A spotlight on TED Translators in Ukraine

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Photos courtesy of Mila Arseniuk (left) and Marta Demkiv (right).

At TED2018, TED Fellow and journalist Olga Yurkova delivered a talk that unflinchingly addressed the media scourge of fake news and how it’s spreading misinformation in Ukraine. She also discussed how we can combat this critical problem, pointing to StopFake.org, the independent fact-checking organization she cofounded, as one powerful antidote available to us. Here at TED Translators, we thought it would be interesting to speak with the Ukrainian translators who subtitled and reviewed Olga’s talk. Read on to meet Marta Demkiv and Mila Arseniuk, and get their perspectives on the translation process, fake news in Ukraine, the Ukrainian translation community, and more.

Why did you decide to translate this particular talk?

Marta: I should start with the fact that I’m currently obtaining my master’s degree in English-Ukrainian translation, and translating TED Talks was part of my assigned studies. I sought out what I thought were timely talks that fell within my sphere of interests, and Olga’s was one of them: She discusses a very urgent problem in Ukraine (and much of the rest of the world too)—fake news—and I wanted to share her perspective and efforts to curb the dissemination of fake news with as many folks as I could.

Mila: Because of its relevance to our times. Of course, fake news is not a new problem, but it’s proliferated at an alarming rate over the past few years, especially in Ukraine—and there’s little sign of this spread stopping anytime soon. We now live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with information, much of which distorts or obscures truth and facts, often with detrimental social and political consequences; so it’s vital that we teach ourselves to identify and weed out fake news (as StopFake.org does) in order to stay adequately informed.

Can you describe your translation process for this talk? How did you begin, and what were the steps that followed?

Marta: I began by watching Olga’s talk several times to familiarize myself with her cadence, tone, accent, etc. Then, line by line, I rendered a translation. Every five minutes, I played back the talk to check the subtitles’ accuracy and readability. The final step was revision, after which I sent the subtitled talk to an LC for review.

Mila: As the reviewer of Marta’s subtitles, my work started when I saw that a Ukrainian-language review was needed for Olga’s talk. So, Marta completed the main translation, and I was essentially her editor.

Were there any words or phrases in the talk that were difficult to translate into Ukrainian? How did you go about finding approximate translations for these?

Marta: Actually, for me, the most difficult aspect of translating Olga’s talk was sticking to the 40-character limit for each line. There were certain points where 40 characters were not enough to fully convey what Olga said. In these cases, I had to opt for the shortest and most striking target equivalent.

Mila: I didn’t encounter any translation difficulties during my review. Some English words that might seem tricky, like “fake” or “post-truth,” are actually common in Ukrainian and translate easily. I personally find talks by native English speakers much more challenging to translate.

The subject matter and tone of Olga’s talk are clearly serious and urgent. Did you have to make certain word or phrase choices in Ukrainian to maintain the talk’s tenor?

Marta: Certainly. With subtitles, a translator has only words at her disposal, and those words can’t communicate emotions displayed through gestures and intonation. So in the instances when Olga emphasized the gravity of her talk’s subject with a motion or shift in tone, I had to make sure the words surrounding these non-verbal stresses reflected the expressed emotions as closely as possible.

Mila: I agree: The bane of fake news in Ukraine is clearly serious and urgent. Because most Ukrainians already realize this, though, no special words, phrases or “tricks” were needed to preserve the talk’s tenor.

On a different note, what is the Ukrainian TED Translator community like? What has it been like to work with other volunteers?

Marta: Well, I’m quite new to the TED Translators community, so I’m still familiarizing myself with it. That said, I really enjoy translating TED Talks. The feeling I get when I see my subtitles published on-screen is indescribable. I will definitely translate more talks in the future!

Mila: Ukraine has a large, inspiring community of TED volunteers, and TED Translators is a steadily growing part of it: I see Ukrainian subtitles added to talks on an almost-daily basis; I’ve worked with TEDxKyiv since 2014; and Khrystyna Romashko, a Ukrainian LC, has either translated, reviewed or transcribed 984 talks so far! (She and I live in Lviv and Kyiv, respectively, and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person soon.)

Finally, can you tell us a bit about yourselves? What are your passions outside of translating?

Marta: Outside of translating, I’m a very active person: I enjoy skiing, swimming, cycling, traveling. When I’m home, I can read for hours (which helps hone my English) or I’ll seek out interesting films to watch. Oh, and I watch TED Talks quite often too.

Mila: I work in communications for WWF Ukraine. In this capacity, I help people understand the importance of rare species to Earth’s ecosystems and why conservation of brown bears, lynxes, sturgeons and other endangered species in Ukraine is vital to maintaining an ecological balance. Because of the passion I have for this work, for the environment, I try to translate TED Talks that deal in ecology, sustainable consumption, renewable resources, etc.

Also, thanks to my dad’s love of the game, I’m a huge fan of ice hockey. In fact, part of my planning for holiday always involves finding out if there will be a game I can attend wherever I might be going. If there isn’t one that fits my schedule, I don’t mind rearranging my plans so I can catch a game while traveling. It’s no surprise, then, that I own lots of hockey-related souvenirs; some of them have even been given to me by friends who picked them up for me during their own holidays.


Check out Olga Yurkova’s talk at TED2018 below.

Building South Korea’s TED Translators community

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Photos courtesy of JY Kang.

The same weekend that Japanese TED Translators gathered in Tokyo to hone their translation chops and community-build, Korean TED Translator JY Kang (who also attended TED2018) and two Korean Language Coordinators (Jihyeon Kim and InHyuk Song) organized and hosted a similar one-day event in Seoul.

21 translators (ranging from a father and his two children to a 14-year-old student to a translator with a casted broken foot) traveled from various parts of South Korea (including Jeju Island) to participate. In addition to meeting and getting to know each other, the attendees shared and discussed their respective TED Translators experiences and knowledge, as well as their ongoing efforts to build translation communities where they live. “We all believe in the power of translation to communicate important ideas around the world regardless of the distances and boundaries between people,” JY said, “and so we’re thrilled to contribute as TED Translators to the strengthening of the global translation community—whether through gatherings like this or our individual translations.”

Given such energy and enthusiasm, it’s safe to say we can look forward to the continued growth of TED Translators in South Korea.

Building Japan’s TED Translators community

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Photo courtesy of Tomoyuki Suzuki.

Near the end of last month, Tomoyuki Suzuki, one of 15 TED Translators who attended TED2018 in April, organized and put on a translator gathering in his home country of Japan. The one-day event, which went down in Tokyo, included a hands-on translation workshop, an open-discussion session and time for the translators to meet and get to know each other. While most of the attendees were locals, one translator from the north of Japan (1,000 kilometers away) and another who had temporarily returned to the country from the U.S., joined the participants.

The translation workshop was divided into two parts. In the first, Tom briefed the audience on TED2018, highlighting with photos some of the conference’s significant talks and developments. “My goal was to expose the translators in attendance to the remarkable array of activities and inspiration on offer at TED conferences,” Tom says. “I also wanted to convey the intimacy of watching and listening to TED Talks in person, as well as the wonderful opportunity such conferences afford TED Translators from around the world to meet and build translation communities face-to-face.” The workshop then shifted into a study session whose aim was improving translation quality.

Tom’s first-draft translation of the initial four minutes of Steven Pinker’s talk at TED2018, “Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers”, was used for the workshop’s exercise. The participants split into groups of three and created a spreadsheet to collectively track changes, corrections, edits, etc. in their reviews of Tom’s translation. Active discussions abounded among the trios as they worked. Toward the end of the workshop, the groups shared their insights into the review process. Kazunori Akashi, one of the attendees, had this to say: “I was intrigued to learn that each translator has their own preferred method for reviewing. For example, while one may begin the process by simply watching the talk under review, another translator may start by researching and fact-checking the talk’s content. This exchange of reviewing processes and philosophies was one of the many positive and productive results of this event.”

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Photo courtesy of Tomoyuki Suzuki.

After the workshop wrapped up, everybody headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner and then to a bar for libations and further conversation. Old and new acquaintances alike connected, and the gathering wound down with a palpable inspirational energy in the air. All of the translators agreed that this local event (along with similar ones in Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka throughout the year) was a valuable contribution to the continual building and strengthening of the Japanese translation community.

TEDx dispatch: TEDxDrewUniversity

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Drew University’s concert hall awaits the day’s action. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

On Saturday, April 14, the inaugural TEDxDrewUniversity conference went down at Drew University in Madison, NJ, under the banner of Life as We Don’t Know It. Six diverse, insightful, animated speakers and roughly 100 attendees gathered in the university’s concert hall to explore a panoply of contemporary ideas and concepts that often seem black-and-white to us, but upon closer examination reveal themselves to be more so gray areas from which we can potentially extract groundbreaking, progressive concepts and ideas we’ve yet to imagine. TEDxDrewUniversity was organized by a remarkably affable and efficient team of Drew students led by TED Translator Gabriel Lima. Hosting duties were carried out by The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief, the incomparable Robert Franek, who both delivered a spirited welcome to the audience and provided the speakers with equally lively introductions.

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Robert Franek kicks off the conference with a welcome and introduction. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

The first session of the conference took place in the late morning and featured three speakers: Michael DePalma, an entrepreneur and a health technologist; Dr. Kate Ott, a writer and an associate professor of Christian Social Ethics at Drew University Theological School (also known as the Theo School); and Olivia Blondheim, a marine biologist and an ocean conservationist currently studying biology and Spanish at Drew.

Diving right into one of the most urgent problems almost all of us face today—data privacy—Michael’s talk proposed that we undertake grassroots measures to ensure that each of us exercises complete control over her digital data—control that’s founded on what Michael called “decentralization with order,” which would effectively replace the data-handling middlemen we currently rely on with “smart contracts” and crypto-currencies.

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Michael DePalma posits “The Future of Human Rights”. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

Dr. Ott followed Michael with a talk that addressed present women’s-rights movements (like metoo.), particularly in light of the recent, continuing revelations of sexual assault and harassment allegedly committed against women by a seemingly endless litany of famous, high-profile, influential men. Her call for new forms of women’s empowerment that are rooted in a rebalancing of gender power dynamics in all spheres of life could not come at a more necessary time.

Before the midday lunch break, Olivia Blondheim directed our attention to the health of our oceans’ ecosystems, warning that many of the world’s fisheries could collapse by the year 2050 if we don’t drastically change how we extract and consume our oceans’ resources. She also discussed how we can observe the behaviors of sea creatures like pyrosomes to determine the status of our oceans’ well-being.

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Olivia Blondheim assesses the current state of our oceans. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

After a leisurely catered lunch, everybody reassembled in the concert hall for the conference’s second session. Before the next speaker took the stage, the audience was treated to an excellent a capella choir set by a group of Drew students—a performance that segued nicely into the fourth talk.

“The New-Age African Artist”: That’s what Cynthia Amoah, a spoken-word poet-performer and writer, delineated through an impassioned mix of her own poems and stories that touched on her dual identities (Cynthia has spent much of her life in the U.S., but she’s originally from Ghana, West Africa), her journey to poetry, and the responsibility of artists like herself to engage with subjects such as identity, race, gender and social justice. In this day and age, as we continue to witness governments and elites wage assault after assault on our civil liberties and those of countless individuals worldwide, it’s more vital than ever that we listen to voices like Cynthia’s—voices demanding a holistic humanism to serve as an antidote to the dangerous policies that would rather have us fall in line behind racism, xenophobia, sexism, war-mongering, anti-intellectualism and a bevy of other destructive ideologies.

Educator, consultant and nonprofit leader Ulcca Joshi Hansen hit the stage next to highlight and advocate for “student-centered learning experiences that celebrate and maximize the unique potential of individual children regardless of their background, circumstances, physical or cognitive differences.” She homed in on the need for more schools that focus on imbuing students with a strong sense of belonging and purpose, as well as on the necessity of providing young people with viable ways to connect with their communities.

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Ulcca Joshi Hansen offers a new, more progressive approach to educating youth. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

Finally, to cap off the first annual TEDxDrewUniversity conference, Ross Michaels, a music producer, artist manager and an original founder and the co-president of Park Avenue Artists, gave an animated, witty, unflinching talk about trusting our gut instincts and following them fearlessly to our goals. “Feeling is the human business,” Ross emphasized, as he shared several candid anecdotes about the key experiences in his life that led him to this realization—and eventually to become a cultivator and curator of feeling through music. (One of these stories involved a rough breakup and the restorative power of the raw emotion expressed in Phil Collins’ iconic song “In the Air Tonight”.) “Feel every situation you find yourself in,” Ross said, “and don’t discard what you intuit as your true path, no matter who tries to dissuade you.” Excellent advice, especially now, when so many voices and distractions from every direction make it easier than ever for us to submit to the status quo.

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Ross Michaels shares a story about discovering the enlightenment and empowerment that trusting and following your instincts can net you. (Photo credit: Lynne DeLade.)

And an excellent note on which to close a conference that was a resounding success. The novel ideas put forth by the speakers brought into clearer resolution many important gray areas in our lives, and the departing audience was undeniably invigorated to reexamine the human experience through more perceptive lenses. Here’s to building on this success at next year’s gathering!

TED Translators at TED2018

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On April 10, TED2018 kicked off in beautiful Vancouver, BC, under the banner of The Age of Amazement. More than 2,000 attendees from 57 countries converged on the city for five days of, well, amazing talks from over 100 speakers and performers. Here are just a few of those who took to the stage: renowned psychologist Steven Pinker; Diane Wolk-Rogers, a veteran Florida public-school teacher and LGBTQAI activist who’s taught since 2001 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, where a horrific mass shooting occurred on February 14; and Yasin Kakande, an investigative journalist and writer who reports on human rights abuses against migrant workers in the Middle East, and who was forced to deliver a brief but impassioned message via video after the status of his asylum application in the U.S. prevented him from traveling to TED2018.

We here at TED Translators sent our own delegation of translators and staff to the conference in order to represent their respective language communities and highlight the vast diversity of our program, as well as to give TED Translators more visibility overall. Along with watching live talks and participating in the panoply of activities on offer at TED2018, the translators got to connect with each other at several TED Translators gatherings and outings. They also met with members of TED’s mobile and editorial teams to explore new ways to cultivate a larger international audience together. At the translators’ final meetup, they exchanged ideas on development and translator recruitment in their individual language communities.

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And, lest we forget: True to its Age of Amazement theme, TED2018 introduced the world to TED’s bold new initiative for turning revolutionary ideas into reality, The Audacious Project. The project, as you may know, features various innovative and far-reaching ventures to mitigate or solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems: climate change, lack of access to adequate healthcare, species depletion and extinction, for example. The TED Translators team hosted a Facebook viewing of The Audacious Project’s unveiling so that our members abroad could watch a livestream of the Audacious Session from wherever they happened to be. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see the amazing advances The Audacious Project will yield around the globe. And we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us next year, at TED2019.

TED Translators at TED2018: Hany Eldalees

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In our final TED Translators at TED2018 spotlight, we talk to Arabic TED Translator Hany Eldalees. As some of you may remember from this post, Hany was unable to attend TED2018 because the Canadian government denied him a visa. However, that won’t stop us from bringing you a brief but illuminating conversation with Hany that conveys (as his responses prove) what a brilliant, dedicated translator and individual he is. See for yourself below.


How long have you been translating with TED Translators? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what keeps you going?

I started my journey with TED Translators in early 2015. But I was familiar with TED Talks before then, and I well understood their power to educate viewers on an enormous array of subjects. Because I believe that even a small idea can change a person’s life positively, and because I want to contribute to the spread of ideas which empower people, it made perfect sense to me to begin translating into Arabic the talks I find most insightful, compelling, inspiring, etc., in order to make them accessible to a larger Arabic-speaking audience. And this continues to be my mission with TED Translators.

Out of all the TED Talks you’ve translated, which one stands as your favorite?

I can’t pin down just one talk. That said, three-dimensional printing fascinates me, so I’ve translated a number of TED Talks related to that. 3D printing enables the relatively quick production of a variety of extremely useful objects, like medical equipment and musical instruments; and, because it’s a somewhat new and rapidly evolving “industry,” those folks working in it are quite free to share and enhance their designs with each other around the world. Given this, 3D printing has the potential to be even more of a revolutionary development than it’s been to date.

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

My previous answer may make this one obvious, but I love building 3D models—ships, cars, buildings—especially because, as a model takes shape in my hand, I gain more appreciation for the mechanical or architectural brilliance it contains. I also love reading.

The theme of TED2018 is The Age of Amazement. Can you tell us about an amazing idea, event or person from your country that/whom you think more folks should know about?

I’d like more people to know about the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII) in Qatar, the first institution of its kind in the Arabian Gulf region and where I earned my master’s degree in audiovisual translation (the first degree of its kind in the Arab world). Also offering a master’s in translation studies, TII was founded by Dr. Amal Al-Malki, who, after becoming Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation, transferred TII to the university and established it as the core of the CHSS. TII, I believe, is doing much to grow and strengthen the Arab world’s translation and interpreting communities, and I encourage everybody who reads this interview to learn more about the institute and the excellent work being done there (and even to visit, if you can!).

TED Translators represent at TED2018

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(Photo credit: Lawrence Sumulong/TED.)

TED2018 got under way in Vancouver, BC, earlier this week, and speakers and attendees there have been immersing themselves in amazing ideas for a few days now. TED Translators sent a contingent of remarkable folks (pictured above) from around the world to represent the TED translation community at the conference. Over the next week, we’ll bring you more in-depth coverage of TED2018 and TED Translators’ activities there, so stay tuned!