Rather than simply translate a few talks into a handful of major languages, TED developed a system that allows participants around the world to translate their favorite talks into their own language. This approach is scalable, and — importantly — allows speakers of less-dominant languages an equal opportunity to spread ideas within their communities.
To seed the site, a handful of talks were professionally translated into 20 languages. But all translations going forward will be provided by volunteers. At launch, volunteer translators had already contributed more than 200 published translations (with 450 more in development). These volunteers range from well-organized groups working together in their own language, to lone translators working individually and matched by TED with others.
At launch, the Open Translation Project included 300 translations, in 40 languages, including Arabic, Basque, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Kirghiz, Korean, Macedonian, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese. Our translators hail from cities from Beijing to Buenos Aires; Tehran to Tel Aviv; Espoo, Finland, to Barranquilla, Colombia.
To help ensure quality, we generate an approved, professional English transcript for each talk. (This is the transcript upon which all translations are based.) Once the talk is translated, we then require every translation to be reviewed by a second fluent speaker before publishing it on TED. TED controls the final “publish” button. All translators and reviewers are credited by name for their work. After publication, we provide feedback mechanisms for ongoing discussion or improvement around the translation.
Subtitles and transcripts
Every talk on TED.com will now have English subtitles, which can be toggled on or off by the user. The number of additional languages varies from talk to talk, based on the number of volunteers who elected to translate it.
Along with subtitles, every talk on TED.com now features a time-coded, interactive transcript, which allows users to select any phrase and have the video play from that point. The transcripts are fully indexable by search engines, exposing previously inaccessible content within the talks themselves. For example, searching on Google for “green roof” will ultimately help you find the moment in architect William McDonough’s talk when he discusses Ford’s River Rouge plant, and also the moment in Majora Carter’s talk when she speaks of her green roof project in the South Bronx. Transcripts will index in all available languages.
The interplay between the video, subtitles and transcript create what we call a Rosetta Stone effect. You can watch, for example, an English talk, with Korean subtitles and an Urdu transcript. Click on an Urdu phrase in the transcript, and the speaker will say it to you in English, with Korean subtitles running right-to-left below. It’s captivating.