Translate! 翻译! Traduire! !ترجمه

Translator Workshop at TEDActive 2012, February 26, 2012 Palm Springs, CA. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

A day of stories, passion and etymologies led by TED’s volunteer translation community made for an exciting start to TEDActive 2012. Last Sunday, the Open Translation Project held its second workshop in Palm Springs, California, where translators discussed the joys and challenges of translating TEDTalks and conferred on the future of the OTP. TEDGlobal 2011 in Edinburgh, Scotland marked the first Translator Workshop, in which representatives from this community of 8,500 volunteers met face to face for the first time since the inception of the project in May 2009.

This year’s workshop focused on the next phase of the OTP, which most prominently includes an improved subtitling platform that enables more transparent and collaborative peer review, roles for language coordinators and better quality control. The workshop began with presentations by six of the 20 translators, who represent over 15 countries from Syria to Sweden, on topics like accessibility and intercultural education. Representatives from Smartling and Universal Subtitles spoke with translators about new projects on the horizon: localizing and translating 13,000 TEDxTalks into 80+ languages. In the afternoon, translators divided into groups to tackle ongoing issues and dream big about the next evolution of OTP.

Roughly half the translators present participated in last year’s workshop and half were first-time attendees. Among those present were Anwar Dafa-Alla (Arabic) and Els De Keyser (Dutch), who in combination have translated over 1300 TEDTalks; Mahmoud Aghiorly (Arabic), who was invited to attend TEDGlobal once and TEDActive twice, but whose visa was denied all three times (until now!); Unnawut Leepaisalsuwanna (Thai), who left Asia for the first time to attend the workshop; and Per Klemming (Swedish), whose thirteen-year-old son’s secondary school class is already translating.

During the presentations many old and new questions about translation arose, such as: How do we adapt subtitles to the simplified online language used by young people? How do we maintain design and meaning when translating a website from English into left-to-right languages, like Hebrew and Arabic? How can we contextualize concepts like “nature vs. nurture” in countries and cultures which have no linguistic equivalent?

In a way, what the translators face is a challenge we all face, not just at TED but on a global scale: How can we continue to connect across the world while preserving the unique aspects of our own cultures and languages? The members of this vibrant and passionate community act as ambassadors to their local linguistic and cultural communities to spread important ideas — by understanding the subtleties of language and by finding the words that we lack.

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