I prick my ears up every time I hear words like “open” and “translation” and “project” used together in a sentence in case it’s something that might be interesting to the Welsh language community. So when I saw that TED, the insanely expensive Technology, Entertainment, Design conference, was providing English language transcripts of its often amazing talks, I thought that was a great opportunity for the Welsh community to create the Welsh language subtitles.
It might seem a bit stupid for people who basically all speak English to translate an English transcription into Welsh so that other people who basically all speak English could listen to it in English and watch it in Welsh. In fact, such a thing would be a great boon to learners as it would allow us to hear in English but read in Welsh and start to join up the dots inbetween. (The next step on from that would be to have more material in Welsh with English subtitles.) Personally, I would like to see much more bilingual stuff online because it helps learners develop not just their vocab but also their sense of grammar, mutation and idiom.
Many of the TED lectures are both short – about 20 minutes – and fascinating. Great material for translation because they’re interesting in their own right and just the sort of thing that people love to watch. I believe you learn much more when you’re engaged, so such a resource would be very valuable.
But the Open Translation Project turns out not to be very open at all. Once you’ve registered, you have to request a transcript to translate, which will supposedly be sent to you within 1 – 2 business days. You can’t just download one that you fancy and get on with it, it has to be sent to you by someone from TED. And you have just 30 days to complete it – what happens if you don’t is not specified. I have so far seen no sign or mention of any online translation or collaborative working tools, so it looks like if you want to work with others you have to figure that out yourself. (I haven’t been accepted into the programme yet, so maybe that’s just stuff I am unable to see.)
Beyond that, as a new member of the translation project, I just received this email:
Thanks so much for registering to be a TED translator and requesting your first talk. We’re eager to get you started! But we have a few questions for you first. As you know, TED doesn’t require translators to have formal language or translation skills. We do however, ask that you be fluently bilingual. It’s so important that your language skills gives you the ability to faithfully translate the words of speakers, capturing not only the vocabulary, but also the tone, style and personality. TED speakers are at the edge of their fields, and therefore the edge of language. Being current, as well as fluent, is key.
So the following questions are for you, as much as us. They provide us a way to gauge your experience, knowledge and fluidity with both English and the language into which you’re translating. We require these answers for translators in languages that are new to TED, and for which we have neither in-house knowledge nor a stable of volunteer translators.
1) What language do you want to translate into?
2) Is this your native language? If not, how and where did you learn it?
4) How often do you speak this language? Do you use it professionally, personally, or both?
5) How often do you read in this language? Do you read news? Novels? Personal correspondence?
6) How often do you write in this language?
7) If English is not your first language, how and where did you learn it? How often do you speak, write and/or read English?
8.) Do you have other colleagues, family or friends who can assist you on the translation of tricky or culturally-specific words and phrases?
9) What is your profession?
10) Why do you want to translate for TED?
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and for volunteering for the TED Open Translation Project!
The TED Team
That doesn’t seem very open to me. That seems very much like I’m going to be judged on my ability to speak and write Welsh, and that my acceptance into the project is going to depend on my capabilities rather than, say, my ability to gather a kick-ass team of Welsh speakers to collaboratively – and openly – translate. Furthermore, what does my profession have to do with my ability to translate? What does my motivation matter? And what happens if the TED Team don’t like my answers? Do I get summarily booted out?
I feel rather insulted by these questions, not just because they are intrusive, but because they see the translation process through an outdated and judgemental lense. As a learner of 10 years, I’m not too bad at Welsh, although I write it better than I speak it. I probably could not create a perfect translation of any but the simplest texts. But what I can do is create a flawed translation that others, whether more experienced learners or native speakers, can then polish up. This idea that making a start so that others can help finish up is a well established way of working collaboratively, and it can produce great results. It’s what Wikipedia relies upon, it’s what Pledgebank encourages. By showing the community that I have committed to an action, I’m more likely to find people willing to help me finish it.
TED’s approach to translation has been disappointing to say the least. They have used the word ‘open’ as a buzzword, a way to put a gloss on what is an old-school project that is snobbish, closed, and controlling. I know that someone is bound to leave a comment saying “but that is the only way to get high quality translations”, but that’s just not true. Communities of passionate people are capable of great things, and there are many passionate Welsh speakers online who could come together to do flawless work.
Question is, will TED let us?