Category Archives: Translator

Style Guideline for New Translators

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

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 Style

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.)

Specific Guidelines

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.

Working with other Translators

Collaboration is key to the success of any open-source project, and the TED Open Translation Project is no different. We recognize, however, that different translators — and different language communities — have very different work styles. They work alone, in pairs and in groups; online and off-line; at different speeds and at different times of day.

Because of this, we’ve intentionally taken a light-handed approach when it comes to how language communities can organize and operate themselves. We want to give you the freedom to figure out what works best for you — which isn’t to say we won’t be here to help!

When you sign up to translate, we’ll try to connect you with others who are also translating in your language. In some cases, self-organized communities have already emerged to support each other and ensure quality. You can find other translators in your language by visiting the Our languages page and clicking on your language in the list. All translators who have completed a talk will be listed. You can also find other translators by joining our Facebook group.

Reviewers and translators

To ensure quality, we require a second pair of eyes on all translations. So after a talk is translated, it’s assigned for review. The translator and reviewer are expected to connect individually to confer and collaborate. You can find each other on the “Translations” page of your TED member profile, and contact each other through the built-in email system. (This system cloaks your actual email address, to protect your privacy.)

The purpose of the review process is to catch any errors in a translation, and also to provide a sounding board for improving style or interpretation. If you’re reviewing someone’s work, you should look for typos, punctuation errors and mistranslations. You can also provide input on style, or on the translation of jargon, slang or industry-specific terms.

Reviewers are expected to contact the translator and confer over any changes made. For a successful collaboration, we recommend that you:

  • Be clear in your direction and feedback.
  • Tread lightly; don’t make changes just for the sake of making changes.
  • Be courteous and gentle with your suggestions. Remember that everyone working on the Open Translation Project is a volunteer, who has invested considerable time and energy in their translations. Always direct your critiques at the work, and not the person.
  • Remember that languages differ widely around the world. Idioms, slang and technical terms can vary place-to-place. You may be accustomed to different phrasing than your translation partner; your goal as a team is to choose words and phrases that can be most universally understood among all dialects of your language.
  • Be cooperative, and find a way to resolve disputes. Some disagreement is inevitable and healthy in the editing/reviewing process. But we expect that you’ll be able to resolve disagreements among yourselves. If you absolutely cannot resolve a dispute, please contact us

In rare cases, you may need to alert us to a real problem. If you notice that:

  • A translator lacks the skills to fluently translate a TEDTalk
  • A translator is purposely abusing their role to misrepresent a speaker’s ideas

… please contact us immediately with the word “ALERT” in the Subject line.

Translations and the TEDx program

In 2009, we launched a program allowing people around the world to host their own TED-inspired events. The program is called TEDx, where x = independently organized events. Many of the TEDx organizers also participate in the Open Translation Project, creating subtitles for the talks they plan to show at their event

Becoming A TED Translator

Who can translate for TED

Language skill: No formal language training is required to translate for TED. But we do ask that all translators be fluently bilingual. It’s essential that your language skills enable you to translate not only the words of speakers, but the tone, style, personality and of course — underlying meaning.

Time commitment: We don’t require an advance commitment, in terms of speed or number of talks translated. You’re welcome to translate just a single, favorite talk! But we do require each volunteer to translate an entire talk (partial translations aren’t useful to us), and to complete each translation within a month of when it was assigned.

Collaboration: To ensure quality, we require a second pair of eyes on each translation. Pairs can work together, or we can assign a reviewer. In either case, the translator and reviewer are expected to confer with each other on any changes, and respectfully navigate any disagreements that may arise.

How translating for TED works

Our system makes it relatively simple to translate talks. We provide an authoritative English transcript, tips for effective translation and a simple online interface for line-by-line translation of subtitles.

You can request to translate or review a talk using our Translator Dashboard, and will receive an email from us once it’s been assigned to you, pointing you toward the online interface for subtitling. (This will be on the site of our technology partner, dotSUB.) If you’re new to the translation project, we’ll send you a questionnaire to fill out before we assign you to translate your first talk. When you’re done with a translation, you’ll click “Mark this translation complete” on dotSUB to let us know that it’s ready for review.

Before publishing your translation on, we will have another translator review it. We encourage you to work together to ensure everyone is satisfied with the quality of the translation.

Getting credit for your work

This is a volunteer effort, so we don’t pay translators for their contributions (similarly, TED speakers aren’t paid to present). But we place a tremendous priority on crediting translators for their work.

All translators and reviewers will be credited on the web page for a talk they’ve translated. So, for example, if you translate or review the Italian translation for Karen Armstrong’s talk, your name will appear on that web page when someone is watching the Italian translation (e.g., “Italian translation by Marco Federighi and Bruno Giussani.”) The first name indicates the primary translator, and the second indicates the reviewer.

All translators and reviewers will be listed on our TED Translators page, as well as the index page for their individual languages.

All translators and reviewers will have a special page on their TED member profile, listing their translations

But most important, every translator will be taking part in our global effort to spread ideas and engage in a global dialogue. We know from our current translators that there’s a huge satisfaction in bringing inspired talks to speakers of their own language worldwide.