TED Translators culture series returns with a look at the music of John K. Samson

Some time back, you may recall, we started a culture series for the site to highlight TED Translators’ cultural interests outside of translation. We’re happy to report that we’re resuming the series and that we plan to publish contributions on a regular basis. To kick off this return, yours truly is throwing his hat in the ring with the music recommendation below. But before that, one more thing: If you, dear readers, would like to make your own recommendations (in this case, music), feel free to do so in the comments section; we’d love to know what’s inspiring you and feature it in a future post.


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Singer-songwriter John K. Samson. (Photo credit: Leif Norman.)

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based folk-rock singer and songwriter John K. Samson has been crafting distinctly profound and poetic music for over two decades now. In 1993, while a bassist and sometimes-vocalist/lyricist for punk band Propagandhi (who also hail from Winnipeg), Samson began a long stretch of recording and releasing his own material—a stretch that continues to this day. During this time, he’s arguably become known most for fronting yet another Winnipeg act, The Weakerthans, but it’s safe to say that Samson’s solo work stands on its own, traversing and exploring a vast landscape of emotion and experience as sincerely and empathetically as any of his other music. Also a published poet, Samson writes songs that abound with the qualities of excellent verse, as put by British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “…the best words in their best order.” Samson’s lyrics possess no fluff, no decoration, but they’re far from spare; they often encapsulate whole lives or histories with what seems like effortlessness—but an ease which belies the meticulous writing and editing actually behind them. This extends as well to the melodies, harmonies and tempos of Samson’s work. As for his vocals—well, they’re hard—perhaps impossible—to describe without resorting to facile comparisons. I’ve yet to try, and I won’t here. I only humbly suggest you listen to them yourself, and then decide if you agree with me that their valence with regard to Samson’s music is near-perfect. In short, one listens to a John K. Samson track and thinks (among other things): I can’t imagine this song, its words, its music any other way.

While Samson’s first “official” solo record, 2012’s Provincial, largely reckons with isolation, with lonely people in remote places who seem trapped in their circumstances (for example, a tuberculosis patient warehoused and forgotten in a sanatorium, or an overweight schoolteacher jilted by her ex-lover/principal and mocked by her students for her figure), Winter Wheat, his 2016 follow-up, surveys what such isolation can do to us and what it can make us do. Depression, addiction, self-delusion, retreating farther into loneliness—the 15 songs on Winter Wheat, colored in large part by Neil Young’s 1974 album On the Beach, grapple with all of these and more. But running underneath these struggles is a current of redemption, or at least an attempt at it, that slowly but surely reveals itself with each listen.

Here, where one might expect a track-by-track or selected-track analysis of Samson’s two LPs, I’ll spare you that predictable tedious exercise that never comes close to hearing a record for yourself, and I’ll steer you over here and here instead, where you can listen to Provincial and Winter Wheat, respectively, in their entireties—and watch videos for three songs. Enjoy, fellow travelers!

Happy New Year—with a few shout-outs to TED Translators

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Happy 2018, everyone!

Here at TED Translators, we’re well-aware of the tremendous amount of work our volunteers put into each and every TED Talk translation in order to spread novel ideas and indispensable knowledge around the world. Even so, we always appreciate when folks outside the translation community express their gratitude for TED Translators’ continuous efforts; such shout-outs go a long way toward reaffirming the mission of our volunteers, as well as inspiring them to keep plugging away.

Recently, TED Speakers Roger Antonsen and Carol Fishman Cohen reached out to us with generous thanks for helping their respective talks, “Math is the hidden secret to understanding the world” and “How to get back to work after a career break”, each hit about two million views to date. Here’s what Roger told us:

To have your words—indeed your spoken words—translated into so many languages, most of which you don’t speak yourself, is thrilling and fascinating, and I’m so grateful for all the time the translators and reviewers have put into my talk. It’s exciting to know that your words can reach more people, in particular those with hearing impairment, simply because they are transcribed and translated. Thank you, translators and reviewers!

And here’s Carol’s thank-you on the TED Translators Facebook group page.

As we head into another year chock-full of TED and TEDx gatherings, accolades like Roger’s and Carol’s will certainly add fuel to TED Translators’ fire to continue their vital work.

Apply for your TED2018 Translator Pass now!

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Greetings, Translators! We’re thrilled to announce that the application period for TED Translator Passes to TED2018 is now open. The gathering will run from April 10 to 14, 2018, in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. The TED Translator Pass covers the conference fee, and travel and accommodation expenses. Please note that you must be a TED Translator with at least one set of published subtitles in order to be eligible for a pass. The application deadline is December 22, 2017, and you can apply here.

TED2018’s theme? The Age of Amazement—which we think more than accurately describes our present era. As politics, globalization, technology, the future of work and even what it means to be human are all continually reinvented before our eyes, it’s time for us to take a collective breath and assess and prepare for the momentous shifts ahead. To that end, TED2018 will go all-out to bring you visibility into the key developments driving our future—from jaw-dropping AI to glorious new forms of creativity to courageous advocates of radical social change. We’ll include critics and skeptics, as well as the quiet heroes advancing novel ideas we can rally around. And through it all, we’ll seek exciting and insightful ways forward. We hope you’ll join us!

Spreading the word: TED Translators at TEDxBeaconStreet

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Photo by John Werner

On November 18, TEDxBeaconStreet took place at Boston’s JFK Library. The gathering featured a remarkably rich and diverse speaker lineup that included, among others, former NASA astronauts, Harvard and MIT professors, and a cast member of the critically acclaimed musical Hamilton. Also in attendance, to represent and promote TED Translators, were the program’s director, Jenny Zurawell, and deputy director, Helene Batt.

During one of TEDxBeaconStreet’s multiple sessions, Jenny and Helene presented an overview of TED Translators and its indispensability in terms of spreading TEDx Talks globally. The duo detailed the program’s current scope (30,000 volunteers across 157 countries who work in 115 languages), how anyone interested in transcribing or translating her favorite TEDx Talks can join TED Translators, as well as the unparalleled exposure the program can provide TEDx Talks.

To underscore the last point, Jenny and Helene cited Robert Waldinger’s talk at TEDxBeaconStreet in 2015: Following its English transcription, the talk was soon translated into Ukrainian, Arabic, Thai, Hebrew and dozens of other languages–an international ripple effect of translation that brought Waldinger’s talk to audiences it otherwise might not have reached. And, since TEDx Talks are officially published on YouTube, Jenny and Helene emphasized the fact that YouTube videos with subtitles are watched more often than those without them–which means that transcribing and translating TEDx Talks is the optimal way to maximize their views.

It’s safe to say that when all was said and done at this year’s TEDxBeaconStreet gathering, the attendees left encouraged and invigorated to get involved with the TED Translators program and begin spreading their favorite talks from the event around the world.

Syrian TED Translators and TEDx communities hold Open Translation Week in Homs

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The Homs Open Translation Week translators.

A few weeks ago, we highlighted the mid-September collaboration between the Syrian TED Translators and TEDx communities for the TEDxYouth@JahezTranslateathon in Damascus, Syria. On September 26, the two groups teamed up again at the Syrian Computer Society in Homs, Syria, for an Open Translation Week that ran through September 30. The third of its kind since it was initiated earlier this year, the event was organized by TED Translator Ghalia Turki and the TEDxMimasStreet team, and it was sponsored by the UNFPA.

At the Open Translation Week’s start, the 40 participants were divided into five groups of eight, in which they remained for the duration of the gathering. First on the agenda were several workshops and activities that introduced the attendees to each other and familiarized them with language and translation fundamentals. A two-day translateathon of 35 TEDx talks followed. During the translation portion, designated trainers supervised and helped each group work effectively, and then reviewed the groups’ translations for accuracy. Throughout the Open Translation Week, the groups acquired points for their “performances”; gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the top-three scorers on the final day of the event.

The participants, inspired by their Open Translation Week experience, have begun building a larger translation community in Homs. According to Ghalia, they’re planning a special translation-related gathering for the near future, so check back in soon for details on that.

TED Translators at TEDWomen 2017

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TEDWomen 2017 went down in New Orleans last week, and 10 TED Translators were in attendance to represent the global TED Translators community:

Raissa Rosanna Mendes (Brazil)
Yan Yi (Anny) Chung (US)
Masako Kigami (Japan)
Monika Saraf (US)
Stefania Betti (Italy)
Danielle Bilot (US)
Ivan Stamenkovic (Croatia)
Maryam Manzoori (US)
Mariya Udud (US)
Meriç Aydonat (US)

The translators kicked off the conference before the first speaker session with a private brunch to meet and get to know each other a bit better. Representatives from TED’s mobile team joined the TED Translators there to discuss the importance of subtitles with regard to cultivating a larger international audience on TED’s mobile apps.

Over TEDWomen 2017’s three days, the translators participated in interviews with the mobile team in order to provide feedback on the mobile-app experience in different languages. They also held a second TED Translators meet-up to delve into community-development ideas, new ways to increase awareness of the TED Translators program and acknowledge translators’ contributions, as well as to plan future group meetings over Skype.

All in all, TEDWomen 2017 offered TED Translators yet another excellent venue for some of its members to come together, exchange new insights and broaden the program’s global reach.

Building bridges between our minds and our hearts with TED Translator Anny Chung

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Photo courtesy of Anny Chung.

Our closer look at the TED Translators who attended TEDWomen 2017 last week continues with Chinese translator Anny Chung. Her response to our questionsWhat’s the most pressing issue, either on a global or local scale, that comes to mind for you when you think of this year’s TEDWomen theme, Bridges? What bridge-building effort(s) do you believe ought to address this issue?—illuminates an essential bridge to be built if we’re to have any success in tackling our world’s biggest problems.


I believe one of the most important bridges we must build is that between our minds and our hearts. As a scientist, I deal in evidence, facts and logic. To me, many of our world’s most urgent problems persist because of the frequent disconnect between what our minds understand to be true and what our hearts obstinately wish were true.

For example, a wealth of evidence points to global warming and climate change as crises that will exact huge human and economic costs in the coming century; yet we do nothing to counter them because we’re comfortable in our current lives. Gun-control policies around the world have firmly established that gun-safety laws decrease civilian death tolls; yet scores of people still feel maligned and threatened by the prospect of increased firearms regulation. Research reveals again and again that institutional racism exists and that equality does not necessarily amount to justice; yet many American families and schools avoid much-needed conversations because even broaching the subject feels uncomfortable. Globally, women’s health and economic statuses improve when they can access birth control and exercise autonomy over their own bodies; yet groups and individuals continue to willfully deny women these rights.

The fact that one doesn’t personally perceive climate change, experience gun violence or struggle under systemic biases doesn’t mean that these (and other) pressing issues in our world don’t exist. If we could open our hearts to the collective wisdom of minds everywhere, our world would be a saner place. What’s more, it would be a place that celebrates solutions rather than turning a blind eye to its problems.