TED Translators Mentoring program expands to Italian and Russian communities

Toward the close of 2019, we launched the TED Translators Mentoring program, a dynamic initiative that pairs new volunteers with experienced Language Coordinators (LCs) and reviewers to collaborate on subtitles. First we rolled out the program in two of the largest TED Translators language communities: Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. After a three-month pilot, we expanded the program to our Arabic, French and Korean language communities. Now, we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve extended the program to our Italian and Russian language communities.

This latest rollout began in May, and since then, over 250 new volunteers have signed up as mentees in Italian and Russian. For this new group, we implemented several changes after receiving feedback from Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese TED Translators who participated in the pilot. These updates include the following:

  • Enabling mentors and mentees to close their respective connections themselves
  • Enabling mentors and mentees to customize goals and timelines in their connection plan
  • Adding introductory task checklists for both mentors and mentees
  • Adding a recommendation form to the closure survey that invites mentors and mentees to nominate potential new participants

We’re not done, though! We’ll continue to expand the TED Translators Mentoring program to more of our language communities. Check back here soon for the latest updates and announcements.

TED Translators Director Kristin Windbigler Says Goodbye

Written by Kristin Windbigler

I like tidy endings, so it seems fitting to say goodbye just a few days before the TED Translators program celebrates its eighth anniversary. There are so many reasons for all of us to be proud of what we’ve achieved in that time, but what makes me beam unabashedly is that this program demonstrates every single day that people — often strangers, at least at first —  can collaborate remotely across borders, cultures and languages to do something as important as translate the ideas presented on the TED stage.

In the months leading up to May 13, 2009, I was already working with more than 200 of you to create a pool of translations that would seed our initiative. Finding that many people who were willing to volunteer dozens of hours of time subtitling videos seemed like quite an accomplishment in itself, although in all truth it really wasn’t that difficult. Ever since TED first unveiled the talks online in 2006, people had been writing for permission to translate and share them with others who didn’t speak English. So the idea for the TED Translators program wasn’t actually ours. It was yours.

Our job was to design a scalable system that would allow anyone—anywhere—to translate any talk into any language while still achieving the best quality possible. We had a hunch that if we were able to do that, it would foster a community of translators around the world, passionate about language, accuracy and quality—and, of course, TED. Now that our ranks have grown to more than 27,000 volunteers who have produced 111,000 sets of subtitles in 114 languages, it’s easy to forget that in the early days there were plenty of doubters who said, “You can’t just let anyone translate a TED Talk!”

In the spirit of radical openness, though, we pressed on — which isn’t to say we were certain what would happen when we flipped the switch on that day in 2009. We suspected there would still be more people eager to join, but we weren’t prepared for just how many. The response was so overwhelming that colleagues from other TED departments had to pitch in to help me process the applications for several weeks afterward. That’s how I first met Jenny Zurawell, now the TED Translators program deputy director. Later the team grew to include Dimitra Papageorgiou, Ivana Korom, Krystian Aparta, Helene Batt and Barb Allen. The confidence I have in this team is immeasurable. The program couldn’t be in more capable hands, and I look forward to seeing what you all achieve together next (spoiler alert: you guys are going to remain awesome!).

Beginning next month, I will embark on a new adventure as the executive director of the Western Folklife Center, which hosts the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering every year in Elko, Nevada. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to work with all of you. Not many people in the world are lucky enough to have friends in 155 countries, but I am among at least 27,000 or so who do. Thank you so much for your friendship and what you have shared with me about your corner of the globe. And keep contributing what you do to the world. It’s important.


Amara development news — November 2016

Part of the new Videos page in development on Amara.

This month, Amara released several improvements to the editor. You may have already noticed these changes:

  • Subtitle help tray remains visible, regardless of scroll position
  • Larger, more functional timeline dragging handles
  • “Magic mode” auto-pausing updated and re-introduced to video playback options

TED and Amara have also been making steady progress on the second of three development phases, which will fully overhaul the Amara platform. Here are the latest updates from the Amara development team:

  • Phase 2 pages built, integrated and undergoing testing
  • TED and Amara teams planning to begin phase 3 development work, which includes:
    • New messaging center
    • Mentorship dashboard
    • UX for mentors and mentees
    • Subtitle diff page
    • UI refinements to integrated pages

Joining forces: TED Translators at TEDxCERN

TED Translators pose near the “Wandering the immeasurable” sculpture and the Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN.

Twelve translators from around Europe arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, over the weekend to participate in TEDxCERN at the invitation of organizer Claudia Marcelloni de Oliveira.

“CERN is all about transparency and access to all. Translating materials into other languages is always an important part of our agenda,” said Marcelloni de Oliveira.

TED Translator Aurélie Goldblatt, who is also a CERN technical engineer and member of the TEDxCERN team, helped host the group, coordinating a program for translators that included a discussion panel called “The fully-automated human: How is technology augmenting our identities?” on Friday, a tour of the CERN facility as well as a special presentation by John Pym, head of the CERN Translation and Minutes Group.

“We were thrilled to work with Claudia to get TED Translators more involved. When TEDx organizers invite translators to their events, they not only grow their teams, but they also broaden the reach of their talks online and amplify the voices of their speakers. TEDx talks are more likely to be translated when translators share in the overall experience,” said Kristin Windbigler, director of the TED Translators program.

Many of the attending translators shared their excitement about visiting CERN. Dutch translator Rik Delaet, a retired science teacher, explained that he primarily focuses on translating science and medicine talks for students in Belgium, so the chance to attend an event at one of the most revered science institutions in the world was one he could not pass up. Polish Language Coordinator Kinga Skorupska said it was her teenage dream come true.

“It was thrilling to sit in the CERN cafeteria and hear scientists from around the world talking in multiple languages. Just like our program, CERN is a global exchange of ideas,” said Helene Batt, TED Translators distribution manager.

When translators attend TEDx events, cultures suddenly merge. Understanding and dialogue increases. People start to see beyond the complexities of language, and understand that we are not so different from one another.

In attendance were Kristin Windbigler, director of the TED Translators program, Helene Batt, translations distribution manager, Aurélie Goldblatt (French), Angelika Lueckert Leon (German), Tianshu Wang (Simplified Chinese), Annika Bidner (Swedish), Elena Montrasio (Italian), Kinga Skorupska (Polish and English), Muriel de Meo (Italian and English), Eric Vautier (French), Javi Garriz (Spanish), Rik Delaet (Dutch), Csaba Loki (Hungarian) and Moe Shoji (Japanese).

100K subtitles and counting!


In 2009, TED launched its Open Translation Project (OTP) to enable TED Talk viewers around the world to freely translate and share talks in any language. The project kicked off with 300 translations in 40 languages, courtesy of 200 volunteer translators, and it spurred a remarkable increase in new translations—a prolific output that continues today.

Eventually, the OTP expanded to include TEDx talks, TED-Ed lessons and content for TED’s global distribution partners. Earlier this year, the project rebranded itself as TED Translators, evolving to an identity that more personally represents TED’s volunteer-translator community.

Now, seven years after its initial inception, we’re very excited to announce that TED Translators has published over 100,000 subtitles. Reaching this milestone is due in no small part to our nearly 25,000 volunteer translators, who currently work in over a hundred languages and in 155 countries. Without their tireless, meticulous efforts, TED Talks like Matt Cutt’s and Derek Sivers’s (which are among the most translated and viewed talks on TED.com) would not, it’s safe to say, enjoy the worldwide popularity they do.

As always, though, TED Translators has its sights set on the future, on building upon its success. New subtitle languages are regularly added to our talks (Mauritian Creole and Rusyn are recent additions), and new volunteers continue to join TED Translators at a steady rate. What’s more, languages with relatively small populations of native speakers, like Nepali, Galician and Kazakh, account for some of TED’s fastest-growing subtitle groups.

The future of TED Translators will focus on supporting the community’s needs so that they may continue to extend the reach of great ideas. “First and foremost, TED Translators is about growing the global exchange of ideas,” TED Translators Director Kristin Windbigler says, “and that’s exactly what we’ll continue doing. Of course, our community of transcribers and translators is key to this growth, and we’re extremely grateful for our amazing volunteers’ ongoing contributions. Without their unending hard work, we might never have reached this milestone.”

TED Translators and speakers meet at TEDSummit 2016

meeting speakers
TED speaker John Hunter was thrilled to learn that Martin Hassel’s translation brought the World Peace Game to children in Norway. Photo courtesy of Martin Hassel

At the recent TEDSummit 2016, a number of TED Translators got to meet in person some of the TED speakers they’ve translated. TED’s Training Resources Manager, Krystian Aparta, talked with several of these translators about their respective meetings and how deeply engaging and productive they were—for both the translators and speakers alike.

Aparta sat down first with Coco Shen, one of TED’s Chinese translators, who early in her TED experience translated a talk by renowned psychologist and professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo. For Shen, working on Dr. Zimbardo’s talk quickly became an intimate process: “When I translate, I travel line-by-line with the speaker for hours, and his or her words and voice are in my mind the whole time. It’s almost like inhabiting the speaker,” she told Aparta. So when Shen finally met Dr. Zimbardo for the first time at TEDSummit 2016, it seemed much more a reunion to her than an introduction. She described Dr. Zimbardo as pleasantly surprised to meet her and warmly appreciative of her translations. During their meeting, Dr. Zimbardo stressed to Shen how valuable it is when his translators reach out to him, especially face-to-face: such interactions can enhance translations and personalize the work for both parties, thereby strengthening future collaborations.

One of TED’s Brazilian Portuguese translators, Gustavo Rocha, who met TED speaker and journalist Roman Mars, built upon Dr. Zimbardo’s point when he explained to Aparta that meeting Mars in person underscored the idea of global community that’s so fundamental to TED. “We translators aren’t always aware of just how much the speakers appreciate our work, because sometimes they’re based on the other side of the world and this distance can make them seem remote,” Rocha said. “But when I introduced myself to Roman Mars at the summit, he was very approachable and immediately told me how grateful he is for my and other translators’ efforts.” Rocha added that Mars (like the other speakers in attendance) was excited to learn more about all aspects of TED Translators, and that, in general, a strong sense of global citizens working together permeated the translator-speaker meetings.

To wrap up, Aparta spoke with Els De Keyser, who’s translated talks by Esther Perel and Zak Ebrahim into Dutch, about meeting both speakers at the summit: “Getting to know Esther and Zak motivates me and makes it easier to translate their talks accurately. Whatever language or distance barriers might be between us are broken down, and we can communicate and collaborate more seamlessly going forward.”