TED Translators get innovative during COVID-19 quarantine // Part 1

Kurdish LC Daban Jaff (center) with Koya University students and TED Translators

Greetings, everybody! It’s been a while since our last post, so we’re excited to share this new story with you. But first and most importantly, we here at TED Translators hope you’ve all been safe and sound during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

As it’s spread around the world, forcing us to isolate and social distance indefinitely in order to slow and stop it, the latest novel coronavirus has altered our lives in countless profound and drastic ways. It hasn’t, however, diminished our individual and collective creative capacities. Case in point: TED Translators in many countries have come up with various inventive means to continue translating and collaborating in their respective language communities.

In this time of worldwide fear and uncertainty, then, we’re happy to highlight the ingenuity of several of these translators in a multi-part series. For this first installment we spoke with Kurdish TED Translator and Language Coordinator (LC) Daban Jaff, an instructor at Koya University in Iraq, who recently organized and has overseen a virtual translate-athon with his students.

“Once the university shut down,” Daban told us, “my students (many of whom are experienced TED Translators) and I began to brainstorm how we could keep busy during quarantine. We eventually devised a project wherein each student would translate at least four TED Talks into Kurdish in 10 days. So far,” Daban reported, “nearly 40 of my students have translated well over 100 talks, and 60 more translations are in the works.” For his part, Daban has been reviewing all of his students’ translations and providing them with both individualized and group feedback.

Koya University students and TED Translators in Iraq

Daban also told us that this virtual translate-athon has been a tremendous psychological boost for him and his students during these days of self-isolation. For student and TED Translator Aga Ismael, “Nothing but volunteering has been able to cheer me up. The opportunities for collaboration and mutual support—for human connection—that it offers are boundless and have been heartening for me. I hope this TED Translators project continues for as long as possible.”

What’s more, in an effort to expand the Kurdish translation community, Daban arranged for a few local newspapers to publish his students’ translations along with links to the translated talks. You can find articles here and here.

Daban and his students’ virtual translate-athon, by any measure, has been a remarkable success and an exemplary blueprint for how TED Translators, wherever they’re based, can keep their language communities motivated and active while waiting out COVID-19’s demise.

In the next two weeks, we’ll bring you more stories of such resilience from other translation communities, so do check back in with us for those.

And stay safe out there!

A new TED Translators reviewer tutorial

Last December, we published an updated TED Translators tutorial as part of our revamped onboarding process for new volunteers. That animated video highlights both fundamental TED Translators guidelines and best practices for subtitling.

Now, we’re pleased to share with you the second installment in this tutorial series: “A Guide to Reviewing with TED Translators”. For this video, we collaborated with Language Coordinators (LCs) in order to home in on and present our top tips for TED Translators reviewers:

  • Be qualified (have at least 5 published translations or transcriptions)
  • Watch the talk first (before you make edits)
  • Give useful, actionable feedback
  • Send it back (when there are repeat errors)
  • Work as a team

Watch the video for a full explanation of each tip.

Reviewers are vital members of the TED Translators family. They ensure that subtitles are accurate and in line with TED’s quality standards, and, in doing so, contribute significantly to the growth of the global TED Translators community.

Interested in becoming a reviewer? Check out the video above for all the info you need to know to join us!

The TED Translators Mentor program expands to the Arabic, French & Korean language communities

Toward the close of 2019, we announced the launch of the TED Translators Mentor program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators (LCs) and reviewers in order to optimize new translators’ work. We were piloting the program at that point only in two of our largest and most active language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese (a three-month pilot that recently wrapped up); but we promised to expand the enterprise to TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities in early 2020.

Well, we’re happy to report that we commenced this expansion of the TED Translators Mentor program in late January, and it’s been nothing short of a resounding success.

With the addition of TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities, over 350 new participants have joined the mentoring initiative. As in the Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese iteration of the program, in this latest rollout mentors are providing mentees with personalized feedback, answering their translation-related questions and helping accelerate the publication of mentees’ subtitles. The mentors, furthermore, can access premium subscriptions to online language tools and tune into exclusive livestreams of TED World Theater events.

We plan to introduce the TED Translators Mentor program to even more language communities in the near future, as well as implement a new mentoring quiz, so do check back in here if you’re interested in becoming a mentor or mentee. And if you’d like to participate as a mentee in the Korean, Arabic, French, Spanish or Brazilian Portuguese programs, you can sign up here.

TED Translators in Thailand


This past weekend, after meeting with and connecting TED Translators and TEDx organizers in Vietnam earlier in the week, Jenny Zurawell and Helena Batt traveled to Thailand to gather with Thai translators and TEDx organizers.

The meetup went down on a Saturday night at Bangkok’s Indulge Fusion Food & Cocktail Bar. In attendance were 10 TED Translators (including one LC) and five TEDxChiangMai organizers and volunteers; many of them were students, IT/tech specialists, or professional translators/interpreters.

As in Vietnam, this event was the first of its kind in Thailand. It was no surprise, then, when several TED Translators met and quickly realized, much to their excitement, that they had gone to school together and hadn’t seen one another for 10 years. The TEDx organizers who attended the inaugural gathering traveled a significant distance—from the northern city of Chiang Mai—in order to plan future collaborations with translators and to invite them as attendees to their next event.

Thanks in large part to the dedication of these TED Translators and TEDx organizers, more and more people throughout Thailand are freely accessing groundbreaking ideas via TED.

TED Translators in Vietnam

In mid-February, Jenny Zurawell and Helena Batt, TED Translators’ director and deputy director, respectively, traveled to Vietnam to connect with local TED Translators and TEDx organizers in Ho Chi Minh City. Jenny, Helena, 10 translators (including three LCs), and three TEDx organizers gathered at Hum Vegetarian restaurant and lounge on a Saturday evening.

This inaugural gathering of TED Translators, TEDxPhuMy and TEDxĐaKao organizers in Southeast Asia was the first time most of the translators, LCs and TEDx organizers in attendance had the opportunity to meet one another. While connecting, several attendees discovered that they’re also students at the same university in Vietnam, as well as the fact that each of them joined the TED Translators program in order to both refine their language skills and delve into groundbreaking ideas.

The translators and TEDx-ers went on to plan future collaborations, and TEDxPhuMy organizer Thành Công invited the TED Translators to his event in April. To cap off the gathering, Jenny and Helena broke the news that Vietnamese is now the fourth most-viewed  subtitled language on TED.com.

Big things are in store for the Vietnamese translation community, so stay tuned here for more news.

The top 10 TED Translators reviewers of 2019

Our global community of language coordinators (or LCs) facilitate the TED Translators experience in a wide array of ways, from welcoming new volunteers to approving translations for publication. One of the most vital aspects of LCs’ work is reviewing subtitles and providing constructive, actionable feedback. Reviewing is an essential component of the translation process: It fosters a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration in the TED Translators community, and, just as important, reviewing improves subtitle quality—which means more TED Talk viewers around the world can connect with TED Speakers’ ideas.

That said, we’d like to introduce you to 10 LCs whose reviewing throughout 2019 merits a huge spotlight. The LCs profiled below were last year’s most prolific reviewers, collectively tackling more than 3,000 subtitled talks. We asked these invaluable contributors to the TED Translators program to share with us why they review and what advice they have for their fellow reviewers. Read on to see what they had to say.

Maricene Crus 

Language: Brazilian Portuguese
Joined TED Translators in 2014

“As a TED Translators LC, I’ve had the opportunity to build so many wonderful partnerships with my colleagues—both translators and LCs alike. Such trusty working relationships are integral to the success of TED Translators, particularly because they further solidify and motivate our community of volunteers. Every translated TED Talk or TED-Ed lesson we publish is a testament to this fact—as well as to the translators’ tireless commitment to spreading today’s most innovative ideas as far and wide as possible. To be able to contribute to all of this is priceless to me.”

Eric Vautier

Language: French
Joined TED Translators in 2012

“LC reviews are a crucial component of publishing accurate translations of TED Talks. First off, because it entails identifying structural issues with translations and alerting translators to them, reviewing is an LC’s initial step in mentoring new volunteers. Secondly, our reviews, particularly when completed quickly, show translators that their work is valued and keeps them motivated. And finally, LC reviews help TED Translators organize their own translation teams, so to speak; I know of a lot of translators from numerous backgrounds who, thanks to the reviewing process, now regularly collaborate with each other.”

Peter Van de Ven

Languages: Dutch and English
Joined TED Translators in 2014

“Know your reviewee. Find out who you are talking to, and adjust your feedback accordingly.”

Lidia Camara

Language: Spanish
Joined TED Translators in 20

“Whether you’re an LC or a translator, don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for help if need be. And remember that you’re part of an amazing project; your work benefits you along with countless others.”

Helen Chang

Language: Traditional Chinese
Joined TED Translators in 2016

Ade Indarta 

Language: Indonesian
Joined TED Translators in 2012

“As a TED Translator, it’s always been exciting and inspiring to me when my translations are reviewed and published. One of my main goals as an LC is to provide other TED Translators that same satisfaction and motivation I’ve experienced. To add to that, here’s something key I’ve learned as an LC that I’d like to share with my colleagues: Reviews optimally benefit translators and translation communities alike when they include both corrections and useful feedback.”

Claudia Sander

Language: Brazilian Portuguese
Joined TED Translators in 2015

“LC reviews were extremely instructive and encouraging to me as a novice TED Translator. Furthermore, I regard my LC work as a way to pass along to new volunteers what my mentors taught me and to spur these translators to graduate to LCs themselves.”

Jihyeon Kim

Language: Korean
Joined TED Translators in 2014

“To me, reviewing is fundamental to the TED Translators program: It simultaneously acknowledges translators’ dedication to the project and increases viewer access to TED Talks and the pioneering ideas they present.”

Riyad Almubarak

Language: Arabic
Joined TED Translators in 2014

“Reviewing is perhaps the most important part of subtitling TED Talks: It not only enhances TED Translators’ translation skills, but it also enables language learners worldwide to continually access TED Talks as an indispensable resource. That’s why I encourage all LCs to strive for accuracy as much as possible while reviewing.”

Margarida Ferreira 

Language: Portuguese
Joined TED Translators in 2014

“Reviewing translations as an LC has helped me to realize and remember that my idiom is often not the same as that of a speaker I’m translating. Given this, it’s important that LCs maintain regular contact with the translators they’re working with and discuss any and all changes or corrections with them.”

Introducing the winners of our TEDWomen 2019 subtitling contest!

To honor TEDWomen 2019, we here at TED Translators recently hosted a subtitling contest to help highlight novel ideas being shared by female speakers from around the world. Each TED Translator who participated was asked to select a TED or TEDx talk given by a female speaker, and then collaborate with a reviewer or Language Coordinator (LC) in their respective language community to create and publish subtitles for their particular talk within a month. More than 150 TED Translators took part in the contest, and, without exaggeration, every entry we received was sincere and thoughtful in its own way. A huge thank-you to everybody who participated! Check out the winners and their timely and insightful submissions below.

Masoud Motamedifar and Leila Ataei

Translated talk: Leila Pirhaji: The medical potential of AI and metabolites

We decided to translate this talk into Persian because we both believe that health is the most valuable gift that life offers us. And by extension, we believe that any substantive effort, such as Leila’s, to discover more effective treatments for prevalent diseases is a vital undertaking to share with as many language communities as possible. We were also intrigued by Leila’s approach of combining mathematics and artificial intelligence to treat diseases.

On a related note: Since this contest is in honor of women, we’d like to highlight the fact that many extremely talented and skillful women reside in Iran, and Leila Pirhaji, a pioneering scientist, is undoubtedly one of them.

Agnieszka Fijałkowska and Marta Grochowalska

Translated talk: Deepa Narayan: 7 beliefs that can silence women — and how to unlearn them

We translated author and researcher Deepa Narayan’s talk into our native Polish because we strongly believe that every woman should watch it; the issues she discusses are universal to all women. In her talk, Deepa identifies seven “beliefs” that largely silence and repress women, and she shows us how we—women and men alike—can unlearn these regressive conceptions. She also incisively demontrates how both these beliefs and their antidotes cut across so many of the world’s societies and cultures and their respective social hierarchies. In short, then, we translated Deepa’s talk because it truly has the power to effect progressive social changes on a worldwide scale.

Mária Ruzsáné Cseresnyés, Andi Vida and Zsófia Herczeg

Translated Talk: Rabiaa El Garani: Hope and justice for women who’ve survived ISIS

We chose to translate human rights protector Rabiaa El Garani’s talk into Hungarian because it addresses an array of important and fascinating (and sometimes appalling) experiences by women around the world, while simultaneously providing a study in exemplary human empathy. Born in Belgium to uneducated parents who had emigrated there from Morocco, Rabiaa nonetheless fully integrated into European society and culture. But she didn’t assimilate: She continued to speak her native Arabic and maintained a strong connection to her Moroccan roots.

It’s this deep understanding of multiple cultures that has fueled and informed Rabiaa’s vital human rights work in some of the world’s most violent regions—including in Iraq, where she’s worked to heal the trauma of Yazidi women who’ve survived the genocidal campaigns of mass murder and rape perpetrated there by the Islamic State group (IS; formerly ISIS). Which brings us to the other reason we translated Rabiaa’s talk: to show our fellow European citizens that, contrary to the popular notion that many migrants to the continent are terrorists or other bad actors, most are actually people who are trying to escape terrorism and other violence and rebuild their shattered lives.

A report from TEDxMlatiWomen with Indonesian TED Translator Deera Army Pramana


We’re super excited to report that in mid-December of last year, TEDxMlatiWomen, the first-ever TEDxWomen conference to take place in Indonesia, went down in the country’s city of Yogyakarta. The gathering, the theme of which was “Rewrite the Rules”, was both organized and attended by a diverse cross-section of individuals from the city who all share a passion for gender-related issues. TEDxMlatiWomen’s attendees had the opportunity to listen to talks by various experts in the field of women’s empowerment, as well as network with each other.

TED Translators was well-represented at the inaugural event by Indonesian translator Deera Army Pramana, a Yogyakarta local who teaches biology at a boarding school in the city (and whose curriculum includes TED Talks and introducing students to the TED Translators program). Prior to TEDxMlatiWomen, Deera contacted the conference’s organizer and secured a TED Translators promotional booth at the gathering. She also helped add a couple TED Translators swag items to the 100 goody bags that were gifted to the audience and speakers: our idiom cards, and one of our bookmarks with both the TED Translators tagline in Indonesian and our website address on it.

Deera was joined at TEDxMlatiWomen by fellow Indonesian TED Translator and Yogyakarta resident,  Dzaki Jabbar Mahdi. As she told us: “Dzaki and I met before the event started and set up our booth near the entrance of the conference hall; this way, we could engage with attendees after each session. We had an assortment of TED Translators pins, stickers and other similar items to hand out to people who stopped by.” Deera also noted to us that a large number of visitors to the booth were on the younger side and unaware of the TED Translators program. “We spoke with them about the initiative—many were quite interested—and I provided my contact info to multiple enthusiastic visitors so they could reach out to me afterward.”

Overall, TEDxMlatiWomen was an excellent occasion to further broaden TED Translators’ global community, particularly in Indonesia. Thanks to Deera and Dzaki’s exhaustive efforts at the conference, we did just that.

Meet Israeli TEDx organizer Liran Michaeli & Hebrew TED Translator Tal Hemo


For our first interview of the new year, we spoke with Hebrew-language TED Translators Liran Michaeli and Tal Hemo, both of whom hail from Israel and have been spearheading the growth of the burgeoning Hebrew translation community there. Read on to learn more about these dynamic translators and their current and upcoming projects.

Let’s start with the gathering that recently took place in Israel, which you both attended. How did the idea for it originally come about? What were the event’s goals?

Liran: Tal and I first met at TEDSummit 2019, and our introduction was one of the initial sparks for the event in Israel. Amid the amazing opportunity to meet many TED Translators from various other countries at the summit, I learned that Tal is a fellow Hebrew translator who, at the time, was translating TED Talks simply because of her passion for translation and sharing novel ideas; she wasn’t aware of the numerous TED gatherings frequently happening in Israel. As a TEDx organizer, I immediately realized that Tal would be a tremendous asset for both the Hebrew translation community and local TEDx events.

Our meeting also made me wonder how many other TED Translators like her there are in Israel—translators who contribute to and deeply value TED’s mission, but who aren’t aware that they can get involved with TED in tons of ways beyond translating. Thus our recent event, the goal of which was to reach out to active and potential members of Israel’s TED community and present them with various ways to further TED’s mission: translation, organizing TEDx events, introducing TED-Ed to schools.

Tal: As Liran said, he and I met at TEDSummit 2019, and that’s when I discovered how many other opportunities there are to contribute to TED in addition to translating. I also learned how huge and yet close-knit the global TED community is, so I made it my goal to essentially put faces to the names I interact with online every day; that’s a main reason why I participated in the gathering Liran recently helped organize.

What a wonderful connection to make! How many people were in attendance at the gathering? Has either of you planned any future meetups with new contacts yet?

Liran: More than 20 people attended. However, we expect the number of participants to grow as we put on more TEDx events and work to cultivate a larger community. I’ve personally made a lot of TED contacts thanks to gatherings like the one that just happened. Also, our language community now has a Facebook group that people are continually joining; there are almost 50 members so far. I’m confident that, with time, our community will not only grow, but we’ll better develop, clarify and accomplish our goals, too.

Tal: Several TEDx organizers approached me at the event in Israel, and we had a very fruitful discussion about TED Translators—how the program can bolster their gatherings and vice versa.

How can those TED Translators who’d like to join the Facebook group do so?

Liran: Just search for “TED in Israel Community” on Facebook and you’ll find us right away. Anybody can join, and I’ll approve your request to do so myself!

Can you tell us a bit about the Hebrew translation community? Is it largely centered in Israel? Are there active hubs, if you will, in other regions of the world?

Liran: Hebrew is mostly spoken in Israel and not very much outside of the country, so our translation community is, you could say, centered here. As of now, there are roughly two dozen active TED Translators in Israel; but as I said earlier, I expect that number to increase as we stage more events and continue to put TED and TED Translators on more peoples’ radars.

Tal: Israel has the largest population of Hebrew speakers in the world, so the Hebrew translation community is indeed centered here. The language was revived in the 19th century, and today there are only 5 million native speakers—which makes our task of preserving Hebrew all the more vital.

What upcoming events does the Hebrew translation community have planned?

Liran: I’m happy to report that I’m currently organizing multiple TED-related gatherings in Israel. These events are meant to be as inclusive as possible, so if anybody reading this interview would like to participate in one or all, please feel free to do so! There’s amazing potential for innovation at these gatherings.

And finally: Do you have any advice for new TED Translators?

Liran: Connect with TEDx organizers in your area. Since most usually aren’t aware of your translation work, I strongly recommend reaching out to them and offering to translate talks from their events. This can go a long way toward forging an ongoing working relationship between TED Translators and TEDx organizers, a collaboration that will undoubtedly yield benefits for everybody involved.

Tal: Reach out to other TED Translators. It’s easy to get stuck behind the computer and forget that translating TED Talks is a team effort. Try to find a fellow translator or translators with whom you can tackle translation difficulties together.

Introducing the TED Translators Mentor program!


We’re extremely excited to announce that we here at TED Translators recently launched the TED Translators Mentor program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators and reviewers in order to optimize new translators’ work. The program is hosted on a platform where mentees can connect with mentors to collaborate and refine their skills. Along the way, participants receive useful reminders and resources to help make their connections successful. 

As of now, we’re piloting the program in two of our largest and most active language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. The mentors provide mentees with personalized feedback, answer their translation-related questions and help accelerate the publication of mentees’ subtitles. Over 200 TED Translators are currently participating in the pilot program. Early next year will find us expanding the enterprise to TED Translators’ Arabic, French and Korean language communities, followed by more communities throughout the year.