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Interview with Bill Hsiung, top Traditional Chinese volunteer translator at TED

The following interview is brought to you by Derek Sit, volunteer writer at TEDtoChina. The original Chinese version of the interview can be found here.

Derek Sit

居於香港,是一個幻想著自己在熟悉的城市像過客一樣流浪的傢伙. 正一本正經的學習著成為一個會計師, 但心裡邊總覺得世界如此陌生如此不為人知, 總是搞不清楚是A還是B. 目前正努力嘗試在TED的世界里為自己找到一個答案.


Have you ever thought about how much time our volunteer translators need to put in one 15-minute TED talks? One hour? 2 hours? Or 5 hours? Well, I cannot say it exactly. But I am pretty sure the unit is ‘days’ rather than ‘hours’. You can never imagine how much they have contributed if you have not translated before. Dear readers, when you are enjoying the wonderful ideas the talks bring us, try not to forget the silent translators who bring the talks to you.

It is high time we acknowledged and recognized them by getting to know them more. Therefore I would like to introduce Bill Hsiung, a distinguished traditional Chinese Translator, to all of you. Bill is currently in USA. He has translated 48 talks so far, ranking 1st among all traditional Chinese translators. In the following Bill will share with us his story with TED.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Bill: I was born in Pingtung County and grew up in Taichung. In 2006 I went to USA to further my study. Currently I am working in Southern California after graduation

How did you discover, and started translating TED videos?

Bill: Around late 2006 or early 2007, I watched a video about multi-touch panel on Youtube by Jeff Han. About 9 minutes, and very wonderful. I googled some keywords from the video and discovered the official website of TED. From then on, I visited periodically. TED talks are all wonderful, simple and straightforward. Therefore one could always spare a bit of time to watch and appreciate those talks no matter how busy s/he is.

Around March 2009, I found a Facebook group named ‘I translate TEDTalks’. The TED Open translation Project (OTP) caught my sight, and I started following it. Before that, I was a Traditional Chinese volunteer translator for MIT Open Courseware (although I didn’t apply and complete the translation project officially). I also helped translate Facebook into traditional Chinese (Taiwan area) I did not join OTP immediately due to other commitments. Meanwhile, the project was still in the process of testing. In May, I applied officially to be a member of the project as I got through with other projects. Around two weeks after I joined the group, TED publicly launched the translation project, and welcomed interested parties to join.

You have translated 45 talks so far, while most other traditional Chinese translators finish less than 10. What is the driving force?

Bill: My motive has been very simple from the very beginning. There are many TED talks which I like. And I just want to take this opportunity to translate and share the talks with other people, making it easier for Chinese people, especially those using Traditional Chinese, to get access to those wonderful speeches. Timing is another reason. I had more leisure time. Therefore I translated quite a few talks. In August 2009 I moved, changed my job and was occupied by several tedious matters, thus withdrew myself from the project for a while. Luckily I was still invited to TEDActive held in Palm Springs in February this year for free, as I had translated a considerable amount of talks before the temporary stop. I met different volunteer translators from TED OTP around the world as well as the main organizers of TEDx activities. We shared with each other our experiences and enthusiasm. This wonderful TEDActive experience encouraged me to pick up this project again. And I believe that I will keep on until I finish translating all the talks that I am interested in. ( publishes one talk per day from Mondays to Fridays, and publishes selected talks during weekends. The number of TED talks is increasing continuously!!). Translating TED talks would probably become one of my long-term commitments. Other than that I am greatly encouraged by the thank-you letters from the public who acknowledged the time we put into this project and the contributions we make to the Chinese community.

Are there anything interesting or unforgettable during your process of translation? Are there any particular videos that are inspiring to you?

Bill: Unforgettable….probably the moment I just joined the project ~ the platform for translator was still quite simple then. It was quite difficult to get in touch with other translators (Now you could easily search them), not to mention finding a translator working on the same language. It was mission impossible, considering the operating system we had then. However, the translated videos will not appear on until months later if you can’t contact other translators or ask them to review the talks( TED will only publish talks on its official websites after it is reviewed by a different translator). Thus I went for the simplest option. I went over the names of the thousands of registered TED users on the website, and tried to find those names with the tag ‘TED volunteer translator’. Then I looked into spelling of the names, and guessed whether s/he is a Traditional Chinese translator or not. Lastly I would contact him/her. It appeared to be quite cumbersome now, and therefore quite unforgettable.

More than half of TED talks are inspiring to me. I can’t name any particular TED talks. The following links can take you to all the TED talks and speakers that I like:

Any tips on translating that you would like to share with us?

Bill: First of all, for those who are interested in joining OTP, please read carefully the information available on the official website of TED Open Translation Project before you actually get started working on the talks. (This includes: translation guidelines, suggested formats, FAQ and help). The TED has been listening to different translators, and publishes their suggestions on the official website for reference after summary and editing. Reading them help fresh volunteers get on the right track quickly, and answers questions they may have. Hopefully our translators could make good use of them. Generally speaking, the most prevailing guiding principles for translating TED talks are: avoid word-to-word translation; try to express the ideas using Chinese grammar and sentence structure (sometimes it is necessary to use inversion, or substitute Chinese slangs for original phrases). TED aims at ‘idea worth spreading’. Translating the spirits and ideas of speakers is far more important than wordings only.

The performance of Traditional Chinese Translator has always been weaker than that of Simplified Chinese Translators. What is your opinion and can you suggest some solutions for improvements?

Bill: Haha ~ probably I would not agree with you (‘has always been weaker’). I think you are solely looking at the amount of talks completed. Amount is definitely one of the indicators. Not the only one, even not the best one, but the easiest understood one. The number of talks completed by Traditional Chinese translators is indeed far less than that by Simplified Chinese translators. But if we take the number of translators into consideration as well, the performance of the two groups are comparable to each other. The number of simplified Chinese translators is around twice as much as that of traditional Chinese translators, and so is the amount of talks completed. If we further take account of the population size using simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese, I would say the performance of traditional Chinese translators should have been much better than its counterparts. (Currently Traditional Chinese is used daily only in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Simplified is more widely used in Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia and other Chinese communities). Besides, when the project just got started last year, there were still very few translators. The amounts of talks translated into Traditional Chinese were once more than that in Simplified Chinese. That is why I don’t agree with you. But the hard fact is that we pale in terms of amounts. We should reflect on that and think about solutions.

There are probably two reasons (for fewer amounts)

Firstly, traditional translators are generally very demanding about the quality of their translation products. They may go back and forth during reviews, making corrections unweariedly several times. This slows down the translation process. But it is good. It guarantees the quality of translation. We need not and will not change this.

Secondly, there are fewer Traditional Chinese Translators in OTP. This is something we can work on to improve. We have been in collaboration with TEDxTaipei to increase TED Open Translation Project’s visibility in Taiwan. We will to interact more actively with schools, and introduce the project to students, especially those majoring in foreign languages, through teachers. What is more, traditional Chinese translators have been too independent, and therefore not well-organized among themselves. We don’t have an interactive platform like TEDtoChina or TCTC google group (for better coordination). There are other organizations and websites in Taiwan who are translating TED talks. It is a pity that they remained independent after the launch of TED Open Translation Project. It is a kind of waste and inefficient for different groups to work on the same talks on their own.

TED project is a long-term commitment. I am satisfied with the speed with which our traditional Chinese translators are doing now. That keeps our translators occupied. They will develop a habit of translating TED talks once they are free. Spanish and Bulgarian volunteers translated much faster than the speed with which the Official TED talks increase. Volunteers may direct their attention to other stuff as they have no videos to translate. This is not good for long-term commitment of translator communities. This is something we must not ignore. It might not be that good to translate with too high speed.

Can you talk about your expectation of development of TED among Chinese communities? What impact would you think will TED bring on us?

Bill: haha~ I only hope TED will be recognized by more Chinese. As to the future development and impact it will have, well, I am neither an employee of TED, nor someone influential. Just as what TED curator Chris Anderson said, TED has its own life, no one knows where it would go, we are also curious about its future. I could only guess the impact would be positive.


So what do you think about Bill through this article. To me, rational, passionate and earnest. I believe his sharing of the tips on translating would benefit both current and fresh translators. His opinions on the development of traditional Chinese translators are particularly inspiring to me. I am currently in Hong Kong. I think TED could also spread its ideas more actively in this wonderful island besides Taiwan, and get recognized by more Hongkongers. I have seen volunteers working on this. And from them I see promising futures.

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Interview with Tony Yet [Published on TED’s Official Blog]

In an effort to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the thousands of volunteer translators working at TED’s Open Translation Project (OTP), TED has been conducting and publishing interviews with selected translators in the past few months. On 12th May, 2010 – one day before the 1-year anniversary of OTP – TED published an interview with the top Chinese translator Tony Yet, who is also one of the co-founders of TEDtoChina. In this amazing interview, Tony talked about his interest in language, technology and social innovation, his reasons for joining OTP and some of his favorite talks. TEDtoChina also received an honorable mention in this interview:

Later, I thought it would be a good idea to create a website to feature these translated TEDTalks. So with the help of a friend living in the US, we launched The idea is to bridge over the language barrier and bring these innovative talks to more Chinese people. It’s been a great journey for us to witness the birth and growth of the TED Chinese translator community and the much bigger TED fan community in China.

Click here to read the full interview.

Tony is also a TED Fellow and the one of translators (together with Danye West) behind the 2000th translated TED Talk.

Congratulations to Tony and all the wonderful volunteer translators on their amazing work!

You can head to TED’s blog to read about interviews with other translators, or check out this post to have a glimpse of how far and fast OTP has progressed in merely a year. Alternatively, if you read Chinese, you can take a look at the various posts related to OTP published on TEDtoChina’s Chinese site to keep in touch with the progress of Chinese translations. Last but not least, we will be publishing an English version of the interview we conducted with the top Traditional Chinese translator Bill Hsiung a short while ago. So stay tuned! :)

About the Author

赵林(Zachary Lin Zhao)
Senior Coordinator at Translators Service Group

Zachary Zhao was born in China, attended high school in Singapore and is currently studying at Colgate University in the United States. His first encounter with TED was an accident, an accident that he will never regret. Working as a volunteer for TED and TEDtoChina has transformed his life. He hopes to bring the ideas of TED not only to the Chinese people but also to everybody around him.

Email: OTP at TEDtoChina dot com

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Twitter: @TEDtoChina_en

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Rebuilding Haiti with Ideas

To many of us, it was just an ordinary day. But to the 10 million Haitians basking in the warm afternoon sun, what happened on that eventful day was a nightmare that they could never wake up from.

January 12th, 2010.
16:53:10 local time.
Magnitude-7.0 earthquake.
Epicenter 25 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince.
Focus 10 kilometers underground.
33 aftershocks recorded.
200,000 estimated dead.

But numbers can’t measure the sorrow of this poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Words can’t describe the pain of those buried in the rubble, waiting to be rescued. Relatives dialed frantically at a number that could no longer be reached. Children stared hopelessly into a future that is gloomy and bleak. It’s a story about the vulnerability and fragility of human beings as a race when facing the wrath of Mother Nature. It’s a story about the suffering and death of our fellow brothers and sisters.

But more than that, it is also a story about love. News coverage of the earthquake and the rescue efforts continues 24/7. #Haiti and various charity organizations remain as the trending topics on Twitter throughout the week. In less than a week’s time, text message donations have already surpassed 10 million dollars in the United States. What happened in Haiti was a natural catastrophe, but we didn’t allow it to turn into a human tragedy. In the midst of collapsed buildings and floating dust, we see the goodness of human heart, the collective strength of human community and our persistent hope for a better tomorrow.

TEDtoChina has also been trying to do our part by providing our readers with the latest updates regarding the earthquake, relevant information from as well as various ways to help the victims. During the first week since the earthquake, we have already published three articles related to the earthquake. They are (following articles are in simplified Chinese):

[粉丝行动] 海地大地震,参与援助的45种方式!
([Fans in Action] Haiti Mega-quake: 45 ways to offer your help.)

On January 14th (China local time), one day after the earthquake, TEDtoChina co-founder Oliver Ding published an article informing our TEDtoChina readers of the dire conditions in Haiti and the various ways that we can lend an helping hand. Haiti earthquake touched the heart of many Chinese people, because it was less than two years ago when millions of Chinese people had to grapple with the same kind of grievous situation when a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck Sichuan, China.

In the article, Oliver recommends our readers pay a visit to the “Medicine without Borders” theme page at, an issue that is especially pertinent to the disaster relief effort at Haiti. At the same time, Oliver gives an update on the current situation in Haiti by republishing a CC licensed post from Global Voices Online (Original by Georgia Popplewell, translated into Chinese by Leonard). Most importantly, Oliver offers our readers a list of 45 charity organizations that are involved in the relief and rebuilding process, allowing our readers to extend their help even when they are thousands of miles away.

(Lalitesh Katragadda: Making maps to fight disaster, build economies)

On January 15th (China local time), we introduced our readers to a talk given by Googler Lalitesh Katragadda during last year’s TEDIndia conference. In this short talk, Katragadda gave an overview on the power of using Internet maps to fight disasters and build economies. Shortly after the earthquake, Google Maps started to provide its users with post-earthquake satellite images of Haiti ( – a true testament to the relevance of Katragadda’s talk and the potential of using new technologies in humanitarian efforts. A Chinese translation of the talk is kindly provided by our team member Yu Kai (余恺).

[TED大奖] 以人为本,用建筑抚平伤痛
([TED Prize] A people-oriented approach: Build to heal.)

One of the most important questions to ask about the relief effort in Haiti is what will happen when the cameras go away, when Haiti is no longer in the news 24/7, when this disaster merely becomes part of our collective memory. Who will help Haitians rebuild their own country and more importantly, how should Haitians do it? To address at least part of the problem, on January 17th our team member Yvette Wang (王烨) wrote a wonderful article on the use of open-source architecture to provide long-term sustainable help to disaster-stricken regions and to heal the emotional and psychological wounds of disaster victims.

Open-source Architecture Network (OAN) is a concept introduced by 2006 TED Prize winner Cameron Sinclair. According to Sinclair, the objective of OAN is “to develop a community that actively embraces innovative and sustainable design to improve the living conditions for everyone”. In fact, as Yvette pointed out in the article, the concept of OAN has been successfully adopted in the post-disaster construction effort across different regions such as China, Nepal, India and Pakistan. We definitely hope to see the blossoming of OAN in the Haiti reconstruction process as well.

These are just three Haiti-related articles published on TEDtoChina over the past couple of days. It is, however, not the end, but merely an beginning. Every member at TEDtoChina will stay committed to the relief effort at Haiti by continuing to spread ideas that are instrumental in helping Haitians rebuild their country. The power of individuals may be limited, but the power of ideas is not.

About the Author

赵林(Zachary Lin Zhao)
Senior Coordinator at Translators Service Group

Zachary Zhao was born in China, attended high school in Singapore and is currently studying at Colgate University in the United States. His first encounter with TED was an accident, an accident that he will never regret. Working as a volunteer for TED and TEDtoChina has transformed his life. He hopes to bring the ideas of TED not only to the Chinese people but also to everybody around him.

Email: OTP at TEDtoChina dot com

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Twitter: @TEDtoChina_en

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