A spotlight on TED Translators in Ukraine

Ukraine
Photos courtesy of Mila Arseniuk (left) and Marta Demkiv (right).

At TED2018, TED Fellow and journalist Olga Yurkova delivered a talk that unflinchingly addressed the media scourge of fake news and how it’s spreading misinformation in Ukraine. She also discussed how we can combat this critical problem, pointing to StopFake.org, the independent fact-checking organization she cofounded, as one powerful antidote available to us. Here at TED Translators, we thought it would be interesting to speak with the Ukrainian translators who subtitled and reviewed Olga’s talk. Read on to meet Marta Demkiv and Mila Arseniuk, and get their perspectives on the translation process, fake news in Ukraine, the Ukrainian translation community, and more.

Why did you decide to translate this particular talk?

Marta: I should start with the fact that I’m currently obtaining my master’s degree in English-Ukrainian translation, and translating TED Talks was part of my assigned studies. I sought out what I thought were timely talks that fell within my sphere of interests, and Olga’s was one of them: She discusses a very urgent problem in Ukraine (and much of the rest of the world too)—fake news—and I wanted to share her perspective and efforts to curb the dissemination of fake news with as many folks as I could.

Mila: Because of its relevance to our times. Of course, fake news is not a new problem, but it’s proliferated at an alarming rate over the past few years, especially in Ukraine—and there’s little sign of this spread stopping anytime soon. We now live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information, much of which distorts or obscures truth and facts, often with detrimental social and political consequences; so it’s vital that we teach ourselves to identify and weed out fake news (as StopFake.org does) in order to stay adequately informed.

Can you describe your translation process for this talk? How did you begin, and what were the steps that followed?

Marta: I began by watching Olga’s talk several times to familiarize myself with her cadence, tone, accent, etc. Then, line by line, I rendered a translation. Every five minutes, I played back the talk to check the subtitles’ accuracy and readability. The final step was revision, after which I sent the subtitled talk to an LC for review.

Mila: As the reviewer of Marta’s subtitles, my work started when I saw that a Ukrainian-language review was needed for Olga’s talk. So, Marta completed the main translation, and I was essentially her editor.

Were there any words or phrases in the talk that were difficult to translate into Ukrainian? How did you go about finding approximate translations for these?

Marta: Actually, for me, the most difficult aspect of translating Olga’s talk was sticking to the 40-character limit for each line. There were certain points where 40 characters were not enough to fully convey what Olga said. In these cases, I had to opt for the shortest and most striking target equivalent.

Mila: I didn’t encounter any translation difficulties during my review. Some English words that might seem tricky, like “fake” or “post-truth,” are actually common in Ukrainian and translate easily. I personally find talks by native English speakers much more challenging to translate.

The subject matter and tone of Olga’s talk are clearly serious and urgent. Did you have to make certain word or phrase choices in Ukrainian to maintain the talk’s tenor?

Marta: Certainly. With subtitles, a translator has only words at her disposal, and those words can’t communicate emotions displayed through gestures and intonation. So in the instances when Olga emphasized the gravity of her talk’s subject with a motion or shift in tone, I had to make sure the words surrounding these non-verbal stresses reflected the expressed emotions as closely as possible.

Mila: I agree: The bane of fake news in Ukraine is clearly serious and urgent. Because most Ukrainians already realize this, though, no special words, phrases or “tricks” were needed to preserve the talk’s tenor.

On a different note, what is the Ukrainian TED Translator community like? What has it been like to work with other volunteers?

Marta: Well, I’m quite new to the TED Translators community, so I’m still familiarizing myself with it. That said, I really enjoy translating TED Talks. The feeling I get when I see my subtitles published on-screen is indescribable. I will definitely translate more talks in the future!

Mila: Ukraine has a large, inspiring community of TED volunteers, and TED Translators is a steadily growing part of it: I see Ukrainian subtitles added to talks on an almost-daily basis; I’ve worked with TEDxKyiv since 2014; and Khrystyna Romashko, a Ukrainian LC, has either translated, reviewed or transcribed 984 talks so far! (She and I live in Lviv and Kyiv, respectively, and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person soon.)

Finally, can you tell us a bit about yourselves? What are your passions outside of translating?

Marta: Outside of translating, I’m a very active person: I enjoy skiing, swimming, cycling, traveling. When I’m home, I can read for hours (which helps hone my English) or I’ll seek out interesting films to watch. Oh, and I watch TED Talks quite often too.

Mila: I work in communications for WWF Ukraine. In this capacity, I help people understand the importance of rare species to Earth’s ecosystems and why conservation of brown bears, lynxes, sturgeons and other endangered species in Ukraine is vital to maintaining an ecological balance. Because of the passion I have for this work, for the environment, I try to translate TED Talks that deal in ecology, sustainable consumption, renewable resources, etc.

Also, thanks to my dad’s love of the game, I’m a huge fan of ice hockey. In fact, part of my planning for holiday always involves finding out if there will be a game I can attend wherever I might be going. If there isn’t one that fits my schedule, I don’t mind rearranging my plans so I can catch a game while traveling. It’s no surprise, then, that I own lots of hockey-related souvenirs; some of them have even been given to me by friends who picked them up for me during their own holidays.


Check out Olga Yurkova’s talk at TED2018 below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s