An interview with TED Translator Jihyeon Kim

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

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

What do you enjoy most about being a TED Translator?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, I get excited just thinking about this!

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

5 thoughts on “An interview with TED Translator Jihyeon Kim

  1. “Love to learn, learn to love” yes, I agree. As a part of the community, I’d love to do this job for someone else who might have motivation going forward at least. I am so proud of you Jihyeon.

  2. 안녕하세요 지현씨~^^
    테드 번역가로 활동하시는 모습이 참 멋져보이세요!><
    저는 한국에서 영어교사로 일하고있는데요 번역가가 되려면 어떻게 해야 할까요~제가 이 분야에 대해 인터넷을 찾아보면 정보가 많이 쏟아져나오긴 하지만 막상 지금 어디서부터 시작해야하는지가 막연해서 이렇게 염치불구하고 리플 남겨봅니다~^^

  3. “Love to learn, learn to love” is a great motto to embrace. As an Educator, I often tell my students to have an open-mind relative to meeting other people from different walks of life. “Teach one, Reach one” is another motto I love because it starts with you as an individual. Just think if all people incorporated these mottoes in their everyday life, what a world it would be! Keep on spreading positive words of encouragement Jihyeon in this all too often dark and evil world..

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