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?
The first talk I translated is called “Heart on the sleeve of his hoodie”, and it was delivered by Daniel Alabi at TEDxYouth@Holborn. Daniel recites a short love poem to debunk stereotypes that people sometimes apply to him.
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?
Yes! Right now, I’m in the process of translating a new, beautiful TED Talk: “A love letter to realism in a time of grief”.
Also, my translations of the following talks were recently published:
- “SpaceX’s plan to fly you across the globe in 30 minutes”. (My 200th subtitled talk!)
- “A new way to monitor vital signs (that can see through walls)”.
- “You may be accidentally investing in cigarette companies”.
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.