Student blog: how translating movie subtitles led to the experience of a lifetime - Choose Brisbane


Student blog: how translating movie subtitles led to the experience of a lifetime

Yanyan Hong

By Yanyan Hong

Yanyan is from Hangzhou, China. She graduated from The University of Queensland in 2018 with a Bachelor of Communication majoring in digital media. After three years of study in Brisbane, she is now continuing to pursue a Master's degree in Communication for Social Change at UQ.



This Zulu greeting came from Susan David, our facilitator at a discovery session held at the TEDSummit 2019, in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s generally used like "hello", but the deeper meaning is "I see you and by seeing you I bring you into being." After a competitive selection process, I was lucky enough to attend the summit in July. This summit was an experience of a lifetime, but it wasn’t just my application that led me there.

People often ask me "What inspired you to become a TED translator?" Although I have been watching TED talks since I was in middle school, it was actually my passion for Indian films that guided me down the path of becoming a TED translator. In defiance of geography, my route to Edinburgh wound its way through Bollywood.

Yanyan Hong

​With other TED translators. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

I have been a fangirl of Indian films for about a decade. I must have watched about a thousand of them and with extravagant sets and bright colours, they are a visual feast for the audience - what’s not to like? I quickly discovered that most of these films didn’t have Chinese subtitles, which made sharing my passion difficult. So, when I wanted to share them with people back home in China, I set about translating dozens of movies from English subtitles into Chinese.

In 2017, one of my favourite Indian actors, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), was invited to give a TED talk entitled “Thoughts on humanity, love and fame.” My passion and my experience in translating Indian films inspired me to take on the challenge of translating my idol’s talk into Chinese. Since then, I have translated more than 150 TED talks into Chinese. I got to know many amazing, generous, soulful and kind fellow TED translators around the world, while sharing valuable tips and experience of translation work.

Yanyan Hong

TED Translator Family Photo at the Park Party. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED

Part of the reason why I was able to get so involved with the TED community, was that TED talks are closely related to my field of study in Brisbane. After getting my Bachelor’s degree in Digital Media, I currently study Communication for Social Change, a rare subject that as far as I know, is only offered at The University of Queensland. This was of immense help in working with TED talks, which are essentially a platform to share, learn and absorb new ideas. To some extent, this platform itself explains what Communication for Social Change means. From spreading ideas to building bridges across languages and cultures, from promoting diversity to being able to create an inclusive society where everyone has the right to access ideas, all of these can be considered communication for social change. Being a TED translator is a great way to learn beyond the classroom and do what I can to make ideas accessible to more people around the world.

I was a part of "a community without borders" when I attended the TEDSummit 2019, which brought together TED Translators, TEDx organisers, TED Fellows, over 150 previous TED speakers, and other TEDsters.” This TEDSummit featured a fusion of workshops, community brainstorming sessions, discussions, performances, outdoor activities and an eclectic program of main stage talks – all in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland.

Yanyan Hong

With my Korean Translator friend, Jae Yoon, and the head of TED, Chris Anderson, at Celebration Night (Photo: Eriko Tsukamoto)

The head of TED Chris Anderson said during the last session, "Translators are the hidden gems of TED." For the first time, I felt translators were made "visible", we received multiple shout-outs from the stage for our continual, vital work to make TED Talks accessible to language communities around the world. In addition, we received tons of love from the TED Speaker community, built meaningful connections with each other, and we were extremely grateful to be able to make positive impact in spreading ideas, knowledge and debate on exciting and inspiring topics across the world in partnership with TED.

Yanyan Hong

Translator Tour of the Castle. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

One of the highlights of my Summit experience was coming across the lovely, kind and energetic TEDx friends from both my home country China and my "second-home" Australia, including the organizers of TEDxBrisbane, TEDxSydney and other TEDx community across different regions in Australia and China.

In a way, like the "Sawubona" greeting I learned in Edinburgh, it was by experiencing the magic of communication and new ideas, that brought this trip of a lifetime into being.

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