At 1-Year Anniversary, TED's Open Translation Project Celebrates More Than 7,000 Completed Translations From 4,000 Volunteers in 75 Languages

Crowdsourced translation tool brings TEDTalks to non-English speakers worldwide

May 13, 2010, 11:17 ET from TED Conferences

NEW YORK, May 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, TED's Open Translation Project marks one full year of making TEDTalks video available to non-English speakers around the world. As of today, more than 4,000 volunteer translators have completed 7,000 translations, with another 2,000 in progress -- subtitling TEDTalks in languages as diverse as Arabic, Bulgarian, Mongolian, Tagalog, Uzbek and more than 70 others.

Using an innovative set of web-based translation tools and a crowdsourced workflow, the Open Translation Project has opened TED's library of almost 700 TEDTalks to the planet's 4.5 billion non-English speakers.

"TED's mission is to spread ideas, and it's hard to imagine a more effective way of doing that than translating the talks into all the world's languages," said June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media. "With the help of our extraordinary volunteer translators, this project has allowed us to create a truly global dialogue."

"I translate for the hundreds of millions of Arabic language speakers," said Anwar Dafa-Alla, a volunteer translator from Sudan who just this week completed his 300th translation of TEDTalks. "I translate because it's a way to promote mutual respect between different cultures, people and religions. Participating in TED's translation project is a good way to show how compassionate we are toward each other."

As a result of the Open Translation Project, most TEDTalks on now offer:

  • Subtitles in English and several additional languages
  • Translated headlines and video descriptions, which appear when a new language is selected
  • An interactive transcript in multiple languages, allowing viewers to click on any phrase and jump to that point in the video. This feature makes the full content of the video indexable on search engines
  • Language-specific URLs, which play the chosen subtitles by default

The Open Translation Project has helped drive a significant increase in international visitors to TED's website. Traffic to TED from outside the US has grown by 350 percent since January 2009, with 600 percent growth in Asia, and more than 1000 percent in South America. 14 percent of visitors use subtitles when watching the videos.

One of the most first and most comprehensive attempts by a media platform to open-source the challenge of translation, the Open Translation Project grew out of TED's commitment to a philosophy of "radical openness." The project's open-source approach was inspired by the strategies of group-developed products such as Wikipedia, Linux and the Firefox web browser, whose success demonstrated the power and reliability of open solutions. Crowd-sourced translation has already been proven effective by a handful of projects worldwide, including Wikipedia, Firefox, the Chinese translation site Yeeyan, and the Global Voices blog at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

To ensure the quality of translations, TED starts with a professionally produced English transcript of each TEDTalk, which the speaker approves. Once the transcript is loaded into the web-based translation tool, which TED developed with technology partner dotSUB, a volunteer "checks out" the talk to translate. After the translation is complete, it's reviewed by a second fluent speaker before publication. Both translator and reviewer are credited by name. And as is typical in crowdsourced systems, there are feedback mechanisms for ongoing community input and improvement after publication.

"We've been amazed and humbled not only by number of translations -- 7,000 published in just one year! -- but also by the consistently high quality level," said June Cohen. "Most of our translators spend many hours on each translation, showing extraordinary attention to detail in order to faithfully translate a speaker's ideas. A project based on volunteers may seem risky, but the truth is: You can't buy that kind of passion and commitment."

Why do they translate? TED's volunteer translators frequently say they've been inspired by TED's ideas worth spreading, and take pride in bringing them to their communities; they also value being part of a global movement toward greater cross-cultural understanding.

"As a global citizen, I believe in shared information, open source software, and creative commons," said Coco Shen, a Chinese-speaking volunteer translator. "I hope that one day, information will transfer faster than currency does, and people in the world will understand each other better with an open mind, being tolerant and creative."

The Bulgarian translation collective called MaYoMo wrote: "TED is a source of innovative and creative ideas that improve the world we live in. The various themes of the talks have been tickling our passion for a deeper understanding of the world."

Read in-depth Q&As from some of TED's volunteer translators on the TED Blog:

Learn more about TED's Open Translation Project at

About TED

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. At TED, the world's leading thinkers and doers are asked to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Talks are then made available, free, at TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Benoit Mandelbrot, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Two major TED events are held each year: The TED Conference takes place every spring in Long Beach, California (along with the simulcast conference, TEDActive, in Palm Springs), and TEDGlobal is held each summer in Oxford, UK.

TED's media initiatives include, where new TEDTalks video are posted daily; the Open Translation Project, which allows any TEDTalk to be translated into any language by volunteers worldwide; and the new Open TV Project, supporting TEDTalks on broadcast TV worldwide. TED has also established the annual TED Prize, where exceptional individuals win "one wish to change the world"; TEDx, which supports individuals and groups in hosting local, self-organized TED-style events around the world; and the TED Fellows program, helping world-changing innovators from around the globe to become part of the TED community and amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.

Follow TED on Twitter at, or on Facebook at

TEDGlobal 2010, "And Now the Good News," will be held July 13-16, 2010, in Oxford, UK. TED2011, "The Rediscovery of Wonder," will be held February 28-March 4, 2011, in Long Beach, California, along with the TEDActive simulcast in Palm Springs, California.


Laura Galloway

Galloway Media Group


SOURCE TED Conferences