TEDSummit 2019 interview series: TED Translators Lidia Cámara de la Fuente & Marlén Scholand

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.


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