An interview with Hindi TED Translator Adisha Aggarwal

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Photo courtesy of Adisha Aggarwal.

We’ve been on a brief hiatus since our last post, but we’re excited to return on the cusp of fall with an interview with Hindi TED Translator Adisha Aggarwal. Read on to learn about Adisha’s translation work, how she’s developed a better understanding of the complexities and nuances of language, one of her favorite books and more.


To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Personally, I’m a happy soul. Professionally, I’m a program manager at Akamai Technologies in Bangalore, India.

When and how did you start translating with TED Translators?

I attended TEDxCambridge in September 2016, during a visit to the U.S. I had watched numerous TED Talks on YouTube prior to this, but I hadn’t been to a live TED event yet. It was an overwhelming experience—in a great way: I was spellbound by the speakers’ passion and animation, and extremely impressed by how well the gathering was executed.

On the same visit, a colleague told me she’d translated a number of TED Talks into Hindi via TED Translators, and I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity to make ideas and information accessible to non-English speakers. I then applied to become a Hindi TED Translator as soon as I could.

Were there specific talks or subjects you gravitated toward when you started translating?

When I began searching for talks that were available for Hindi translation, I decided my work should help viewers gain new knowledge on a subject and/or enable them to understand the challenges other societies face.

I initially translated several talks on the importance of learning different languages, the power of mathematics and the impact of online abuse. After these, I was drawn to translating Ted-Ed lessons because they allow viewers to understand a new topic in a short span of time.

What is the Hindi translation community like? How large is it? Is it growing?

Interesting question. Currently, there are about 50 Hindi TED Translators, some of whom are extremely active and a few of whom have translated over 100 talks. All of them, however, are dedicated to spreading ideas and knowledge in the Hindi language.

I’d like to add here that India is a multilingual country with around 122 major languages and 1599 other languages, so the Indian translation community isn’t limited to Hindi. In fact, TED’s website indicates there are close to 200 TED Translators in India, and not all of them work in Hindi.

What do you enjoy most about being a TED Translator?

It provides a unique avenue to explore the depth and complexity of Hindi, my first language. I studied Hindi in school for 13 years and use it daily. But what you might call everyday Hindi is quite different from the language’s written version, which is more formal, and translating has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of both. In addition, working as a TED Translator has improved my English and made me more attentive to grammatical variations between different languages.

I also like the fact that translating requires I think more deeply about the subject and content of talks than I might if I were just watching them; I become more invested in and excited about the ideas presented.

Last but not least, I thoroughly enjoy the chance TED Translators gives me to help important knowledge and ideas transcend language, cultural and many other barriers.

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

I’d say to a new TED Translator: Research—a lot. More specifically, research to figure out the best yet simplest words you can use in your translations before you finalize your subtitles. It’s not uncommon for some words to exist in only one language, and these can be challenging to translate, but it’s almost always possible to find their optimal counterparts.

As to the second part of this question, I believe I need to do lots more translating before I feel qualified to give advice to a veteran TED Translator.

What are your interests outside of translating?

I love to watch TED Talks, of course—which is how I developed an interest in translation—as well as documentaries, movies and TV series. Reading is big for me, too. And running, especially in nice weather.

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

Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. It blew my mind; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a sweeping study of humankind—evolution, agriculture, societies, religions, human behavior and so much more—that’s carried out so interestingly and in such clear prose, I could hardly put the book down.

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

“What women need to do differently to conquer the world”.

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