TEDSummit 2019 interview series: TED Translator Ahmed Yousify

ahmed-tedx

Last week, we brought you an interview with TED Translator Allam Zedan, who was denied a visa to travel to the U.K. to attend TEDSummit 2019. This week, we speak with another TED Translator who faced the same refusal: Kurdish translator Ahmed Yousify. We talked with Ahmed about his personal experience as a TED Translator, how visa denials like his impact language communities, his advice for new TED Translators and lots more. Check out our conversation below.


Let’s start with the TEDxNishtiman 2019 conference that was recently held in Erbil, Kurdistan. You officially represented TED Translators at the gathering and helped spread awareness of our mission and excellent global volunteer community. Can you tell us about how you came to be TED Translators’ ambassador to TEDxNishtiman 2019, and also about the conference itself?

About a week before TEDxNishtiman 2019, the organizer of the event—whom I know from the same conference in 2017—reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I, as a Kurdish LC and TED Translator, would represent and promote TED Translators at the gathering. I accepted the offer. At the conference, we played TED Translators’ short introductory video about the initiative, and I manned a booth where I provided attendees more information about TED Translators and how to volunteer with us. I also collected emails from those folks who visited the booth so that I could later send them further related material (which I did). In addition, I assisted a small team that live translated the 12 talks delivered at TEDxNishtiman into English, Arabic and Kurdish.

How long have you been a TED Translator? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what about the enterprise inspires you nowadays?

I’ve been a TED Translator since April 2014, when TED Translators was still known as the Open Translation Project (OTP). In January 2015, I became the project’s first Kurdish LC. I was initially drawn to TED thanks to a TV channel which aired a variety of TED and TEDx Talks; this gave me a unique opportunity to learn about a wide array of subjects in one place. Because my English is good and I wanted to use and improve it in a meaningful way, I joined the OTP. I was inspired very early on by how both TED Talks and events continue to resonate in and positively influence communities around the world, and that fueled me to contribute to the enterprise as much as possible. Now that I’m an LC, I find a lot of satisfaction in mentoring new TED Translators. Keeping up to speed with the continually evolving universe of ideas created by TEDx gatherings inspires me, too.

Of all the talks you’ve translated, which one sticks out as your favorite so far?

Well, there are two talks, actually, and they’re quite related; I translated one and reviewed the other. My translation of Alison Whitmire’s excellent talk at TEDxPugetSound, “The art of living—integrating life’s passions”, led me to watch and review a talk by Simon Sinek from the same conference called “Start with why—how great leaders inspire action”. Simon’s talk, which focuses on cultivating what you believe in and motivating both yourself and others to see your vision, quickly became my favorite and has impacted me personally on many levels.

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Ahmed (left) recruiting translators at TEDxNishtiman

You were invited to attend TEDSummit 2019, but were unable to travel to the conference because the U.K. denied you a visa. Can you share your thoughts on this experience with us? How do you think such denials have affected the Kurdish translation community?

I was thrilled to be invited to represent the Kurdish language community at TEDSummit 2019, and I really looked forward to exchanging ideas, perspectives and experiences with the global TED Translators community in attendance there. Alas, although the theme of this year’s Summit was “A community beyond borders”, borders were a primary reason why an astonishing number of talented and passionate TED Translators were unable to participate in the conference. If government leaders, policy makers, etc.—those who often create and control borders—can freely attend (and sometimes speak at) international TED events, why can’t TED Translators invited by TED do the same?

Had I made it to TEDSummit 2019, I would have been able to detail and discuss the Kurdish translation community with my fellow translators; I could have gained new insights from them, learned the best practices of their respective language communities, and then brought that knowledge back to mine. So, I think you’ll agree with me that my visa denial robbed the Kurdish translation community in a sense—as I’m sure other denials did to other language communities.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not busy translating?

Outside of translating, I spend my time watching movies and football matches, playing video games, following technology-related news, and going out with friends. 

Finally, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?

First: Welcome to the TED Translators family! As a member of this amazing initiative, you are helping to spread groundbreaking ideas not only in your respective language communities, but also around the world. You have the power to share talks on vital subjects and issues on both a local and international level—that’s a wonderful privilege. Lastly, remember to enjoy and take pride in your translations.


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