Hamzeh Koumakli is an Arabic TED Translator who resides in Homs, Syria. He’s currently an undergraduate medical student and a freelance translator for a company that uses smart technology to streamline health care. In 2016, he helped organize one of the first-ever TEDx events in his country, TEDxMimasStreet, for which he’s now the lead organizer. And recently, Hamzeh became a TED Translators Mentor for the Arabic-language community. We spoke with him over email about these experiences and more.
How long have you been a TED Translator, and what drew you to the program?
I joined the TED Translators program a bit over three years ago, in September 2017. But my journey with TED began in 2015, when I was a college freshman: My cousin introduced me to TED via an inspiring talk called “How to speak so that people want to listen”, which Julian Treasure delivered at TEDGlobal 2013. It’s a talk that I believe is more urgent and relevant than ever, especially for we Syrians who’ve had to live under the dark cloud of war for almost 10 years now, all the while seeking peace through dialogue.
Soon after watching Julian’s talk, an idea occurred to me: What if the TED community in Syria could leverage TED Talks to provide Syrians with a powerful means to both share vital, groundbreaking knowledge among themselves and to potentially help end the war? So when I found out that TEDxMimasStreet (one of the first-ever TEDx events organized in Syria) was set to take place in my hometown of Homs, I jumped at the chance to join the conference’s organizing team. It was at this gathering that a TED colleague of mine filled me in on the TED Translators program.
Not long afterward, I started translating for TED Translators. My aim from day one has been to spread TED Talks’ unique insights throughout the Arabic-speaking world in order to effect positive change, particularly for those of us who’ve had to endure the war in Syria.
As you told us above, you recently helped organize and put on TEDxMimasStreet, one of the first TEDx events to take place in Syria. What inspired you to do so?
First off, every war inevitably results in death and destruction, which is most of what I’ve witnessed here since 2011. Furthermore, when wars end, the majority of reconstruction efforts tend to focus on infrastructure at the expense of adequately addressing war’s psychological, social and cultural traumas. We at TEDxMimasStreet, however, believe that rebuilding Syria and its society requires the bolstering and sharing of knowledge, be it cultural, academic or otherwise. And given that the country is filled with creative and smart people who want to share their stories and insights with each other and the world, organizing a TEDx event where Syrians from an array of backgrounds could gather and exchange their ideas seemed like an excellent way to help unite and heal war-fractured Syria.
Can you tell us what it’s been like for you to work as both a TED Translator and professional medical translator while both war and the COVID-19 pandemic afflict Syria?
The past six months or so have been tough for all Syrians, but I think we’ve learned a lot in that time that’s strengthened us. Speaking for myself, both the war and pandemic have increased my sense of responsibility toward my community, particularly in the context of my medical studies.
I’ve been working professionally for Infermedica, a company that employs smart technology to “[make] it easier to pre-diagnose, triage, and direct…patients to appropriate medical services.” Recently, I translated a COVID-19 assessment tool that’s been deployed in many countries around the world.
I’ve also been trying, via my personal blog, to provide reliable and actionable information on how people can stay physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic, as well as how they can avoid mis- and disinformation on COVID-19.
With regard to my TED Translators work, I’ve lately been focusing on translating coronavirus- and COVID-19-related talks. I encourage other TED Translators to do the same: The more we share and spread accurate info with each other and the world, so much the better for humanity.
This summer, you were a TED Translators delegate at TED2020, which happened to be TED’s first-ever virtual conference due to the pandemic. Can you tell us about that experience?
As a Syrian citizen, I was initially worried about whether or not Canada would grant me a visa, as Syrians have been denied visas to various Western countries for several years now. My worry disappeared, though, when I learned that TED2020 would take place virtually because of travel and other restrictions owing to the pandemic. Of course I would have loved to travel to Vancouver and meet some of my fellow TED Translators in person, but this year’s flagship conference offered a remarkable panel of speakers whose talks I was still able to enjoy with my colleagues; it was the experience of a lifetime for me.
What do you have planned for the future translation-wise?
I plan to reach 100 completed translations by the end of this year, and to establish five successful TED Translators Mentors program relationships with mentees. As a Mentor, my aim is to help as many new TED Translators as I can to pursue their respective translation journeys.
I’m considering applying to become an Arabic Language Coordinator, too. The Arabic TED Translators community is growing rapidly, and I think that as an LC I could positively contribute to this expansion.
Do you have any advice for new TED Translators?
There’s a huge variety of TED, TEDx and TED-Ed talks, so I recommend selecting a subject that interests you and going all-in with your translations. And don’t forget that your work as a TED Translator enables the free spreading of vital knowledge across languages and borders.
We’re excited to announce that we’ve enabled a real-time chat feature in the TED Translators Mentoring Program. This upgrade allows for faster communication between mentees and mentors, as well as the ability for both to easily scroll through their conversation history.
To access the new chat feature, just click on the “Messaging” tab in Chronus. And if you use the Chronus mobile app and turn on push notifications, you can see and reply to messages right away.
We look forward to the increased connectivity this new feature will bring to the TED Translators Mentoring Program, and we hope you do too!
To celebrate TEDWomen 2020, we recently hosted our second annual subtitling contest to spotlight novel ideas that female speakers from around the world are sharing. The TED Translators who participated were asked to select a TED or TEDx talk given by a female speaker, and then collaborate with a reviewer or Language Coordinator to create and publish subtitles for their talk within a month.
What was on the line prize-wise? A gratis conference pass to TEDWomen 2020; each winner’s choice of a subscription to Audible, Babbel or Headspace; and a TED Translators blog feature highlighting all of the winning teams.
A huge number of TED Translators took part in this year’s contest, and we can’t overemphasize that every entry we received was sincere and thoughtful in its own way. A hearty thank-you to everybody who participated! Without further ado, check out the winners and their timely and incisive submissions below.
Here’s what Razaw told us about why she translated into Kurdish the devastating-yet-hopeful talk that Khalida Brohi delivered at TEDGlobal 2014.
Khalida’s talk really hit home for me for several urgent reasons. To start, one of my friends was murdered by her father and brothers in a so-called “honor killing” here in Kurdistan. This hideous crime is perpetrated against women and girls in many different countries, from Brazil to the U.K. to Iraq to Pakistan to the U.S., and its prevalence among the traditionally conservative Kurdish culture is horrifying. The “honor killing” of women and girls here, as elsewhere, stems from a largely non-secular patriarchal society that regards male repression of and violence toward “dishonorable” females as both legitimate and necessary. It’s no surprise, then, that, also as in other countries, men who murder women and girls in Kurdistan in the name of “honor” are never punished for their crimes.
As a woman, a human being, I want to help raise awareness of and fight against this abhorrent practice. One way I knew I could do so was translating Khalida’s talk into Kurdish; I saw my translation as a vehicle to teach Kurdish women, who often turn a blind eye to or even support “honor killings,” that men’s pride should never dictate the self-determination of women and girls. What’s more, increased social and economic freedom for women and girls enhances societies and humanity as a whole. Women’s struggles against patriarchal oppression and repression (including “honor killings”), therefore, are inseparable from local, national and international movements for racial, political, sexual and economic self-determination. And it’s in this fight where real honor lies.
I decided to translate Karen’s Countdown talk because it proposes a practical and sustainable large-scale means of potentially slowing manmade climate change in a big way — a development that’s very important to me as a biotechnology major. The more I’ve studied climate change caused by humans, the more I’ve realized that it’s both massively interconnected and at odds with economic growth. I’ve simultaneously come to understand that many of the methods offered up to us as countermeasures to climate change are micro-level and ultimately ineffective.
In that context, Karen’s talk on manufacturing cement (which is vital to the building industry around the world, and especially in South Korea) that could reduce concrete’s colossal level of carbon emissions by up to 40 percent showed me a remarkable new approach to driving back the advance of climate change — and it could be implemented on a global scale without shuttering whole economies. Learning about Karen’s work was an epiphany for me with regard to my (and so many others’) concerns about climate change, and so it felt necessary to me to translate and share her talk with my fellow Koreans.
I have been trying to see where curiosity would lead me the last year or two, and for the last couple of months, it has been programming and computer science. I can positively say that it is slowly becoming something I might be passionate about. Although the speaker meant algorithms that would result in exclusionary practices for minorities, I have been noticing how as a woman, I have been excluded from the world of IT, and it’s always nice to see women in STEM. I do wonder often about what it would’ve been like if I was more exposed to STEM fields myself as a teen. However, I have made it a personal goal to find that out now, and so far I am very much into coding, data science, and physics. I’m definitely no expert, but I am looking forward to seeing where curiosity leads me.
Kejia gives us a brief breakdown of why she chose to translate Carola Rackete’s must-watch talk at TEDxAmsterdam 2019 into Simplified Chinese.
The protection of human rights and the environment are inarguably two of the most (if not the most) urgent crises we face today. Furthermore, both are inextricably linked to each other. Carola’s talk, which is informed by her work as a ship captain rescuing refugees and migrants at sea and as an ecologist, deftly deconstructs eco-fascism, which prioritizes saving trees over saving human lives. Moreover, and particularly as a teacher, I view Carola and what she’s courageously accomplished as exemplary of how we can circumvent the limits power tries to impose on us and enact real change in the world. All of which is to say that I translated her talk because it (like Carola) is indispensable for those of us who seek to preserve humanity.
We’re back with exciting news on the TED Translators Mentoring program! This month, we’re introducing the initiative to two more of our most active language communities: Portuguese and Turkish. The mentors and mentees in these communities will join the nine other language communities already participating. We can’t wait to see the collaborations that our Portuguese and Turkish communities will undoubtedly bring to the Mentoring program!
And, as we’ve announced before, we plan to continue rolling out the initiative to new language communities each month. And we’ll continue to adapt the TED Translators Mentoring program based on each community’s feedback. Stay tuned here for updates!
We’re happy to announce that we’re now sending certificates to mentees who complete their three-month mentorship connections! We’re also giving special badges to mentors who connect with one mentee or more.
Each mentee certificate displays a mentee’s name, subtitling specialization and a brief description of the mentorship program. (If you’re a qualified mentee who hasn’t yet received a certificate, don’t worry—it’s on its way.) Mentor badges display a mentors’ role and mentoring language.
If you’re the recipient of a certificate or badge, we encourage you to share it on social media and to tag @TEDTranslators. Interested in joining as a mentor or mentee? Get started here!
Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect people worldwide, many TED Translators language communities have been carefully organizing online and in-person workshops, translate-athons and other collaborative events throughout the year that have enabled the TED Translators project to flourish despite the virus.
One of the most recent in-person gatherings was TEDxBangkok 2020, which took place on August 17 in Thailand’s capital. (Social distancing measures were meticulously adhered to throughout the event.)
Thai TED Translators Sakunphat “Keng” Jirawuthitanant and Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut were invited by several organizers (who are also TED Translators) to deliver a two-hour presentation on the TED Translators program and why it’s crucial to TED’s mission. The duo also detailed their own experiences with TED Translators, as well as the application process (which will soon be posted on TEDxBangkok’s Facebook group page).
During their presentation, Keng and Kelwalin emphasized that the goal of the TED Translators’ project as they see it is “to bring knowledge from TED Talks to Thai society, and vice versa.” And they discussed how translating both enhances foreign-language proficiency and opens doors to an array of career opportunities.
All in all, TED Translators made a positive impact at TEDxBangkok 2020, so look out for more Thai translations of TED Talks in the near future.
In mid-July, when we introduced our application process for the TED Translators Mentoring program, we also announced that we’d be adding more languages to the initiative on an ongoing basis. The newest language communities to join the program? Traditional and Simplified Chinese. These latest additions expand the program to nine language communities overall.
What’s more, mentoring pairs can now customize their collaborations to set specific goals according to individual subtitling skills and content interests. We’re also putting out an open call for new mentees in our nine supported languages — if you’d like to apply, please read our Mentee qualifications before submitting your application here.
TED Translators Mentors and Mentees, as always, receive exclusive perks for their contributions to the program:
Invitations to virtual TED events
Subscriptions to useful digital tools
A certificate of completion for Mentees
Badges that Mentors can add to their social media profiles, CVs, etc.
We’re thrilled about these recent developments, and we hope you are too. We look forward to you joining us!
This year, TED’s annual flagship conference took place online for the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TED2020, appropriately themed “Uncharted”, was converted into an eight-week virtual event that spanned June and July.
A selected contingent of 12 TED Translators participated in the gathering, which featured a talk by Bill Gates on how COVID-19 will shape our future, as well as a talk by Malala Yousafzai that addressed why advocating for girls’ education will be essential to rebuilding our societies in the wake of the pandemic. TED Translators also attended a timely panel discussion about how we can potentially end systemic racism in the U.S. What’s more, they enjoyed TED2020’s main stage sessions each Thursday and engaged in a wide array of Discovery Sessions with TED Speakers and other TED-sters. Head here to read weekly highlights from the conference.
In addition to all of the above action, a group of six TED Translators hosted a social-hour gathering for TED2020 attendees and speakers called “Language Exchange”. This meetup enabled those who participated in it to explore various alphabets, dialects and indigenous languages from around the world; at the same time, the session provided a concentrated look into what it’s like to be a TED Translator and the incredible work these translators do on a daily basis.
TED2020 wrapped up on July 10, but there was an extra deep-dive treat for the TED Translators who attended the conference. On July 15, they met online with three-time TED Speaker Sally Kohn, author of the book “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity”, which was the basis of her TEDWomen 2017 talk “What we can do about the culture of hate”. All of the translators had read Sally’s book prior to this first-ever virtual TED Translators book club gathering, so everybody was primed for an in-depth conversation with her during which they asked the author questions, shared their reflections on her thesis and discussed personal experiences with hate. Moved by the stories she heard, Sally explained that one of the best antidotes to hate is information—which, of course, TED Translators are dedicated to spreading as freely and widely as possible every day.
Over four days in late May, one of the Spanish language community’s largest workshops for TEDx organizers and TED Translators, GranTOTE 2020 (or Gran Taller de Organizadores TEDx y Traductores en Español 2020), took place virtually. The theme of this year’s event was “Earth”, and the online gathering’s attendees included organizers and translators from Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Spain, the UK and the US.
Two of the participants were GranTOTE 2020’s TED Translators workshop host, Sebastian Betti, and its cohost, Gisela Giardino. The session was called “TED Translators: Translations to go further”, which, as Sebastian told us, focused on exploring the following questions and propositions:
“While organizing an event, we frequently ask ourselves if what we are doing contributes to the spreading of ideas. But in [the] context of lockdown, in which we lose physical contact with the audience, can we reinvent ourselves so as not to lose relevance? Can translations help us in that endeavor? Let’s think together about ways to use…translation to bring…ideas to more people.”
The workshop’s participants were encouraged to think up novel, even eccentric, approaches to expanding the reach of TED Translators’ work. The discussion homed in on increasing the engagement of both new and frequent viewers of TED and TEDx talks. In the end, Sebastian and Gisela’s session yielded over 100 ways to potentially accomplish these goals; here are 20 that Sebastian translated into English.
“We consider these ideas ‘throwable concepts’,” Sebastian said, “which is a category we adopted from previous workshops, like TOTE2020 in Notion and TOTE2020 in Padlet.” Among the out-of-the-box ideas explored in the workshop was a sing-along to Nina Vais’ performance, providing a much-needed mental break and altering the experience from passive to active.
“At the end of the workshop,” Sebastian added, “Gisela and I showed the TED Translators promo video and invited the attendees to join the TED Translators program.”
For our part, we look forward to welcoming these new volunteers to the TED Translators global family!
Each application includes a quiz designed to vet prospective mentors’ and mentees’ knowledge of TED Translators’ guidelines and subtitling best practices, while reinforcing specific quality standards across the Mentoring program.
We encourage TED Translators from the Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, French, Italian, Korean, Russian and Spanish language communities to apply. However, we add languages to the program monthly, so do check back in with us if yours isn’t currently on the roster.
To ensure successful mentor-mentee connections, we ask that both commit at least one hour per week during the three-month program to collaborating on subtitling talks. For their participation, TED Translators mentors and mentees receive exclusive perks: invitations to virtual TED events, premium subscriptions to digital tools, soon-to-launch Mentor badges and Mentee certificates of completion, and much more.
We look forward to you joining us in this fast-developing project!
If you’ve been following our recent updates, you probably know that TED Translators launched its Mentoring program late last year. The Spanish-language community was one of the first to try out the new initiative, so we recently spoke with Spanish mentor-mentee pair Penny Martínez and Almu Torrecilla to learn more about their experiences. Check out our conversation below.
How did you meet each other and eventually start working together as mentor and mentee?
Penny: Almu initially contacted me through the Mentoring program platform. We discovered that we share several of the same interests, so we started messaging in order to get to know each other better. We quickly agreed that the two of us would make a productive mentor-mentee duo, and thus began our collaboration.
Almu: Shortly after I joined TED Translators last November and completed several translations, I chanced upon the Mentoring program and immediately thought it would be an excellent means for me both to connect with fellow TED Translators and to accelerate my learning curve. Penny’s profile suggested that she and I would work well together as mentor and mentee, so I reached out to her, proposed the idea and she agreed—and here we are today.
What compelled you to join the TED Translators Mentoring program?
Penny: I’d been a TED Translator for around five years when I decided to join the Mentoring program. It’s an initiative I knew right away would provide a terrific venue for me to share my translation experience with new TED Translators.
Almu: For me, the Mentoring program offers the rare opportunity to enhance my translation skills with a veteran TED Translator. I had volunteered as a translator elsewhere before I joined TED Translators, but I’d yet to transcribe or subtitle; as a new TED Translator I needed to learn the ropes, so to speak. The Mentoring program has presented me with an avenue to do just that—and much more—with my translation work.
What were your expectations going into the program?
Penny: As I mentioned above, I expected to share my translation knowledge with new TED Translators and to connect with and learn from other translators around the world.
Almu: My expectations were to both improve my translation skills and to build relationships with other TED Translators.
Has your mentor-mentee relationship borne out those expectations?
Penny: Yes—all of them and more! Not only is the mentor-mentee collaboration between Almu and me solid and seamless, but we’ve also become good friends in the process of working together.
Almu: Definitely! Having Penny as my mentor has very much motivated me as a TED Translator. An added benefit: Our mentor-mentee relationship has given me the knowledge and confidence to review other TED volunteers’ transcriptions.
What do you think the Mentoring program could improve so as to maximize the fulfillment of its goals?
Penny: Perhaps some sort of notification that enables mentors to keep track of mentees who, for whatever reasons, stop communicating. As a mentor, it can be frustrating to repeatedly reach out to a mentee to no avail.
Also, it’s not always easy to select a mentor or mentee. How about including an icon in everybody’s profile that indicates their respective experience: the number of talks they’ve translated, the mentors or mentees they’ve collaborated with, etc.? I think an indicator like this would increase participants’ commitment to the program and streamline the mentor-mentee selection process.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing as a TED Translator in the future?
Penny: So many things! I’d like to eventually become a Language Coordinator (LC) and TEDx organizer. I would love to attend a TED conference as well, and meet the amazing TED folks I’ve worked with online for so many years.
Almu: The more I engage with the TED universe, the more in awe I am at the array of opportunities and experiences it has to offer. There’s a seemingly endless amount of resources and possibilities to expand one’s knowledge and skills. That said, my next goal is to publish 100 translated talks—and then 500—perhaps on my way to becoming an LC. In any case, I intend to think big, start small and enjoy every step I take as a TED Translator.
Toward the close of 2019, we launched the TED Translators Mentoring program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators (LCs) and reviewers to collaborate on subtitles. First we rolled out the program in two of the largest TED Translators language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. After a three-month pilot, we expanded the program to our Arabic, French and Korean language communities. Now, we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve extended the program to our Italian and Russian language communities.
This latest rollout began in May, and since then, over 250 new volunteers have signed up as mentees in Italian and Russian. For this new group, we implemented several changes after receiving feedback from Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese TED Translators who participated in the pilot. These updates include the following:
Enabling mentors and mentees to close their respective connections themselves
Enabling mentors and mentees to customize goals and timelines in their connection plan
Adding introductory task checklists for both mentors and mentees
Adding a recommendation form to the closure survey that invites mentors and mentees to nominate potential new participants
We’re not done, though! We’ll continue to expand the TED Translators Mentoring program to more of our language communities. Check back here soon for the latest updates and announcements.
On a Saturday near the end of May, members of TED Translators’ international Catalan-language community participated in a virtual translate- and revise-athon. The event was organized by Catalan Language Coordinator (LC) Anna Comas-Quinn. Aside from tackling Catalan-language TED Talk translations and reviews, the online gathering offered a chance for already-active translators to get to know each other better and for the community to welcome new volunteers.
The event kicked off at 10 a.m. CEST and ran for just over two hours. Eight TED Translators—from Barcelona and surrounding areas, as well as the Balearic Islands, Scotland, England, Germany and Norway—linked up on Zoom, introduced themselves to one another, then got to work on translating and reviewing. While the new translators focused on translating talks, the more experienced volunteers busied themselves with reviewing.
Anna, for her part, spent the bulk of the gathering reviewing and approving translated talks. Four talks were reviewed, three were approved and published, and several other translations were completed soon after the event and posted for review on the Catalan-language community’s TED Translators Facebook page.
At the close of the session, all the participants reconnected on Zoom to discuss their respective translations and reviews, share the challenges they’d encountered and to exchange useful translation resources. “Everybody who took part,” Anna told us, “was so motivated by the gathering that we decided it should be a fixture of TED Translators’ Catalan-language community. Our next meetup is scheduled for June 27!”
P.S. If you’d like to host a TED Translators virtual workshop, discussion session, translate-athon, transcribe-athon, or if you’re part of a TEDx team looking to recruit TED Translators for your online event, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to support you!
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered much of the architecture of our lives over the past several months, and TED2020 is no exception. The annual flagship conference, originally set to take place in Vancouver, BC, in April, is now underway as an 8-week virtual gathering. The 10 TED Translators profiled below are currently participating in TED2020 and, as you’ll see, they’re quite a dynamic and prolific collective. Read on to learn more about them.
Hamzeh resides in Homs, Syria. At present, he’s an undergraduate medical student and a freelance translator for Infermedica. He discovered TED Talks in 2015, and he credits them for helping him endure some extremely rough times during the ongoing, 9-year-old war in Syria. In 2016, Hamzeh joined TED Translators and helped organize one of the first TEDx events in his country, TEDxMimasStreet, for which he’s now the lead organizer. Recently, Hamzeh became a TED Translators Mentor for the Arabic-language community.
Daniela, who’s based in Mexico, recently received her university degree in audiovisual translation. She’s also studied translation abroad, in Spain and Germany, and she plans to pursue a master’s degree in her field. Daniela originally joined TED Translators in order to hone her translation skills for her profession, but, as she says, “I’ve gained much more than that. It’s fantastic how TED Translators unites people around the world who all strive for the same goal: to share novel ideas as far and wide as possible.”
Yingjie currently studies medical engineering at China’s Tianjin University. As a TED Translator, her biggest satisfaction is spreading diverse ideas over language barriers. When she’s not translating TED Talks, Yingjie also translates rock-music lyrics and enjoys listening to rock music and watching movies.
Born and raised in Cairo, Egypt, Shimaa holds both a bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine and a microbiology diploma from Cairo University. She joined TED Translators primarily to increase and enrich online Arabic content, and to “break boundaries between different cultures.”
Nicoletta hails from Milan, Italy, and holds a bachelor’s degree in tourism and foreign languages (English, French and German). She credits her time studying in Germany, where she lived in a multicultural community, for opening her eyes to how huge and fascinating our world is. As a TED Translator, Nicoletta’s aim is to “spread as many seeds of positivity as possible,” particularly new advances in science and technology. When she’s not busy translating or working at a manufacturing company, you can find her hiking or skiing in the Italian Alps.
Originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan, Yekaterina currently resides in Karaganda, where she’s worked as a software engineer, a journalist and an editor. She’s now both a directing manager of a restaurant and a self-taught graphic designer. Yekaterina joined TED Translators’ Russian-language community in 2013, initially just seeking to improve her English skills. “However,” she says, “translating quickly became an integral part of my life, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to translate TED Talks and TED-Ed lessons and share their powerful ideas with new viewers.”
Yunjung Nam (South Korea and the U.S.) Teacher, doctoral student
Yunjung was born in Busan, South Korea, and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she’s studying applied linguistics and teaching English and Korean at Georgia State University. Her TED Translators journey began when she first joined TEDxBusan’s organizing team and then TED Translators shortly thereafter. Yunjung’s main goal as a TED Translator has been to use her deep knowledge of language and linguistics to make TED content more accessible to viewers around the world.
Claudia resides in Porto Alegre, Brazil, with her husband and daughter, where she works as a systems analyst at a public IT firm. She chanced upon TED Translators on Facebook in 2015, a discovery that she says “opened up for me a new world of seemingly infinite possibilities and perspectives.” Joining TED Translators has given Claudia the opportunity to become a Brazilian Portuguese Language Coordinator (LC), a TEDxLaçador co-organizer and to attend both TEDWomen 2016 and TED2020. “I love being part of and contributing to the Brazilian Portuguese TED Translators community,” she says. “And I’m always trying to help improve the onboarding experience for new volunteers.”
Born and raised in China, Yolanda currently works as a freelance translator in California. She joined TED Translators in 2014, while pursuing a graduate degree in the U.S. As a TED Translator, Yolanda seeks to increase interdisciplinary and intercultural communication by sharing and promoting some of the world’s most inspiring ideas. When she isn’t translating, Yolanda spends her time reading, listening to music, and wine tasting.
Ade was born and raised in a small town in Central Java, Indonesia, called Pekalongan. He holds both a bachelor’s degree in English literature and an MBA. Ade joined TED Translators in 2011, but he’s worked as a professional translator since 2002. Now living in Batam, Indonesia, with his family, he heads the Professional Development Committee of The Association of Indonesian Translators (HPI). In his free time, Ade enjoys hanging out with his two daughters, as well as reading and writing poetry.
A native of Antalya, Turkey, Nihal lives and works as a freelance translator in the Mediterranean city. She holds a degree in translation and interpretation from Kirikkale University, and she’s taught English to students preparing for their ESL exams. In her free time, Nihal participates in various social responsibility projects and she enjoys photography, listening to and playing music, and reading.
Keyur is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer application and IT at Gujarat University. He was introduced to TED Translators by one of his university’s faculty members, and has since then translated over three dozen TED Talks into multiple regional Indian languages. For Keyur, TED Translators is a global family of fellow volunteers who are all working toward a common goal: to spread groundbreaking ideas as far and wide as possible.
For the third edition of our “TED Translators get innovative during COVID-19 quarantine” series, we took a quick look at what the Indonesian language community has been up to during the global pandemic.
In late March, Indonesian Language Coordinator (LC) Ade Indarta and TED Translator/TEDx organizer Deera Army Pramana hosted an educational webinar that was attended by 35 translators in the Indonesian language community.
The event began with a tutorial on Amara that was led by Deera. Ade followed up Deera’s “Amara 101” session with a presentation that focused on mistakes TED Translators—especially new volunteers—often make in their work.
A Q&A period wrapped up the webinar, during which participants posed any translation-related questions they had to Ade and Deera.
This virtual gathering was further proof that TED Translators communities, whether in Indonesia or elsewhere in the world, continue to thrive despite the drastic burdens COVID-19 has imposed on all of our lives.
P.S. If you’d like to host a TED Translators virtual workshop, discussion session, translate-athon, transcribe-athon, or if you’re part of a TEDx team looking to recruit TED Translators for your online event, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com. We’re here to support you!
We recently published the first installment of our multi-part series focusing on several of the inventive ways that TED Translators have managed to continue subtitling and organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re pleased to share with you part two, for which we spoke with French TED Translator and Language Coordinator (LC) Morgane Quilfen.
Morgane and a group of her colleagues in the French language community conducted a 24-hour online transcribe-athon in early April that yielded a remarkable 19 published transcripts, as well as nearly two dozen more in progress.
“Before the event kicked off,” Morgane told us, “the organizers created a website where new volunteers who had signed up to participate in the transcibe-athon could familiarize themselves with TED Translators’ guidelines and best practices. The site also listed about 120 talks that needed transcribing.”
The event started at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 4, and wrapped up the following afternoon. At least one of three LCs was online at any given time to assist the 20 volunteers while they worked. “In addition,” Morgane explained, “everybody involved used the transcribe-athon’s Facebook page to exchange helpful links and other important information regarding their transcripts.”
A Zoom video chat ran throughout the entire event in order for the LCs to conduct brief teaching sessions and so participants could ask questions of or just say hello to their colleagues in real time. The livestream, Morgane reported, also facilitated hourly interviews with veteran TED Translators and TEDx organizers based in France and Japan.
Morgane further told us that about 70% of the transcribe-athon’s participants were new transcribers, most of whom had learned about the event via Facebook—either on the French TED Translators group page or the French TEDx organizers’ page.
“Overall,” Morgane said, “everyone who took part in this project was quite happy with its results—especially because it gave new TED Translators the unique opportunity to jump right into working on TED Talks while simultaneously receiving guidance and feedback from LCs. This transcribe-athon undoubtedly helped expand and strengthen the French community.”
P.S. If you’d like to host a TED Translators virtual workshop, discussion session, or translate-athon / transcribe-athon, or if you’re part of a TEDx team looking to recruit TED Translators for your online event, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to support you!
Greetings, everybody! It’s been a while since our last post, so we’re excited to share this new story with you. But first and most importantly, we here at TED Translators hope you’ve all been safe and sound during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
As it’s spread around the world, forcing us to isolate and social distance indefinitely in order to slow and stop it, the latest novel coronavirus has altered our lives in countless profound and drastic ways. It hasn’t, however, diminished our individual and collective creative capacities. Case in point: TED Translators in many countries have come up with various inventive means to continue translating and collaborating in their respective language communities.
In this time of worldwide fear and uncertainty, then, we’re happy to highlight the ingenuity of several of these translators in a multi-part series. For this first installment we spoke with Kurdish TED Translator and Language Coordinator (LC) Daban Jaff, an instructor at Koya University in Iraq, who recently organized and has overseen a virtual translate-athon with his students.
“Once the university shut down,” Daban told us, “my students (many of whom are experienced TED Translators) and I began to brainstorm how we could keep busy during quarantine. We eventually devised a project wherein each student would translate at least four TED Talks into Kurdish in 10 days. So far,” Daban reported, “nearly 40 of my students have translated well over 100 talks, and 60 more translations are in the works.” For his part, Daban has been reviewing all of his students’ translations and providing them with both individualized and group feedback.
Daban also told us that this virtual translate-athon has been a tremendous psychological boost for him and his students during these days of self-isolation. For student and TED Translator Aga Ismael, “Nothing but volunteering has been able to cheer me up. The opportunities for collaboration and mutual support—for human connection—that it offers are boundless and have been heartening for me. I hope this TED Translators project continues for as long as possible.”
What’s more, in an effort to expand the Kurdish translation community, Daban arranged for a few local newspapers to publish his students’ translations along with links to the translated talks. You can find articles here and here.
Daban and his students’ virtual translate-athon, by any measure, has been a remarkable success and an exemplary blueprint for how TED Translators, wherever they’re based, can keep their language communities motivated and active while waiting out COVID-19’s demise.
In the next two weeks, we’ll bring you more stories of such resilience from other translation communities, so do check back in with us for those.
Last December, we published an updated TED Translators tutorial as part of our revamped onboarding process for new volunteers. That animated video highlights both fundamental TED Translators guidelines and best practices for subtitling.
Now, we’re pleased to share with you the second installment in this tutorial series: “A Guide to Reviewing with TED Translators”. For this video, we collaborated with Language Coordinators (LCs) in order to home in on and present our top tips for TED Translators reviewers:
Be qualified (have at least 5 published translations or transcriptions)
Watch the talk first (before you make edits)
Give useful, actionable feedback
Send it back (when there are repeat errors)
Work as a team
Watch the video for a full explanation of each tip.
Reviewers are vital members of the TED Translators family. They ensure that subtitles are accurate and in line with TED’s quality standards, and, in doing so, contribute significantly to the growth of the global TED Translators community.
Interested in becoming a reviewer? Check out the video above for all the info you need to know to join us!
Toward the close of 2019, we announced the launch of the TED Translators Mentor program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators (LCs) and reviewers in order to optimize new translators’ work. We were piloting the program at that point only in two of our largest and most active language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese (a three-month pilot that recently wrapped up); but we promised to expand the enterprise to TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities in early 2020.
Well, we’re happy to report that we commenced this expansion of the TED Translators Mentor program in late January, and it’s been nothing short of a resounding success.
With the addition of TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities, over 350 new participants have joined the mentoring initiative. As in the Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese iteration of the program, in this latest rollout mentors are providing mentees with personalized feedback, answering their translation-related questions and helping accelerate the publication of mentees’ subtitles. The mentors, furthermore, can access premium subscriptions to online language tools and tune into exclusive livestreams of TED World Theater events.
We plan to introduce the TED Translators Mentor program to even more language communities in the near future, as well as implement a new mentoring quiz, so do check back in here if you’re interested in becoming a mentor or mentee. And if you’d like to participate as a mentee in the Korean, Arabic, French, Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese programs, you can sign up here.
This past weekend, after meeting with and connecting TED Translators and TEDx organizers in Vietnam earlier in the week, Jenny Zurawell and Helena Batt traveled to Thailand to gather with Thai translators and TEDx organizers.
The meetup went down on a Saturday night at Bangkok’s Indulge Fusion Food & Cocktail Bar. In attendance were 10 TED Translators (including one LC) and five TEDxChiangMai organizers and volunteers; many of them were students, IT/tech specialists, or professional translators/interpreters.
As in Vietnam, this event was the first of its kind in Thailand. It was no surprise, then, when several TED Translators met and quickly realized, much to their excitement, that they had gone to school together and hadn’t seen one another for 10 years. The TEDx organizers who attended the inaugural gathering traveled a significant distance—from the northern city of Chiang Mai—in order to plan future collaborations with translators and to invite them as attendees to their next event.
Thanks in large part to the dedication of these TED Translators and TEDx organizers, more and more people throughout Thailand are freely accessing groundbreaking ideas via TED.
In mid-February, Jenny Zurawell and Helena Batt, TED Translators’ director and deputy director, respectively, traveled to Vietnam to connect with local TED Translators and TEDx organizers in Ho Chi Minh City. Jenny, Helena, 10 translators (including three LCs), and three TEDx organizers gathered at Hum Vegetarian restaurant and lounge on a Saturday evening.
This inaugural gathering of TED Translators, TEDxPhuMy and TEDxĐaKao organizers in Southeast Asia was the first time most of the translators, LCs and TEDx organizers in attendance had the opportunity to meet one another. While connecting, several attendees discovered that they’re also students at the same university in Vietnam, as well as the fact that each of them joined the TED Translators program in order to both refine their language skills and delve into groundbreaking ideas.
The translators and TEDx-ers went on to plan future collaborations, and TEDxPhuMy organizer Thành Công invited the TED Translators to his event in April. To cap off the gathering, Jenny and Helena broke the news that Vietnamese is now the fourth most-viewed subtitled language on TED.com.
Big things are in store for the Vietnamese translation community, so stay tuned here for more news.
Our global community of language coordinators (or LCs) facilitate the TED Translators experience in a wide array of ways, from welcoming new volunteers to approving translations for publication. One of the most vital aspects of LCs’ work is reviewing subtitles and providing constructive, actionable feedback. Reviewing is an essential component of the translation process: It fosters a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration in the TED Translators community, and, just as important, reviewing improves subtitle quality—which means more TED Talk viewers around the world can connect with TED Speakers’ ideas.
That said, we’d like to introduce you to 10 LCs whose reviewing throughout 2019 merits a huge spotlight. The LCs profiled below were last year’s most prolific reviewers, collectively tackling more than 3,000 subtitled talks. We asked these invaluable contributors to the TED Translators program to share with us why they review and what advice they have for their fellow reviewers. Read on to see what they had to say.
Language: Brazilian Portuguese Joined TED Translators in 2014
“As a TED Translators LC, I’ve had the opportunity to build so many wonderful partnerships with my colleagues—both translators and LCs alike. Such trusty working relationships are integral to the success of TED Translators, particularly because they further solidify and motivate our community of volunteers. Every translated TED Talk or TED-Ed lesson we publish is a testament to this fact—as well as to the translators’ tireless commitment to spreading today’s most innovative ideas as far and wide as possible. To be able to contribute to all of this is priceless to me.”
“LC reviews are a crucial component of publishing accurate translations of TED Talks. First off, because it entails identifying structural issues with translations and alerting translators to them, reviewing is an LC’s initial step in mentoring new volunteers. Secondly, our reviews, particularly when completed quickly, show translators that their work is valued and keeps them motivated. And finally, LC reviews help TED Translators organize their own translation teams, so to speak; I know of a lot of translators from numerous backgrounds who, thanks to the reviewing process, now regularly collaborate with each other.”
“Whether you’re an LC or a translator, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help if need be. And remember that you’re part of an amazing project; your work benefits you along with countless others.”
Language: Indonesian Joined TED Translators in 2012
“As a TED Translator, it’s always been exciting and inspiring to me when my translations are reviewed and published. One of my main goals as an LC is to provide other TED Translators that same satisfaction and motivation I’ve experienced. To add to that, here’s something key I’ve learned as an LC that I’d like to share with my colleagues: Reviews optimally benefit translators and translation communities alike when they include both corrections and useful feedback.”
Language: Brazilian Portuguese Joined TED Translators in 2015
“LC reviews were extremely instructive and encouraging to me as a novice TED Translator. Furthermore, I regard my LC work as a way to pass along to new volunteers what my mentors taught me and to spur these translators to graduate to LCs themselves.”
“To me, reviewing is fundamental to the TED Translators program: It simultaneously acknowledges translators’ dedication to the project and increases viewer access to TED Talks and the pioneering ideas they present.”
“Reviewing is perhaps the most important part of subtitling TED Talks: It not only enhances TED Translators’ translation skills, but it also enables language learners worldwide to continually access TED Talks as an indispensable resource. That’s why I encourage all LCs to strive for accuracy as much as possible while reviewing.”
Language: Portuguese Joined TED Translators in 2014
“Reviewing translations as an LC has helped me to realize and remember that my idiom is often not the same as that of a speaker I’m translating. Given this, it’s important that LCs maintain regular contact with the translators they’re working with and discuss any and all changes or corrections with them.”
To honor TEDWomen 2019, we here at TED Translators recently hosted a subtitling contest to help highlight novel ideas being shared by female speakers from around the world. Each TED Translator who participated was asked to select a TED or TEDx talk given by a female speaker, and then collaborate with a reviewer or Language Coordinator (LC) in their respective language community to create and publish subtitles for their particular talk within a month. More than 150 TED Translators took part in the contest, and, without exaggeration, every entry we received was sincere and thoughtful in its own way. A huge thank-you to everybody who participated! Check out the winners and their timely and insightful submissions below.
We decided to translate this talk into Persian because we both believe that health is the most valuable gift that life offers us. And by extension, we believe that any substantive effort, such as Leila’s, to discover more effective treatments for prevalent diseases is a vital undertaking to share with as many language communities as possible. We were also intrigued by Leila’s approach of combining mathematics and artificial intelligence to treat diseases.
On a related note: Since this contest is in honor of women, we’d like to highlight the fact that many extremely talented and skillful women reside in Iran, and Leila Pirhaji, a pioneering scientist, is undoubtedly one of them.
We translated author and researcher Deepa Narayan’s talk into our native Polish because we strongly believe that every woman should watch it; the issues she discusses are universal to all women. In her talk, Deepa identifies seven “beliefs” that largely silence and repress women, and she shows us how we—women and men alike—can unlearn these regressive conceptions. She also incisively demontrates how both these beliefs and their antidotes cut across so many of the world’s societies and cultures and their respective social hierarchies. In short, then, we translated Deepa’s talk because it truly has the power to effect progressive social changes on a worldwide scale.
We chose to translate human rights protector Rabiaa El Garani’s talk into Hungarian because it addresses an array of important and fascinating (and sometimes appalling) experiences by women around the world, while simultaneously providing a study in exemplary human empathy. Born in Belgium to uneducated parents who had emigrated there from Morocco, Rabiaa nonetheless fully integrated into European society and culture. But she didn’t assimilate: She continued to speak her native Arabic and maintained a strong connection to her Moroccan roots.
It’s this deep understanding of multiple cultures that has fueled and informed Rabiaa’s vital human rights work in some of the world’s most violent regions—including in Iraq, where she’s worked to heal the trauma of Yazidi women who’ve survived the genocidal campaigns of mass murder and rape perpetrated there by the Islamic State group (IS; formerly ISIS). Which brings us to the other reason we translated Rabiaa’s talk: to show our fellow European citizens that, contrary to the popular notion that many migrants to the continent are terrorists or other bad actors, most are actually people who are trying to escape terrorism and other violence and rebuild their shattered lives.
We’re super excited to report that in mid-December of last year, TEDxMlatiWomen, the first-ever TEDxWomen conference to take place in Indonesia, went down in the country’s city of Yogyakarta. The gathering, the theme of which was “Rewrite the Rules”, was both organized and attended by a diverse cross-section of individuals from the city who all share a passion for gender-related issues. TEDxMlatiWomen’s attendees had the opportunity to listen to talks by various experts in the field of women’s empowerment, as well as network with each other.
TED Translators was well-represented at the inaugural event by Indonesian translator Deera Army Pramana, a Yogyakarta local who teaches biology at a boarding school in the city (and whose curriculum includes TED Talks and introducing students to the TED Translators program). Prior to TEDxMlatiWomen, Deera contacted the conference’s organizer and secured a TED Translators promotional booth at the gathering. She also helped add a couple TED Translators swag items to the 100 goody bags that were gifted to the audience and speakers: our idiom cards, and one of our bookmarks with both the TED Translators tagline in Indonesian and our website address on it.
Deera was joined at TEDxMlatiWomen by fellow Indonesian TED Translator and Yogyakarta resident, Dzaki Jabbar Mahdi. As she told us: “Dzaki and I met before the event started and set up our booth near the entrance of the conference hall; this way, we could engage with attendees after each session. We had an assortment of TED Translators pins, stickers and other similar items to hand out to people who stopped by.” Deera also noted to us that a large number of visitors to the booth were on the younger side and unaware of the TED Translators program. “We spoke with them about the initiative—many were quite interested—and I provided my contact info to multiple enthusiastic visitors so they could reach out to me afterward.”
Overall, TEDxMlatiWomen was an excellent occasion to further broaden TED Translators’ global community, particularly in Indonesia. Thanks to Deera and Dzaki’s exhaustive efforts at the conference, we did just that.
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.)