It’s important for translations on TED to be extremely accurate, and also to reflect the spirit and flow of the speaker’s style. Different languages pose specific challenges, but we offer here some general rules of thumb for approaching translation on TED.com.
Assess your own fluency
TED doesn’t require translators to have any formal training, but we do ask that you be fluently bilingual, and that you take seriously the role of translating another person’s ideas.
A few questions to ask yourself: How often do you speak, read and write the language in question? Can you have a philosophical conversation? Watch a documentary? Read a novel? A quick test: Try translating “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked a cake.” The switching verb tenses make it a strong bellwether for language agility. (Bonus points for translating into an equivalent idiom.)
If you find your skills are a bit rusty, you don’t necessarily have to disqualify yourself. But you should commit to the research and time it will take to achieve an accurate translation. (It helps to have a pool of fluent friends and family on-hand.) Also consider carefully which talks you choose to translate. It’s common to be more fluent in some domains than others. TED speakers are all at the edge of their fields, and therefore the edge of language. So being current, as well as fluent, is key.
If you’re working on a talk outside your area of expertise, be sure to research terminology or ask advice of others in the field. If you’re struggling with a particular phrase or term, ask advice of other TED translators or contact our subtitling team.
TED presenters are drawn from a wide range of disciplines, and represent the world’s leading thinkers and doers. Though the talks are wildly diverse, there are commonalities that can be identified, to inform all translators’ work.
TED style is:
Informal over formal. The talks given at TED are geared toward an intelligent, general audience. So informal, colloquial terms should be chosen over those that are more formal or academic.
Modern over traditional. TED speakers are each at the forefront of their respective fields, and often at the forefront of language. For this reason, modern terms and phrases should be chosen over the traditional, and translators should strive to be up-to-date in the topics covered.
Personal over generic. Translators should strive to match the tone and flow of the speaker’s original talk as closely as possible. Rather than produce a hyper-formal, word-for-word translation, translators should aim to find the color, energy and “poetry” in the speaker’s organic style and to emulate it in the target language, using words and phrases that match the gist of the speaker’s points.
Global over regional. The global nature of TED’s audience has implications for translation. Within each individual language, idioms, slang and technical terms all vary place-to-place. TED style emphasizes words and phrases that can be most universally understood among all dialects.
Guidelines for Technical Style
TED uses the AP Style Guide. Translators should use this (or the closest equivalent) for all questions relating to the text’s technical form. For any specific questions, or in cases where the source text appears to divert from this established style, consult the TED editorial staff directly using our contact form. (Exceptions may have been taken in certain cases where readability may actually have been enhanced by breaking a rule.)
Idioms: In most cases, idioms (such as puns, culture-specific phrasing, metaphorical expressions) should not be translated word for word. Rather, an equivalent or similar expression should be found and used as a substitution. If no such equivalent can be found, translators should opt for the translation that readers will find the least confusing, even if it is less colorful than the original.
TED’s branded terms: TED is always written as “TED” — and the terms “TED Prize” and “TEDTalks” should not be translated.
Titles of works: For books, movies, magazines, poems: Do your best to determine whether the work has been translated into your language; if it has, then use the translated title in the talk. If no official translation can be found, translate the title in a way that’s as close to the original meaning as possible.
Proper nouns: For people’s names: never translate or transliterate people’s names. Leaving names as they are will optimize search results.
For places: use the name of the place that is in most common usage in your language. If the name is not found in your lexicon, transliterate.
Punctuation: Punctuation should work in service to the speaker’s speaking style — not an enemy of it, and especially not a victim of it. Try to find the punctuation that best enhances readability while keeping as close to the original flow and direction as possible.
Always use the target language’s native punctuation.
Character sets: Please use standard unicode characters and avoid those that are platform-specific. A unicode character can be represented as a multi-digit number wrapped between “&” and “#” (ampersand and pound sign) and followed by “;” (semi-colon). For example, “裡” renders in Chinese (Traditional) as “裡.”
Units of measurement: You may convert units of measurement to make them more understandable to speakers of your language. We recommend the Google unit conversion tool.