Recap: TED Translators at Countdown Summit

Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

TED’s inaugural Countdown Summit got underway on October 12 in Edinburgh, Scotland. As we reported in our last post, a team of TED Translators attended the four-day gathering — both in person and remotely — where they delved into “imaginative and scalable solutions that we’ll need to turn the tide on climate change and create a healthier and more equitable world for all.”

Those translators on the ground in Edinburgh linked up on the eve of Countdown’s kickoff for a welcome from TED Translators’ deputy director Helena Batt, and a casual meet-and-greet over drinks and dinner. The next afternoon saw all of the invited translators participate in the summit’s first session. Afterward, those who’d made the trip to Countdown got the chance to mingle with distinguished attendees like Al Gore and Emma Watson at the event’s launch party.

Throughout the rest of the week, the entire cohort of TED Translators was immersed in Countdown’s incredibly wide array of talks, workshops and breakout sessions, all of which homed in on potential solutions for climate change that are simultaneously science-based, creative and bold.

As the summit closed out and the translators parted ways, they were in unanimous agreement that their time together had been extremely stimulating and constructive. Our sights are now set on TED2022, which is scheduled for April of next year. Check back in with us here in the near future for application information on that and other upcoming gatherings.

Meet the TED Translators attending TED’s first-ever Countdown Summit

This week, TED’s inaugural Countdown Summit is taking place in Edinburgh, Scotland. Billed as a gathering that “will unveil … imaginative and scalable solutions that we’ll need to turn the tide on climate change and create a healthier and more equitable world for all”, the four-day summit features a distinctly diverse roster of speakers, from scientists to Indigenous leaders to policy makers to artists. A dynamic group of TED Translators is in attendance, both on-the-ground and virtually, participating in Countdown’s panoply of talks, performances and breakout sessions. Read on to learn more about these fine folks.

Nawfal Aljabali* (Yemen + U.S.)

Law student

Nawfal was born in Yemen, and he currently lives in Dearborn City, Michigan. He recently obtained his master’s degree in law. “Because I’m in the process of establishing an organization in my home country that will work toward reducing climate change,” Nawfal says, “I’m looking forward to the Countdown Summit as an excellent opportunity to advance my climate-change knowledge while connecting with likeminded individuals from around the world.”

Gözde Alpçetin* (Turkey)

Student, English + literature

Now an undergraduate student majoring in English and literature at Turkey’s Ege University, Gözde joined TED Translators in 2019. Her goal then was simple: to hone her translation skills. But it wasn’t long before she realized that the program also enabled her to freely share stimulating ideas with Turkish speakers far and wide. “What I’ve come to love about TED Translators is that I can contribute to a global community built on spreading knowledge regardless of borders, beliefs, customs, etc.,” Gözde tells us. At Countdown, she aims to both expand her understanding of the world’s climate crisis and learn how to take effective action to help stanch it.

Julia Galles (U.K.)

Freelance translator

Julia is a U.K.-based freelance translator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is pursuing a master’s in translation. After watching several TED Talks she “found fascinating,” Julia joined TED Translators in 2018 “to disseminate ingenious and important ideas to Spanish speakers, including those with impaired hearing.” For her, the Countdown Summit is a unique chance to meet and unite with fellow TED Translators under the banner of collectively mitigating climate change and healing the planet.

Ellen Maloney (Scotland)

Student, philosophy + psychology

At present, Ellen is studying philosophy and psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She’s been a TED Translator for six years and counting, ever since she was introduced to the program at TEDWomen 2015 and drawn to its free exchange of ideas and information on a global scale. “One of the aspects of Countdown that I’m most excited about is collaborating with fellow translators and other attendees to find actionable ways to alleviate climate change,” Ellen says.

Lam Nguyen* (Vietnam + France)

Security engineer

Born in Vietnam, Lam currently resides in France as he completes his master’s degree in cybersecurity at university there. His work as an engineer entails ensuring systems security in technology-deployment environments. An avid watcher of TED Talks, he became a TED Translator in 2017 upon a friend’s recommendation and out of his desire to enlarge the Vietnamese-speaking audience for the novel ideas he’d encountered. Lam tells us that for him “the Countdown Summit is an invaluable occasion to learn about new initiatives to fight climate change directly from the experts who are developing them.”

Anna Pecot (U.S.)

International development consultant

Anna is a full-time international development consultant at the World Bank Group, and she also works on-call as a court interpreter, translator and language consultant. She began her career at the World Bank as a translator and interpreter, but over 20 years her duties there became progressively less language-oriented. In 2017, Anna joined TED Translators in order to exercise her Russian-language skills again—this time in an impactful volunteer environment. “To want to give back to society seems to me to be a natural inclination in all of us,” she explains. “And to do so in an intellectual capacity, by sharing the phenomenal ideas and vital knowledge TED Talks promulgate, is naturally empowering.” At Countdown, Anna plans to immerse herself in the wide array of leading climate advocates’ bold visions and strategies for rehabilitating the Earth. And, of course, she can’t wait to connect with the other TED Translators in attendance.

Guillaume Rouy* (France)

Engineering student

Guillaume has been a TED Translator since 2018, when his affinity for scientific talks met his desire to improve his English. His engineering studies “follow a generalist course,” he tells us, but “I’m keen on energy conversion and related areas of focus, especially if they can contribute to climate preservation.” It’s no surprise, then, that Guillaume is excited to see if the models and proposals put forth by Countdown’s speakers are realizable within the present-day bounds of science. He’s also thrilled that he’ll get the chance to engage with some of the most prominent actors in the fight against climate change.

Natalie Solbach (Germany)

Content specialist in corporate communications

In addition to corporate communications, Natalie has worked in journalism and holds a master’s degree in linguistics. She joined TED Translators in 2019 with the aim of “increasing access to TED Talks and the power they can give viewers to effect profound positive changes in the world.” As for the Countdown Summit, Natalie is most looking forward to Al Gore’s presentation (which will be delivered during a private pre-conference session, but should be available to watch shortly afterward).

Almudena Torrecilla (Spain)

IT systems analyst

Almudena’s passion for languages and translation, combined with her drive to help spread what she calls TED Talks’ “stimulating food for thought,” led her to join TED Translators in 2019. She very quickly discovered that the program offers her “a wonderful community of volunteers who are always ready to collaborate,” as well as a productive outlet for stress. “I’m extremely happy to be attending Countdown,” Almudena says. “To have the opportunity to delve into the world of TED in person, particularly in service of addressing climate change, is amazing. I can’t wait!”

*Attending the summit remotely.


German, Hindi, Indonesian, Vietnamese added to Mentoring program

We’re excited to announce we’re adding four new languages to our Mentoring program: German, Hindi, Indonesian and Vietnamese! The Mentoring program allows volunteers to connect with each other to gain real-time feedback and to develop their subtitling and translation skills.

Since the Mentoring program re-opened (after the launch of CaptionHub), many Mentors and Mentees in the program’s other language communities have been busy re-engaging with one another and trying out the program’s new features, including a customizable connection plan that volunteers can personalize according to their specific goals.

In the coming months, we’ll be regularly adding more languages to the Mentoring program, as well as spotlighting some of the most prolific Mentors and their tips for optimizing Mentor-Mentee collaborations. Stay tuned here for those updates!

TED Translators launch on CaptionHub!

We’re thrilled to announce that TED Translators officially launched on CaptionHub!

What is CaptionHub? It’s a collaborative subtitling platform that helps users subtitle videos quickly and accurately — all in a streamlined workflow.

Why TED Translators’ partnership with CaptionHub? CaptionHub offers a user-friendly experience with an advanced suite of tools that allow users to create high-quality subtitles. Plus, it includes a number of features that translators have long requested:

  • Review assignment access limited to qualified users
  • Audio waveform and spellcheck
  • Line-by-line comments in the subtitle editor
  • Different assignment limits according to user role
  • Personal and language community activity metrics

In addition, users will be able to use AI-generated drafts as a starting point for their transcripts in many languages. With future development, we’ll also have the ability to integrate with TED-specific AI models, as well as translation memory tools.

We’ll have more information on TED Translators’ launch on CaptionHub to share with you soon. In the meantime, we’d like to extend a big thank-you to TED’s tech team and CaptionHub, who have worked tirelessly to build out this new experience for TED Translators. We look forward to what the future of TED Translators’ partnership with CaptionHub holds, and we hope you do too.

An interview with TED Translator & TEDx Organizer Hamzeh Koumakli

Hamzeh Koumakli is an Arabic TED Translator who resides in Homs, Syria. He’s currently an undergraduate medical student and a freelance translator for a company that uses smart technology to streamline health care. In 2016, he helped organize one of the first-ever TEDx events in his country, TEDxMimasStreet, for which he’s now the lead organizer. And recently, Hamzeh became a TED Translators Mentor for the Arabic-language community. We spoke with him over email about these experiences and more.


How long have you been a TED Translator, and what drew you to the program?

I joined the TED Translators program a bit over three years ago, in September 2017. But my journey with TED began in 2015, when I was a college freshman: My cousin introduced me to TED via an inspiring talk called “How to speak so that people want to listen”, which Julian Treasure delivered at TEDGlobal 2013. It’s a talk that I believe is more urgent and relevant than ever, especially for we Syrians who’ve had to live under the dark cloud of war for almost 10 years now, all the while seeking peace through dialogue.

Soon after watching Julian’s talk, an idea occurred to me: What if the TED community in Syria could leverage TED Talks to provide Syrians with a powerful means to both share vital, groundbreaking knowledge among themselves and to potentially help end the war? So when I found out that TEDxMimasStreet (one of the first-ever TEDx events organized in Syria) was set to take place in my hometown of Homs, I jumped at the chance to join the conference’s organizing team. It was at this gathering that a TED colleague of mine filled me in on the TED Translators program.

Not long afterward, I started translating for TED Translators. My aim from day one has been to spread TED Talks’ unique insights throughout the Arabic-speaking world in order to effect positive change, particularly for those of us who’ve had to endure the war in Syria.

As you told us above, you recently helped organize and put on TEDxMimasStreet, one of the first TEDx events to take place in Syria. What inspired you to do so?

First off, every war inevitably results in death and destruction, which is most of what I’ve witnessed here since 2011. Furthermore, when wars end, the majority of reconstruction efforts tend to focus on infrastructure at the expense of adequately addressing war’s psychological, social and cultural traumas. We at TEDxMimasStreet, however, believe that rebuilding Syria and its society requires the bolstering and sharing of knowledge, be it cultural, academic or otherwise. And given that the country is filled with creative and smart people who want to share their stories and insights with each other and the world, organizing a TEDx event where Syrians from an array of backgrounds could gather and exchange their ideas seemed like an excellent way to help unite and heal war-fractured Syria.

Can you tell us what it’s been like for you to work as both a TED Translator and professional medical translator while both war and the COVID-19 pandemic afflict Syria?

The past six months or so have been tough for all Syrians, but I think we’ve learned a lot in that time that’s strengthened us. Speaking for myself, both the war and pandemic have increased my sense of responsibility toward my community, particularly in the context of my medical studies.

I’ve been working professionally for Infermedica, a company that employs smart technology to “[make] it easier to pre-diagnose, triage, and direct…patients to appropriate medical services.” Recently, I translated a COVID-19 assessment tool that’s been deployed in many countries around the world.

I’ve also been trying, via my personal blog, to provide reliable and actionable information on how people can stay physically and mentally healthy during the pandemic, as well as how they can avoid mis- and disinformation on COVID-19.

With regard to my TED Translators work, I’ve lately been focusing on translating coronavirus- and COVID-19-related talks. I encourage other TED Translators to do the same: The more we share and spread accurate info with each other and the world, so much the better for humanity.

This summer, you were a TED Translators delegate at TED2020, which happened to be TED’s first-ever virtual conference due to the pandemic. Can you tell us about that experience?

As a Syrian citizen, I was initially worried about whether or not Canada would grant me a visa, as Syrians have been denied visas to various Western countries for several years now. My worry disappeared, though, when I learned that TED2020 would take place virtually because of travel and other restrictions owing to the pandemic. Of course I would have loved to travel to Vancouver and meet some of my fellow TED Translators in person, but this year’s flagship conference offered a remarkable panel of speakers whose talks I was still able to enjoy with my colleagues; it was the experience of a lifetime for me.

What do you have planned for the future translation-wise?

I plan to reach 100 completed translations by the end of this year, and to establish five successful TED Translators Mentors program relationships with mentees. As a Mentor, my aim is to help as many new TED Translators as I can to pursue their respective translation journeys.

I’m considering applying to become an Arabic Language Coordinator, too. The Arabic TED Translators community is growing rapidly, and I think that as an LC I could positively contribute to this expansion.

Do you have any advice for new TED Translators?

There’s a huge variety of TED, TEDx and TED-Ed talks, so I recommend selecting a subject that interests you and going all-in with your translations. And don’t forget that your work as a TED Translator enables the free spreading of vital knowledge across languages and borders.

Real-time chat added to Mentoring program

We’re excited to announce that we’ve enabled a real-time chat feature in the TED Translators Mentoring Program. This upgrade allows for faster communication between mentees and mentors, as well as the ability for both to easily scroll through their conversation history.

To access the new chat feature, just click on the “Messaging” tab in Chronus. And if you use the Chronus mobile app and turn on push notifications, you can see and reply to messages right away.

We look forward to the increased connectivity this new feature will bring to the TED Translators Mentoring Program, and we hope you do too!

Meet the winners of our second annual TEDWomen subtitling contest

To celebrate TEDWomen 2020, we recently hosted our second annual subtitling contest to spotlight novel ideas that female speakers from around the world are sharing. The TED Translators who participated were asked to select a TED or TEDx talk given by a female speaker, and then collaborate with a reviewer or Language Coordinator to create and publish subtitles for their talk within a month.

What was on the line prize-wise? A gratis conference pass to TEDWomen 2020; each winner’s choice of a subscription to Audible, Babbel or Headspace; and a TED Translators blog feature highlighting all of the winning teams.

A huge number of TED Translators took part in this year’s contest, and we can’t overemphasize that every entry we received was sincere and thoughtful in its own way. A hearty thank-you to everybody who participated! Without further ado, check out the winners and their timely and incisive submissions below.


Razaw Salar Hassan, Zhila Mawlood and Daban Jaff

Translated talk: Khalida Brohi: How I work to protect women from honor killings

Here’s what Razaw told us about why she translated into Kurdish the devastating-yet-hopeful talk that Khalida Brohi delivered at TEDGlobal 2014.

Khalida’s talk really hit home for me for several urgent reasons. To start, one of my friends was murdered by her father and brothers in a so-called “honor killing” here in Kurdistan. This hideous crime is perpetrated against women and girls in many different countries, from Brazil to the U.K. to Iraq to Pakistan to the U.S., and its prevalence among the traditionally conservative Kurdish culture is horrifying. The “honor killing” of women and girls here, as elsewhere, stems from a largely non-secular patriarchal society that regards male repression of and violence toward “dishonorable” females as both legitimate and necessary. It’s no surprise, then, that, also as in other countries, men who murder women and girls in Kurdistan in the name of “honor” are never punished for their crimes.

As a woman, a human being, I want to help raise awareness of and fight against this abhorrent practice. One way I knew I could do so was translating Khalida’s talk into Kurdish; I saw my translation as a vehicle to teach Kurdish women, who often turn a blind eye to or even support “honor killings,” that men’s pride should never dictate the self-determination of women and girls. What’s more, increased social and economic freedom for women and girls enhances societies and humanity as a whole. Women’s struggles against patriarchal oppression and repression (including “honor killings”), therefore, are inseparable from local, national and international movements for racial, political, sexual and economic self-determination. And it’s in this fight where real honor lies.

Anna Ryu, Sarah Jeon and Jihyeon Kim

Translated talk: Karen Scrivener: A concrete idea to reduce carbon emissions

Here’s what Anna had to say on why she translated Karen Scrivener’s groundbreaking Countdown talk into Korean.

I decided to translate Karen’s Countdown talk because it proposes a practical and sustainable large-scale means of potentially slowing manmade climate change in a big way — a development that’s very important to me as a biotechnology major. The more I’ve studied climate change caused by humans, the more I’ve realized that it’s both massively interconnected and at odds with economic growth. I’ve simultaneously come to understand that many of the methods offered up to us as countermeasures to climate change are micro-level and ultimately ineffective.

In that context, Karen’s talk on manufacturing cement (which is vital to the building industry around the world, and especially in South Korea) that could reduce concrete’s colossal level of carbon emissions by up to 40 percent showed me a remarkable new approach to driving back the advance of climate change — and it could be implemented on a global scale without shuttering whole economies. Learning about Karen’s work was an epiphany for me with regard to my (and so many others’) concerns about climate change, and so it felt necessary to me to translate and share her talk with my fellow Koreans.

Baan Alzoubi and Allam Zedan

Translated talk: Joy Buolamwini: Code4Rights, Code4All

Why did Baan translate Joy Buolamwini’s bold and timely TEDxBeaconStreet 2016 talk into Arabic? Read on below to find out.

I have been trying to see where curiosity would lead me the last year or two, and for the last couple of months, it has been programming and computer science. I can positively say that it is slowly becoming something I might be passionate about. Although the speaker meant algorithms that would result in exclusionary practices for minorities, I have been noticing how as a woman, I have been excluded from the world of IT, and it’s always nice to see women in STEM. I do wonder often about what it would’ve been like if I was more exposed to STEM fields myself as a teen. However, I have made it a personal goal to find that out now, and so far I am very much into coding, data science, and physics. I’m definitely no expert, but I am looking forward to seeing where curiosity leads me.

Kejia Rui and Yanyan Hong

Translated talk: Carola Rackete: Save trees and refugees

Kejia gives us a brief breakdown of why she chose to translate Carola Rackete’s must-watch talk at TEDxAmsterdam 2019 into Simplified Chinese.

The protection of human rights and the environment are inarguably two of the most (if not the most) urgent crises we face today. Furthermore, both are inextricably linked to each other. Carola’s talk, which is informed by her work as a ship captain rescuing refugees and migrants at sea and as an ecologist, deftly deconstructs eco-fascism, which prioritizes saving trees over saving human lives. Moreover, and particularly as a teacher, I view Carola and what she’s courageously accomplished as exemplary of how we can circumvent the limits power tries to impose on us and enact real change in the world. All of which is to say that I translated her talk because it (like Carola) is indispensable for those of us who seek to preserve humanity.

Mentoring program expands to Portuguese and Turkish

We’re back with exciting news on the TED Translators Mentoring program! This month, we’re introducing the initiative to two more of our most active language communities: Portuguese and Turkish. The mentors and mentees in these communities will join the nine other language communities already participating. We can’t wait to see the collaborations that our Portuguese and Turkish communities will undoubtedly bring to the Mentoring program!

And, as we’ve announced before, we plan to continue rolling out the initiative to new language communities each month. And we’ll continue to adapt the TED Translators Mentoring program based on each community’s feedback. Stay tuned here for updates!

Introducing Mentoring program certificates and badges

We’re happy to announce that we’re now sending certificates to mentees who complete their three-month mentorship connections! We’re also giving special badges to mentors who connect with one mentee or more.

Each mentee certificate displays a mentee’s name, subtitling specialization and a brief description of the mentorship program. (If you’re a qualified mentee who hasn’t yet received a certificate, don’t worry—it’s on its way.) Mentor badges display a mentors’ role and mentoring language.

If you’re the recipient of a certificate or badge, we encourage you to share it on social media and to tag @TEDTranslators. Interested in joining as a mentor or mentee? Get started here!

TED Translators at TEDxBangkok2020


Although the COVID-19 pandemic continues to infect people worldwide, many TED Translators language communities have been carefully organizing online and in-person workshops, translate-athons and other collaborative events throughout the year that have enabled the TED Translators project to flourish despite the virus.

One of the most recent in-person gatherings was TEDxBangkok 2020, which took place on August 17 in Thailand’s capital. (Social distancing measures were meticulously adhered to throughout the event.)

Thai TED Translators Sakunphat “Keng” Jirawuthitanant and Kelwalin Dhanasarnsombut were invited by several organizers (who are also TED Translators) to deliver a two-hour presentation on the TED Translators program and why it’s crucial to TED’s mission. The duo also detailed their own experiences with TED Translators, as well as the application process (which will soon be posted on TEDxBangkok’s Facebook group page).

During their presentation, Keng and Kelwalin emphasized that the goal of the TED Translators’ project as they see it is “to bring knowledge from TED Talks to Thai society, and vice versa.” And they discussed how translating both enhances foreign-language proficiency and opens doors to an array of career opportunities.

All in all, TED Translators made a positive impact at TEDxBangkok 2020, so look out for more Thai translations of TED Talks in the near future.