Guidelines

As you translate and transcribe talks, here are some things to keep in mind.

Collaboration

Collaboration is at the heart of the Open Translation Project — every set of subtitles requires at least two volunteers working together.

For a successful collaboration, we recommend that you:

  • Be clear in your direction and feedback.
  • Be courteous and direct your critiques at the work, not the person.
  • Choose words and phrases that can be most universally understood among all dialects of your language.
  • Tread lightly; don’t make changes just for the sake of making changes.
  • Be cooperative, and find a way to resolve disputes. Language Coordinators can help with language-specific issues.

Reviewers should kickstart the collaboration process by contacting the translator (or TEDx transcriber) to communicate changes.

Connect with translators in your language.


Subtitling

Subtitling is a unique skill set: volunteers must accurately convey meaning, despite time and space constraints.

To ensure viewers can read your subtitles with ease, stick to these guidelines:

  • Break a subtitle into two lines when it exceeds 42 characters in length.
  • Keep broken lines as close in length as possible.
  • Keep 'linguistic wholes' together when breaking lines.
  • Don't let the subtitle reading speed go over 21 characters per second.
  • Compress subtitles which exceed 21 characters per second. Strive to preserve as much meaning as possible.

The following guides elaborate on the rules and techniques mentioned above:

Tutorial: subtitle length and reading speed

See how Amara's subtitling interface helps you track these counts.


TED style

Informal over formal
Where appropriate, choose informal, colloquial terms over formal or academic ones.

Modern over traditional
Choose modern terms and phrases over the traditional. Translators should strive to be up-to-date in the topics covered.

Personal over generic
Strive to match the tone and flow of the speaker's original talk. Rather than produce a word-for-word translation, aim to find the color, energy and "poetry" in the speaker's organic style and try to emulate it.

Global over regional
Choose words and phrases that can be most universally understood among all dialects.

Idioms
Instead of a word-for-word translation, try finding a similar expression in the target language. If no equivalent can be found, opt for a translation that readers will find the least confusing, even if it is less colorful than the original.

TED
TED is always written as "TED" and should not be translated.

Titles of works
For books, movies, magazines and poems, check if the work has an official translation in your language. If not, don't translate the title.

Proper nouns
If the target language uses a non-Latin alphabet, transliterate people’s names. For places, use the name that is most common in your language. Otherwise, transliterate.

Punctuation
Use the target language's native punctuation.

Character sets
Use standard unicode characters and avoid those that are platform-specific. While working offline, make sure to save the subtitles as a Unicode UTF-8 file to preserve the encoding of non-English characters.

Units of measurement
You may convert units of measurement to make them more understandable to viewers in your language. We recommend the Google unit conversion tool.


Translator resources

Find helpful guides, tutorials and ways to connect with the OTP community.

Contact us at translate@ted.com.