TED Translators at TEDSummit 2019

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Photograph by Bret Hartman/TED.

We here at TED Translators have officially kicked off our TEDSummit 2019 adventure in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland, with a stellar group of 50 translators from more than 30 countries. These amazing volunteers have been busy with a schedule chock-full of workshops and activities, and will spend the rest of the week engaging with the wider “Community Beyond Borders” at the conference: The TED Translators will participate in an array of discussions, and attend a panoply of performances and main-stage talks alongside hundreds of TEDx organizers, TED Fellows, educators and TED Speakers. We’ll have more in-depth coverage of TED Translators at TEDSummit 2019 to share with you very soon, so stay tuned!

TEDSummit 2019 interview series: TED Translators Lidia Cámara de la Fuente & Marlén Scholand

In our second installment of interviews with TED Translators who will attend TEDSummit 2019 this week, we chat with Lidia Cámara de la Fuente and her daughter Marlén Scholand, who both live in Germany. Read on below to learn more about this dynamic duo of TED Translators who not only share a love for translating, but a priceless familial bond as well.


How long have you both been TED Translators? What initially drew each of you to the enterprise?

Lidia: I chanced upon TED 10 years ago, while searching for appealing multimedia material to use in the scientific-translation classes I teach. I was looking for something that would both motivate my students to immerse themselves in translating and encourage them to pursue knowledge at the forefront of the science and technology fields. The first TED Talk I discovered and watched was Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My stroke of insight”; I was inspired and overwhelmed by her passion for her work and how powerfully she connects science with emotion. Afterward, I stayed up watching TED Talks all night. I felt as if I’d found a new, panoramic lens on the world, one that I could take advantage of without leaving the comfort of my home.

Marlén: My journey with TED Translators began when my mother started watching and translating TED Talks and recommending them to everyone she could. I was quite young then, though, so I didn’t understand how to use the translation platform yet. But as I got older, my interest in TED Talks grew; in addition, I found TED-Ed videos extremely helpful for my school projects. I finally asked my mom about her TED Talk translations, she taught me to use the translation platform, and here I am—a TED Translator. It was a natural progression for me, given that translating words and sentences into different languages was instilled in me as a child: My mom is a linguist, my father is a professional translator and I was raised speaking three languages—Spanish, Catalan and German.

What was the first TED Talk each of you translated? Why this particular talk?

L: The first TED Talk I translated was Kevin Kelly’s “How technology evolves”—my first among 2,550 so far. At that time, I wanted to translate any and every talk that dealt in science and technology. I was—and remain—thrilled to have had the opportunity to translate TED Talks and simultaneously encourage my students to improve their own language and translation skills.

M: Well, the first talk I translated without my mom’s help was Analia Wu’s “Redefining the F-word”. The title initially drew me to it, but the content of her talk was not at all what I’d expected it to be, which was a pleasant surprise. Analia also surprised me: She confidently examines the definitions of failure and success in her non-native English, and reveals how attempting something unsuccessfully does not necessarily translate to failure. To this day, I admire both Analia’s poise and message, and I try to practice her approach to success and failure on a daily basis.

Of all the talks you’ve translated, which has been your favorite so far? Why?

L: I’m fascinated with neuroscience, so I was especially pleased to translate these talks:

Over the years, however, my interest in neuroscience has become more spiritually oriented rather than physically. I’ve increasingly been trying to understand human consciousness not only as our immediate knowledge of ourselves and our actions and reflections, but also as our unique ability to search for and create meaning in our individual and collective existences. One talk I’m particularly thrilled to have translated during my ongoing exploration of human consciousness is Emily Esfahani Smith’s “There’s more to life than being happy”. She helped me realize that the awakening of our spiritual consciousnesses occurs when, through introspection and self-knowledge, we each find our true self and purpose in life, which in turn generates our joy of living consciously.

M: A favorite of mine is one of the first TED Talks I ever watched: “The transformative power of classical music”, by conductor Benjamin Zander. I chose to translate this talk both because I’m a pianist and because Benjamin’s interaction with the audience is superb. Through a mix of playing the piano onstage and smart humor, he manages to explain classical music and its beauty in an engaging and inviting way.

Can you tell us a bit about what it’s like translating together?

L: When Marlén began translating TED Talks, I was always by her side so I could assist her if need be. These sessions were very long, often because we would stop our translating to discuss the content of the talk at hand. The two talks below are just some of those that found Marlén and I extending our interactions with them beyond translation, allowing the talks to foster conversations between us about topics and issues that affect us both. 

M: I’m extremely thankful to my mom for taking the time and having the patience to teach me how to translate TED Talks; her early guidance is largely responsible for honing me into the TED Translator I am today. I’m also very grateful that my mom and I share a strong bond with each other and that we can converse on an array of subjects, TED-related or otherwise, for hours on end. And I love that she frequently introduces me to TED Talks that may pique my interest.

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

L: I really enjoy traveling and exploring new places with my children and husband. I also relish walks through forests full of leafy trees; I feel peacefully connected with them, and this connection is reflected in another passion of mine: acrylic paintings lush with trees.

M: I love summer. I live in Germany, where warm weather doesn’t exactly abound, so I’m happy whenever the sun is out and I can go swimming—ideally in a river or the sea.

Making music is my other passion. After years of piano lessons, I started writing my own songs and I’m currently collaborating on a project with my friend. He’s well-versed in production and is teaching me about that side of crafting music. I’m partial to writing melodies and lyrics, though. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to create music together, and I’m looking forward to finishing our first song.

Lastly, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?

L: Here’s my quick tip guide for new TED Translators:

  • Take your time to translate.
  • Focus only on translating.
  • Enjoy translating without thinking about the final product. 
  • If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
  • Don’t emotionalize the reviewers’ corrections.
  • Remember that your work benefits both you and others.
  • Remember that you’re part of a great project.

M: Translating can be quite confusing at first, so my main advice is to exercise patience and to ask for help if you need it. Some TED Talks are long and require a substantial amount of time to translate; don’t stress if you can’t finish a translation in a day; you can always return to it at a later point. Focus instead on enjoying and learning from the translation process. And remember: Your translations enable people around the world to access amazing and vital ideas.


TEDSummit 2019 interview series: TED Translator Kazunori Akashi

TEDSummit 2019 is just a month away, so what better time than now to get to know several of the TED Translators who will attend the annual gathering? We kick off the series with Kazunori Akashi, who hails from Asahikawa, Japan. He was generous enough to answer our questions and provide us with an insightful look at his experience as a TED Translator in the Japanese translation community. Read on below!


How long have you been a TED Translator? What initially drew you to TED Translators, and what about the enterprise inspires you nowadays?

I joined the TED Translators community in 2012, when it was still called the Open Translation Project. I teach English in a public school, and at that time I was looking for a way to put my English skills to good use outside of the classroom; when I discovered TED Translators, I knew I’d found an excellent venue for doing so. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of sharing so many amazing ideas with Japanese audiences who don’t speak or aren’t fluent in English. This, along with being part of a thriving global community of fellow translators, is what continually inspires me in my work as a TED Translator.

What was the first TED Talk you translated? Why this particular talk?

Taryn Simon’s “The stories behind the bloodlines” was the first TED Talk I ever translated. I’m extremely interested in modern art and photography, so Taryn’s talk instantly resonated with me. I believe that much of the beauty of modern art stems from its power to reveal things we can’t or don’t see in our everyday lives, and to me, Taryn’s talk is a prime example of such beauty.

Of all the talks you’ve translated, which has been your favorite so far? Why?

A talk titled “You have no idea where camels really come from”, by Latif Nasser. When I was a kid, the world always evoked a strong sense of wonder in me. I loved to read books about ghosts, physics, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs. As I got older, however, this curiosity seemed to steadily evaporate and I grew into a skeptic. But Latif’s talk reminded me how much about our world we still don’t know yet, and that the world is essentially filled with infinite wonders; it was the reminder I needed to reinvigorate my long-dormant curiosity.

Let’s get a bit more granular. The Japanese Language Coordinator community is a very organized and diplomatic system of collaboration. Can you tell us a little about that and how it works?

We LCs usually keep in contact with each other through our Facebook group. When one of us has an idea, we post it, discuss its pros and cons, refine the idea and then execute it. We also make it a point to organize LC meetups whenever our language community hosts workshops and TEDx events; face-to-face communication is integral to our productivity and success. What’s more, every Japanese LC is highly talented and motivated, so it’s always an inspiring community to be a part of for everybody involved.

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

I’m constantly reading books. My wife seems to have something to say about this obsession, but I can’t help it.

Lastly, any advice you’d like to give to new TED Translators?

Yes. It’s what I call my mantra:

Be patient and think it over.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Welcome constructive criticism.


Meet TED Translator Cissy Yun: an interview

Cissy Yun
(Photograph courtesy of Cissy Yun.)

Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Cissy Yun has been a TED Translator for five years now. She took on her first translation way back in 2013, and she’s since become one of TED’s Simplified Chinese Language Coordinators (LCs). Cissy moved to New York in 2016, where she currently studies media and communications at NYU. Given all of this, we thought it would make for an interesting and enlightening conversation to interview Cissy about her work with TED Translators and the Chinese translation community. Read on below!

What inspired you to join TED Translators?

I should start with my discovery of TED, when I was in seventh grade. The first TED Talk I ever watched was Marco Tempest’s “The magic of truth and lies (and iPods)”, which he delivered at TEDGlobal 2011. I was mesmerized by his use of then-contemporary technology to explain a number of visual illusions we occasionally experience, and from that point on I was hooked on TED Talks. Around the same time, I realized that my fluency in English could enable me to translate and share insightful talks with friends, family and colleagues who aren’t English speakers. And because I believe language should never be a barrier to the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, it was a no-brainer for me to join TED Translators and put my language skills to work translating TED Talks.

Since then, I must say, volunteering as a TED Translator has given me a tremendous amount of joy. I studied Spanish in high school, and when I watched and translated a talk called “Poetry, music and identity”, which Uruguayan musician and poet Jorge Drexler delivered at TED2017, I was brought to tears (it’s my favorite TED Talk by far). Needless to say, I was thrilled to contribute to spreading Drexler’s brilliance with my translation. I’ve had many other similar experiences in my five years as a TED Translator, and they’re what keep me going and why TED Translators has become an inextricable part of my life.

How do you put yourself in the shoes of a TED Speaker in order to best translate a talk?

First, I try to select talks on subjects about which I’m knowledgeable; I’d rather not butcher talks whose topics I’m unfamiliar with. That said, if I’m assigned a translation with a subject that’s out of my bailiwick, I don’t shy away from the research required to translate the talk. Next, I always watch each talk in its entirety before I begin translating it. I think it’s essential to study both a talk’s topic and its speaker in order to home in on the most accurate context for translation.

One of the most challenging translations I’ve completed offers a detailed picture of my process. I translated a five-minute talk about tornado tracking that, despite its brief duration, is packed with distinct nouns and tornado jargon. As a result, I researched the basic science of the storms, including reading several Chinese science journals to find the accurate argot, for seven hours before I started translating the talk; I basically became a mini-expert on tornadoes. It was quite a surreal (in a good way) experience for me, and the satisfaction I felt after I’d completed my translation was beyond words!

What are some of the benefits you’ve derived from being a TED Translator? You’ll be attending TEDSummit 2019 in July?

Having lived in the U.S. for a number of years now, I “breathe” English every day, so my work with TED Translators has increasingly allowed me to keep my Chinese polished. It’s also encouraged me to stay current with the ever-changing language culture back in China so I can make sure I’m using the most accurate, up-to-date vernacular in my translations.

In addition, I was invited to attend “We the Future” last September—an annual collaborative gathering put on by TED, the Skoll Foundation and the UN Foundation, and which takes place during each year’s UN General Assembly and Global Goals Week. “We the Future” was held at TED’s New York headquarters, and its primary focus was how we can build a sustainable future for humanity in the face of global warming and climate change. I had the amazing opportunity to both talk with some of the top experts in this field and connect with LCs and TED Translators from a variety of other language communities. What’s more, after “We the Future” wrapped up, I translated a few of the talks delivered at the event and got to relive a bunch of the day’s highlights.

And yes, I will attend TEDSummit 2019 this July. I’m really looking forward to what’s sure to be an incredible gathering in beautiful Edinburgh, and to meeting new and old friends alike!

Can you share with us some powerful ideas coming out of China? Which kinds of TED Talks have you noticed are popular in China?

I’ve recently seen a lot of TED Talks that deal in environmental issues circulating on Chinese social media—talks about green energy and preserving endangered animals, for example. Also, many teachers in China incorporate TED-Ed videos into their lesson plans; and new university graduates entering the workforce, I’ve noticed, are extremely interested in TED Talks that explore workplace relationships, social etiquette and identity formation.

As for powerful ideas emerging from China, the country has a vibrant TEDx—especially TEDxYouth—community. Tons of middle- and high-schoolers are engaged with TED and regularly delivering very thought-provoking talks that are tailored not just to Chinese audiences, but their respective local cultures and social structures as well. And these talks span a wide array of subjects, from public health to urbanization to gentrification to art and food (to name a few!).  

Lastly, what advice do you have for new TED Translators?

To me, the most magical aspect of being a TED Translator is that you don’t necessarily have to take on difficult tasks alone; the TED Translators community is always within reach if you need help with a translation. So, my advice to new TED Translators would be: Don’t shy away from asking a fellow translator or an LC for a helping hand, if need be. And one more thing: Always remember that translating for TED is so much more than completing a task; it’s a continual learning experience and “therapeutic” craft and a one-of-a-kind opportunity to connect with other people all over the world who share your passion for translation.

TED Translators at TED2019

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(Photo credit: Dian Lofton / TED)

TED2019 got underway last week, and a contingent of 15 TED Translators was on the ground from the start to represent and promote TED’s international translation community. In addition to attending talks by an impressive lineup of speakers who presented their innovative ideas and visions under the conference’s theme of “Bigger Than Us”, the TED Translators were busy with a schedule full of workshops and team-building events. Stay tuned for more in-depth updates on TED Translators’ activities at TED2019.

TED Translators’ Bogotá Meetup

TED Translators dinner Bogotá


A few days after the TED Translators meetup in Mexico City, Jenny and Helena made their way over to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend TEDxBogotá: Resiliencia and to once more connect local TED Translators to TEDx initiatives in their city. TEDxBogotá brought together a stunning number of attendees—over 10,000!—at Bogotá’s famous Movistar Arena. The audience was treated to 10 speakers whose talks tackled some of Colombia’s most urgent challenges while also highlighting potential brighter futures for both the country and the region in general. What’s more, the TEDxBogotá team, headed by organizer Mauricio Salazar and co-organizer Katherin Gómez, warmly welcomed and embraced TED Translators; in fact, the TEDxBogotá team screened our most recent promo video for the crowd and invited attendees to volunteer with our global project. We hope you’re as excited as we are to see lots of new translations coming out of Bogotá soon!

TEDxBogotá audience shot


TED Translators’ Mexico City Meetup

TED Translators dinner Mexico City


Earlier this month, TED Translators director Jenny Zurawell and deputy director Helena Batt traveled to Mexico City to link up with several TED Translators from the region and connect them to local TEDx initiatives. The translators who attended were thrilled to meet each other in person and had the chance to speak with Marcela Garcia, a TEDx organizer based in Mexico City. Their discussion focused on building and strengthening the culturally dynamic city’s TED Translators community, as well as identifying the challenges and opportunities posed by this effort. All in all, the gathering was yet another productive step in growing TED Translators’ footprint in Latin America.