More than 20 of TED’s most dedicated volunteer translators gathered at TEDActive on Sunday for a full day of presentations, discussion and hands-on language play. The translators are the driving force behind the Open Translation Project, which makes TED Talks available in 97 languages. Coming from 17 different countries to discuss their translation experiences honestly and openly, the translators are one of TEDActive’s most diverse and interesting groups.
Some themes that popped up repeatedly throughout the workshop: passion for spreading ideas, the pleasure of lifelong learning, and concerns about creating the best possible translation tools. How should credit for translation work be granted? How can collaboration maximize translators’ efforts? The group took turns at the mic, sharing best practices and personal stories.
Kristin Windbigler and Jenny Zurawell of TED’s Open Translation Project opened the day with introductions — including Swedish translator Dick Lundgren, whose Men at Work company gifted the translators with chic steel fruit plates celebrating the OTP.
Dimitra Papageorgiou shared the success of her Language Coordinator Program, in which 105 coordinators mentor new translators, resolve linguistic disputes, and make sure that the OTP is generally running smoothly. She highlighted the strong community as what keeps translators coming back again. “You guys speak the language of my heart,” she told the room.
Ivana Korom, who bridges the worlds of OTP and TEDx, explained some of the new ways that the two are building on each other. With translation suggestions added to the TEDx guidelines and 20,000+ TEDx videos now on the OTP’s translation platform, Amara, the group tossed around ideas about how to improve the new workflow.
Armenian translator Arpiné Grigoryan presented her work with the TEDx Activators Program, pairing seasoned organizers with those bringing TEDx events to developing communities. She told stories of several events’ success in rural areas of Armenia, where classes of students have translated TED Talks together with teacher supervision.
Abishek Suryawanshi, who works for Wikipedia and translates into Marathi, shared some ways that the OTP could learn from Wikipedia’s translators. He got students and professionals to devote their Sunday mornings to translating articles, all working together to cut down on translation time and contributing their individual skills to the project. His model sparked a conversation about how the OTP could incorporate more collaboration without sacrificing ownership.
Then the group turned its attention to video presentations: Els De Keyser gave a tour of the resources on OTPedia; Dean Jansen, an Amara cofounder, previewed some new features in development; and Edward Hicks of Smartling showed the company’s platform for the ongoing localization of TED.com.
Alanna Beckman led a discussion on behalf of TED’s Partnerships Team about the personal and professional value of the OTP. The group shared a range of perspectives — Serbian translator Radica Stojanovic called translating TED Talks a way to explore outside her own field of psychology, and Swedish translator Matti Jääaro said he enjoyed being the one to bring new and interesting ideas into Swedish.
As the grand finale, SyFy language creator David Peterson (responsible for Game of Thrones‘ Dothraki and High Valyrian) taught the group how languages develop — and then break — rules and structure. In groups, the translators struggled to create their own languages based on a set of sounds and an imaginary tribe. The activity was as entertaining as it was enlightening, and concluded the workshop with a funny look at the peculiarity of languages.