A Translator Giftbag for TEDGlobal2012

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Yesterday evening, my Belgian TEDx friends and I sat around our very Palm-Springish "campfire" by the pool. We talked about the week, about the people we had interesting conversations with (lasting beyond the time of a lunch), about the ideas that we would take home, about the speakers they wanted on their TEDx stage, and about the things that had struck us. I will not give you the full list of answers, because part of it is personal. Instead, let me focus on one thing: we noticed that despite its global ambition and its unmistakenly broad reach, TED is not yet truly global. Just two illustrations of that. The vast majority of TEDActive attendees came from the US (I'll do the exact math when I'm home, but you can trust me on this one), giving TEDActive a distinctly US flavour. The power of the speakers on the stage was - let's say - highly correlated with their command of English.

And yet in the Palm Springs Showlounge there was also a group of people who had access to a much broader community and a much deeper pool of knowledge and beauty: the TED Translator delegation. What if we tried a little harder to get TED to see the full spectrum, and not only the English speaking part of it? And what if the TED Translator community played a major catalyzing role in that?

To some extent, this is already happening. Together, we have produced more than 26.000 translations of more than 1000 TEDTalks, a handful of which are spoken in a language that is not English. The unlocking of the TEDx potential is on its way. I sure hope that instead of just starting on the big mountain of 13.000 TEDx talks, we can dig out a few gems that are not spoken in English and, to quote my Russian fellow translator Aliaksandr, "multiply their audience". My dream is that by the time we finish the localisation of the website into our languages, there will be a talk in each and every one of our languages on it.

These are the big efforts. But sometimes, small efforts can be just as effective in raising awareness. I have two proposals for the upcoming TEDGlobal.

The first is an upgrade of the name tags attendees are wearing. Instead of showing only name, company and three "talk to me about"-items, I suggest to add a "talk to me in"-section, i.e. a list of languages attendees are fluent in. And yes, a very nice side-effect would be that it would make the TED Translators look really cool. In order to fit in Ancient Greek, Latin and Klingon (remember we want the full spectrum), a "write to me in"-section could be added for languages that are not spoken. I can guarantee you that would spark a different kind of conversation.

The second idea is a kind of translator giftbag. What if each attending translator crowdsourced five "words worth spreading" in his language and graciously handed them out to his neighbour at the beginning of the conference every day? Just a few ideas:

  • English words that were originally borrowed from another language (such as the naval jargon that the Dutch seafarers spread around);
  • words that look alike in English and in our language, but that have very different meanings;
  • words that changed the world;
  • particularly beautiful words that English does not have.

If we start early, the TED layout team could giftwrap them and turn them into collector's items. And yes, a very nice side-effect would be that everyone will want to sit next to a TED Translator.

Voilà, Kristin and Jenny, here's some food for thought for you and June Cohen. Let us know what she thinks about it!