recent TEDSummit 2016, a number of TED Translators got to meet in person some of the TED speakers they’ve translated. TED’s Training Resources Manager, Krystian Aparta, talked with several of these translators about their respective meetings and how deeply engaging and productive they were—for both the translators and speakers alike.

Aparta sat down first with Coco Shen, one of TED’s Chinese translators, who early in her TED experience translated a talk by renowned psychologist and professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo. For Shen, working on Dr. Zimbardo’s talk quickly became an intimate process: “When I translate, I travel line-by-line with the speaker for hours, and his or her words and voice are in my mind the whole time. It’s almost like inhabiting the speaker,” she told Aparta. So when Shen finally met Dr. Zimbardo for the first time at TEDSummit 2016, it seemed much more a reunion to her than an introduction. She described Dr. Zimbardo as pleasantly surprised to meet her and warmly appreciative of her translations. During their meeting, Dr. Zimbardo stressed to Shen how valuable it is when his translators reach out to him, especially face-to-face: such interactions can enhance translations and personalize the work for both parties, thereby strengthening future collaborations.

One of TED’s Brazilian Portuguese translators, Gustavo Rocha, who met TED speaker and journalist Roman Mars, built upon Dr. Zimbardo’s point when he explained to Aparta that meeting Mars in person underscored the idea of global community that’s so fundamental to TED. “We translators aren’t always aware of just how much the speakers appreciate our work, because sometimes they’re based on the other side of the world and this distance can make them seem remote,” Rocha said. “But when I introduced myself to Roman Mars at the summit, he was very approachable and immediately told me how grateful he is for my and other translators’ efforts.” Rocha added that Mars (like the other speakers in attendance) was excited to learn more about all aspects of TED Translators, and that, in general, a strong sense of global citizens working together permeated the translator-speaker meetings.

To wrap up, Aparta spoke with Els De Keyser, who’s translated talks by Esther Perel and Zak Ebrahim into Dutch, about meeting both speakers at the summit: “Getting to know Esther and Zak motivates me and makes it easier to translate their talks accurately. Whatever language or distance barriers might be between us are broken down, and we can communicate and collaborate more seamlessly going forward.”

Angélika Dass makes memories with TED Translators

TED speaker and photographer Angélica Dass captures the diversity of skin tone in her Humanæ project. This week at TEDSummit, she captured the diversity of experience and language in her memory book, where TED Translators featured prominently. Watch to see how Dass recorded her interactions with the translators who gave her idiom stickers. (Filmed by Kier Atherton)

Meet the speaker who collected every idiom sticker at TEDSummit

Kristin and Bahia 2
TED Translators Director Kristin Windbigler with Bahia Shehab at TEDSummit 2016. Photo: Kier Atherton

TED speaker and Fellow Bahia Shehab has been crowned champion of the international idiom sticker project at TEDSummit 2016. (Watch her talk on using street art to reject violence and disempowerment in 2011 Cairo.) As Head of Design at the American University in Cairo, she fell in love with the idiom-inspired illustrations created by London artist Masahito Leo Takeuchi. Shehab called the idiom booklet given to every attendee her “hunting map,” and she used it to seek out all 43 stickers. “We hoped people would want to collect the stickers, but there are so many, we weren’t sure it would be possible to gather all of them in just a few days,” said TED Translators Director Kristin Windbigler. Shehab laughs, “That’s what I do. I make the impossible possible.”

When she arrived at TEDSummit, Shehab collected her first sticker from Hungarian TED Translator Csaba Lóki. Malayalam TED Translator Netha Hussain held the final sticker Shehab was missing. Shehab was so excited when she found Hussain, she hugged her. Shehab reflected, “I think I know all the translators now. It’s a community I love — they’re doing a great job for TED.” As a summer project, Shehab plans to study the meanings of these illustrated idioms with her daughters in Egypt. So just how did she manage to gather every sticker from 43 translators in less than four days? “I will reveal a secret,” says Shehab. “I bribed them with sweets.”