TED Translators at TED2019: a recap

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(Photograph by Dian Lofton.)

A few weeks ago, we posted a brief update on TED Translators’ activities at TED2019, and we promised a more in-depth recap to come. So, without further ado, we present to you our full report; check it out below!


The TED Translators contingent—made up of translators from 15 different cities around the world—kicked off their trip to TED2019 with a private dinner at Downtown Vancouver’s renowned Market by Jean-Georges restaurant. During this gathering, they had the opportunity to meet and mingle with each other, TED staff and TED’s Head of Media, Colin Helms. At one point in the evening, the translators shared their proudest moments as TED Translators. Carolina Aguirre, for example, recounted how volunteering with TED Translators enabled her to realize her passion for translating and subtitling—so much so that she changed her profession from law to full-time translation!

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(Photograph by Dian Lofton.)

Before the first session of TED2019 got underway, the TED Translators attended a working lunch and workshop. The translators broke into three groups based on their respective language communities and then discussed the common successes and challenges their language groups have experienced. The TED Translators also brainstormed various new means of engaging with and expanding their translation communities both on- and offline. What’s more, several members of TED’s tech team and TED’s Director of Audience Development, Carla Zanoni, joined the workshop to plan future partnerships with local TED Translators in order to grow TED’s overall global audience and presence.

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(Photograph by Dian Lofton.)

Toward the end of the week-long conference, TED Translators hosted a conversation with TED2016 Speaker Tim Urban. The discussion, which focused on the topic of procrastination, was open to other TED2019 attendees as well and took place just outside the Vancouver Convention Centre’s main theater. Tim explained that all forms of procrastination are not equal; there are countless productive ways to procrastinate. In fact, he specifically cited translation and the work of TED Translators as an example (sometimes) of productive procrastination! Asked to offer some concrete correctives to putting off tasks, Tim stressed not only the importance of setting personal goals and deadlines, but also the value in sharing goals and deadlines with family and friends so as to help keep oneself accountable and on track.

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TED2019 wrapped up a few days later, and as the TED Translators in attendance parted ways, there was unanimous agreement among them that they were leaving Vancouver with fresh knowledge and insights to bring back to their individual translation communities.


12 untranslatable words by TED Translators

TED Translators work at the intersection of culture and language. They help big ideas transcend language and global borders. Together, TED Translators represent more than 115 unique languages, many of which contain certain words that don’t exist in other languages. We asked a few of the TED Translators attending TED2018 to share a word from their language that cannot be easily translated into English. Enjoy learning these 12 words—and let us know what untranslatable words exist in your own language!


TED Translators at TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

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On November 28, the inaugural TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering went down at London’s Here East. The event, produced by TED and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany through the TED Institute program, convened 16 innovators in healthcare, art, technology, psychology and other fields to speak under the banner of “Breakthroughs”. Among the attendees was a contingent of veteran and new TED Translators from London and neighboring areas who came together not only to engage with the speakers’ novel ideas, but also to connect with each other in person and share their translation knowledge and experiences.

Of the wide variety of talks delivered at TED@Merck  KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, one which resonated most with the TED Translators was Tiffany Watt Smith’s The history of human emotions. A research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, Smith probed how the words we choose to describe our emotions can in turn affect how we feel; furthermore, our emotional lexicons often change in response to shifts in cultural expectations and perceptions. “[Emotions] are shaped not just by our bodies,” she explained, “but by our thoughts, our concepts, our language…[A]s language changes, our emotions do, too.” This observation drove home a crucial point for the TED Translators, especially since one of the translator’s key, frequently painstaking jobs is to distill ideas into their appropriate words: If language can influence emotions, then the translator’s quest to find the right words for her translations must extend into the realm of emotional accuracy as well.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the initial TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany gathering was itself a breakthrough, giving everyone who attended and spoke plenty of new food for thought. For their part, the TED Translators group wrapped up their time at the event feeling inspired, better-connected with each other and more committed than ever to the art of translation.