An interview with Hindi TED Translator Adisha Aggarwal

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Photo courtesy of Adisha Aggarwal.

We’ve been on a brief hiatus since our last post, but we’re excited to return on the cusp of fall with an interview with Hindi TED Translator Adisha Aggarwal. Read on to learn about Adisha’s translation work, how she’s developed a better understanding of the complexities and nuances of language, one of her favorite books and more.


To start, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Personally, I’m a happy soul. Professionally, I’m a program manager at Akamai Technologies in Bangalore, India.

When and how did you start translating with TED Translators?

I attended TEDxCambridge in September 2016, during a visit to the U.S. I had watched numerous TED Talks on YouTube prior to this, but I hadn’t been to a live TED event yet. It was an overwhelming experience—in a great way: I was spellbound by the speakers’ passion and animation, and extremely impressed by how well the gathering was executed.

On the same visit, a colleague told me she’d translated a number of TED Talks into Hindi via TED Translators, and I was immediately intrigued by this opportunity to make ideas and information accessible to non-English speakers. I then applied to become a Hindi TED Translator as soon as I could.

Were there specific talks or subjects you gravitated toward when you started translating?

When I began searching for talks that were available for Hindi translation, I decided my work should help viewers gain new knowledge on a subject and/or enable them to understand the challenges other societies face.

I initially translated several talks on the importance of learning different languages, the power of mathematics and the impact of online abuse. After these, I was drawn to translating Ted-Ed lessons because they allow viewers to understand a new topic in a short span of time.

What is the Hindi translation community like? How large is it? Is it growing?

Interesting question. Currently, there are about 50 Hindi TED Translators, some of whom are extremely active and a few of whom have translated over 100 talks. All of them, however, are dedicated to spreading ideas and knowledge in the Hindi language.

I’d like to add here that India is a multilingual country with around 122 major languages and 1599 other languages, so the Indian translation community isn’t limited to Hindi. In fact, TED’s website indicates there are close to 200 TED Translators in India, and not all of them work in Hindi.

What do you enjoy most about being a TED Translator?

It provides a unique avenue to explore the depth and complexity of Hindi, my first language. I studied Hindi in school for 13 years and use it daily. But what you might call everyday Hindi is quite different from the language’s written version, which is more formal, and translating has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of both. In addition, working as a TED Translator has improved my English and made me more attentive to grammatical variations between different languages.

I also like the fact that translating requires I think more deeply about the subject and content of talks than I might if I were just watching them; I become more invested in and excited about the ideas presented.

Last but not least, I thoroughly enjoy the chance TED Translators gives me to help important knowledge and ideas transcend language, cultural and many other barriers.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d offer to a new TED Translator? And to a veteran TED Translator?

I’d say to a new TED Translator: Research—a lot. More specifically, research to figure out the best yet simplest words you can use in your translations before you finalize your subtitles. It’s not uncommon for some words to exist in only one language, and these can be challenging to translate, but it’s almost always possible to find their optimal counterparts.

As to the second part of this question, I believe I need to do lots more translating before I feel qualified to give advice to a veteran TED Translator.

What are your interests outside of translating?

I love to watch TED Talks, of course—which is how I developed an interest in translation—as well as documentaries, movies and TV series. Reading is big for me, too. And running, especially in nice weather.

Is there a work of art (a book, film, painting, sculpture—anything) that’s resonated with you recently?

Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. It blew my mind; it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s a sweeping study of humankind—evolution, agriculture, societies, religions, human behavior and so much more—that’s carried out so interestingly and in such clear prose, I could hardly put the book down.

If you could give any TED Talk, what would it be?

“What women need to do differently to conquer the world”.

TED Translators meet speaker Yvonne Chioma Mbanefo

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Yesterday at TEDGlobal 2017, TED Translators met with speaker Yvonne Chioma Mbanefo, creator of the first illustrated Igbo-language dictionary for children. Mbanefo talked in depth with the translators about a range of subjects: her ongoing effort to encourage African-language learning among younger generations; the effects that politics, both local and global, have on language; and how to develop new terms that don’t yet exist in a language. The meetup provided the TED Translators with a primer not only on Igbo and its nuances, but also on the ever-shifting nature of language as a whole.

TED Translators kick off TEDGlobal 2017

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This past Saturday, nine TED Translators, along with a number of speakers and globally minded attendees, kicked off TEDGlobal 2017 with the “global souls” welcome dinner. The gathering took place at the Rivertrees Country Inn in Arusha, Tanzania, and saw guests connect with each other over local cuisine and conversation about a variety of global topics. All in all, the dinner was a great opportunity for the TED Translators and their fellow TEDGlobal 2017 attendees to mingle in a fun, intimate way before the start of the conference.

In their own voices: groundbreaking archaeology in Morocco with Fatima Zahra

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Photo courtesy of Fatima Zahra.

This third edition of our In their own voices series finds Arabic TED Translator and TEDGlobal 2017 attendee Fatima Zahra answering the question we recently posed to the 10 TED Translators heading to Tanzania later this month: What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of? Below, Fatima details a historical archaeological discovery that occurred in her home country of Morocco this past spring.


In late spring of this year, a team of archaeologists working in a region of western Morocco called Jebel Irhoud uncovered the oldest known Homo sapien remains to date. Before the discovery of the 300,000-year-old fossils, which include skull bones and flint blades, the oldest known Homo sapien remains were a pair of 195,000-year-old partial skulls unearthed in Ethiopia in 2003.

The new fossils indicate that the early humans who inhabited Jebel Irhoud physically resembled both each other and contemporary people. One distinct difference between Jebel Irhoud’s dwellers and us, however, is brain structure: Their brains were the same size as ours, but they were long and low rather than round. That said, the flint blades, which were found in the same sedimentary layer as the skulls and exhibit burn signs, suggest that their makers created relatively complex weapons like wood-shafted spears and that they knew how to work with fire.

But perhaps what’s most remarkable about the Jebel Irhoud remains is that they were found in North Africa, which, because of their age, prompted Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist involved with the fossils’ discovery and study, to observe that humans “did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa. We evolved on the African continent.” The flint blades back up this claim: They originated at a site roughly 20 miles south of Jebel Irhoud, and blades of a similar fashion and age have been uncovered at other sites throughout Africa.

Of course, researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them analyzing the Jebel Irhoud remains, but their findings so far are undeniably significant for a plethora of reasons—not least of which is that the discovery is big step forward for humanity’s understanding of its origins and history.

In their own voices: Saudi Arabia, stereotypes and transformation with Hussain Al-Abdali

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Photo courtesy of Hussain Al-Abdali.

For this week’s installment of our In their own words series, Arabic TED Translator and TEDGlobal 2017 invitee Hussain Al-Abdali responds to our question What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of? Read on to find out why there may be more to Saudi Arabia and its people than you know.


It’s undeniable (perhaps to the point that it goes without saying) that media of all types shape many of our perceptions about the world. At times, this influence can be problematic: media are very often riddled with stereotypes, despite their attempts to remain “objective”. Occasionally, a degree of truth underlies some stereotypes, but that truth is usually so distorted and obfuscated by mis- and disinformation that we can barely, if at all, discern it. A case in point: my home country of Saudi Arabia and Saudi people in general.

In my experience, if you ask somebody who hasn’t been to Saudi Arabia what they know about the country, they’ll likely answer you with the following (or some iteration thereof): Saudi Arabia is populated mostly by obscenely wealthy, extremely religious and repressive men who live in a desert rife with oil wells and (yes, folks sometimes say this) camels. Of course, as I said, there’s a level of truth to this stereotype; but more than anything, this widespread perception of Saudi Arabia and its people glosses over the actual rich complexity and diversity of the country; it’s a simplistic misperception.

Saudi culture—be it religion, politics, education or what have you—is comprised of a vast array of perspectives and positions. On top of this, there’s an increasing gravitation toward coexistence, mutual understanding and what could be called “moderate globalization”—especially among younger Saudis like myself. We want to take part in resolving the numerous problems plaguing the Middle East, as well as try to apply what solutions we devise to troubles throughout the rest of the world. And when I say “we”, I mean both men and women; Saudi women’s inclusion and participation in our endeavor is crucial. A promising roadmap for achieving our goals has been laid out by Saudi Vision 2030, which was introduced by the Deputy Crown Prince of the Kingdom. This follows earlier similar initiatives, such as the late King Abdullah’s founding of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria.

On a smaller scale, there are lots of young Saudis (myself included) who translate TED and TEDx Talks, and who are involved in other progressive activities. Translating for TED, in particular, has enabled us to rethink many of our own ideas, perceptions, values, etc., and, just as important, to find commonalities in other folks, whatever their backgrounds.

That said, the transformation of Saudi Arabia I’m delineating still has a long way to go and countless obstacles to tackle. But its momentum is building, and a vital part of maintaining this trend is to encourage people outside the country to think and act beyond whatever stereotypes of Saudi Arabia they may have. I hope my answer here will provide such encouragement.

In their own voices: the TED Translators invited to TEDGlobal 2017

Last month, we introduced you to the 10 TED Translators selected to attend TEDGlobal 2017 in Tanzania this August. As the conference approaches, we’ll get to know these translators more in depth through a series of posts in which each of them answers the question What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of?

Nelson Simfukwe, a native Tanzanian and technology entrepreneur, provides in his response below an incisive and revealing look at how new technology is changing his country.

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Photo courtesy of Nelson Simfukwe.

In recent years, Tanzania has experienced a rapid influx of technology previously absent or critically lacking in the nation—from smartphones to enhanced healthcare systems. Smartphones especially have digitized much of our communications, particularly since folks here can now easily access the internet in the palms of their hands. However, many Tanzanian users of smartphones and other technology remain unaware of how our country’s burgeoning digital revolution can benefit them, both individually and collectively, in deeper and broader ways than just everyday connectivity.

We see a clear example of this in our agricultural sector, where communications and other technological advances haven’t penetrated nearly as far as they have in, say, the public sector, leaving farmers to continue relying on obsolete methods for large-scale production. (I should add that similar disparities are evident in lots of other Tanzanian sectors, too—not only in agriculture.) It’s my belief, then, that those of us here with the knowledge and ability to do so must begin spreading awareness of this problem, in all of its manifestations, across all sectors of Tanzanian life. But again, it’s not just about increasing access and connectivity; our society needs as many of us as possible to figure out how to leverage new technology so that we can take larger leaps forward, namely into industrialization.

Realizing this transition is, of course, a complex, detailed endeavor that involves capital, investments, enhanced infrastructure and so on—but most importantly, I’d argue, technology. And those of us in Tanzania with technological expertise, inventiveness, etc. must—beyond spreading awareness—collaborate, share and merge our ideas and insights. Then, and only then, do I believe that we Tanzanians can take full advantage of the new technology at our disposal to create a better country, a better society, better lives for ourselves.

Translating TEDx Talks at the University of Athens

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Educational institutions around the world have been using TEDx Talks as teaching and learning tools for several years now. At the end of last spring, at the University of Athens, the Department of French Language and Literature’s Translation Tools course devoted part of their studies to subtitling, which led them to translating nine TEDx Talks from their original French to Greek.

Spearheaded by the course’s instructor, Eleni Tziafa, the project started with the students’ collective translation of a talk by Gilda Gonfier at TEDxPointeàPitre 2016. This initial effort unexpectedly forced the class to confront the common subtitling issue of how to proceed when the gender of a subject or an object differs between the two languages involved: Gilda’s talk includes a story in which a man marries Death, who’s typically female in Latin languages like French; in Greek, however, Death is male. One student eventually realized that in the Greek song form called rebetiko, Death is a woman named Charondissa, and so the class adopted her for their translation.

After subtitling Gilda’s talk, the class broke into groups of four to five students in order to translate eight more TEDx Talks from events such as TEDxCannes, TEDxChampsElyseesSalon and TEDxParis, to list a few. Everyone obtained an Amara account for the work, and eight students were designated as coordinators for their respective teams. One student, Christina Aggelopoulou, who was already familiar with translating for TED prior to the course’s project, helped supervise all eight groups.

The effort was a resounding success—so much so that the class arranged a screening of their translated talks for friends, family and university staff on June 8. Among the attendees were the Department of French Language and Literature’s president, as well as TED Translators Maria Perikleous and Chryssa Rapessi, both of whom reviewed the class’s translated talks post-subtitling. During and after the screening, the crowd’s excited interest was palpable, and it’s safe to say that everyone left the gathering inspired to learn more about, and potentially join, TED Translators.