Interview with… Ildikó Santana

For this second and last interview of March 2013, I interviewed Ildikó Santana, highly dedicated Hungarian/English translator who puts her translation and language skills to the service of worthy causes such as the GoodPlanet project or the FAIRstart program, via Translators without Borders. She’s the winner of Translators without Borders’ Right to Knowledge Award, but also Language lead for Hungarian and global coordinator of the Wikipedia – WikiProject Medicine Translation Task Force. In this interview we discussed her background, her humanitarian projects and many other things…

Related interview: Simon Andriesen in December 2012 about the translator training center in Kenya. Read the interview here.

ildiko2009-144x190Hi Ildikó! Tell us a bit about yourself, your background – what got you where you are now?

I am an English<>Hungarian freelance translator and editor and have lived in California for the past 14 years. The majority of my work comes from agencies, and I have a few long-term corporate clients. I specialize in law (legislation and contracts primarily), business and finance. I am a native of Budapest, Hungary, where I had lived for 35 years. After quickly rejecting to follow either of my parents career path (a mechanical engineer and a radiologist) I decided to pursue a career in arts. My two passions have always been languages and creative arts. I majored in English and graphic arts, I studied Russian and English as diligently as I did watercolor and woodworking. After passing my state language exam in English, I went to art school and did my internship as a store-front window designer. Soon, a unique opportunity of on-the-job training in animation came along.

You started your career as a graphic designer and an Animation Artist for the Hungarian TV. How did you come to the translation profession?

Although animation was great fun, after a few years I realized I needed a “real” job that paid the bills (I was a single mom at the time). I’ve always had an inherent curiosity and insatiable appetite for puzzles and the written word. While working as an office manager for a London-based financial advisory firm, a few great opportunities and amazing professionals helped me to re-train as a translator and to gain hands-on experience in legal and financial translation and interpretation. I also spent 2 years as managing editor for an online magazine. I really enjoy working with people of various nationalities and backgrounds from all over the world, and the Internet has made this possible. Over the past 20 years, translation has become far more than just a job, it is my passion and daily source of satisfaction. Each text, each segment is a challenging puzzle, waiting to be solved. Just like arts, this work also offers plenty of opportunities to be creative and satisfies my appetite for constant learning.

What made you join Translators without Borders (TWB)?

When in 2010 I first read the organization’s core concept, “working to build a world where knowledge doesn’t have borders,” it immediately resonated with me and I volunteered. There was another motivation; I have many others in our profession to thank for everything I know today about translation as an art form and as a business, all the wonderful people who have freely shared their knowledge and experience. I had no way of paying back, but I knew it was time for me to pay forward.

You’re the global Translation Coordinator for the WikiProject Medicine – what is this project exactly?

The Translation Task Force is a collaborative effort that began in 2011, to first improve health care’s most important topics in English, followed by translation into as many other languages as possible. It is an undertaking initiated by WikiProject Medicine, Wikimedia Canada and Translators without Borders, and is expected to carry on for a number of years. Translation of the English source articles is processed by TWB through a platform powered by

What is your role there as a language lead?

As the Language Lead for Hungarian my role is to reassemble translated parts where the source file was split up for team translation, check for consistency and accuracy, and deliver the final target file. Time permitting, I also participate in the editing of source articles and in their translation into Hungarian. Language Leads also coordinate the overall workflow amongst several translators in each language team and, ideally, we facilitate the creation and maintenance of glossaries.

And as the Translation Task Force Coordinator?

As the Translation Coordinator, I oversee the translation of English Wikipedia articles into the 19 mainstream target languages. This involves maintaining a repository of the source files, posting them for translation to the TWB translation center, overseeing and managing the assignments of the individual tasks, monitoring progress, scheduling deadlines, keeping in touch with the translator teams and, at the end of each job, delivering the translation to the client. I also maintain the table detailing our progress at the Translation Task Force project page on Wikipedia.

What made you join in this project and take over these roles?

Participating in the Translation Task Force, being part of a team of enthusiastic, like-minded colleagues, working toward our common goal is a tremendously rewarding experience. Luckily, whenever I feel I could do more for the project, the opportunities always present themselves. :)

Who are the members of the Wikipedia Project Medicine Translation Task Force? Who can join?

All members of the WikiProject Medicine Translation Task Force are Translators without Borders volunteers with experience in the health care or medical field. TWB translators must have at least 4 years of professional translation experience or 2 years of professional translation experience and a university degree in translation or related subject, pass the translation test or be ATA certified, Certified PROs or Lionbridge translators.

At Grand Canyon

At Grand Canyon

Tell us about the FAIRstart project, which you are also involved in.

The FAIRstart project aims at contributing to the development of stable and care-giving environments for children who were placed outside their natural family because they have lost their parents. FAIRstartGlobal is a non-profit education curriculum online, covering all aspects of quality child care illustrated by texts and videos. Based on the combined knowledge of a global network of researchers and designed by psychologist Niels Rygaard, the program has been tested in a 2-year European Union project in 5 countries by orphanages and foster family organizations. The FAIRstart program has been translated into 5 languages so far and, similarly to the WikiProject Medicine, we are in the process of having it translated into many more languages through the TWB translation center. As a volunteer Project Manager for Translators without Borders, I am currently coordinating the translation of the FAIRstart program into 10 more languages.

You also contributed to the GoodPlanet Project. Can you tell us about it?

The GoodPlanet foundation is working to raise awareness and propose concrete solutions in favor of our planet and its inhabitants. The project involved translating web content and it was my very first opportunity to contribute as a TWB volunteer translator and to work with a team of dedicated colleagues. I haven’t been able to stop ever since. :)

You’re the proof that human translators are necessary and will remain so for a long time, right? What is your take on machine translation – foe or friend?

I would say it is both. Machines replacing human workers is the next logical step in most occupations, why would our industry be different? I personally would never use it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not here, and if my trade slowly degenerates then I might as well take part in the MT development process. Since I am not enough to fight this trend, I have considered joining the ‘other’ side instead, those who work on perfecting MT. There is still a lot to do.

What do you think the future of our profession looks like?

I wish I had the answer! My favorite Joseph Campbell quote comes to mind, “Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.” I think I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on and, sadly, I won’t be around to see where we are headed. This is true for our profession as well. I can’t predict the future, but what I’m seeing is that we are very eager to replace ourselves by machines. We must be the only species who spare no effort and work so diligently on rendering ourselves useless. Until then, I’ll be happy to be a human translator. :)

In your spare time (if you have any ;)), what do you enjoy doing?

Well, I’ve been trying to figure out for the longest time how to stretch the 24 hours so that I can have at least 34 a day to do everything I want! :) Since I work out of my home office, I am very fortunate to be able to do what I really enjoy doing practically all day (and night), 7 days a week. When I don’t translate OR work for TWB, I help with booking and promoting my blues musician husband’s shows; I love live music, dancing, having a great time with friends. I don’t have a TV but I watch about 5 movies a week on DVD. There’s a lot more to keep me busy: 3 cats, the household, the garden; games like Backgammon, checker variations, Scrabble, jigsaw puzzles; hiking, taking photos, hanging out at antique shops and used bookstores… I’m usually reading 2 or 3 books at a time; mostly science fiction, crime mysteries, linguistics, philosophy, and metaphysics. My secret desire is to write and illustrate a book on sacred geometry.

Ildikó, thank you very much for your time!

TWB – Translators without Borders
Translators without Borders Honors Volunteers, Donors and Non-profit Partners with First Access to Knowledge Awards
Wikipedia – WikiProject Medicine
WikiProject Medicine – Task Force
GoodPlanet Foundation
The FAIRstart Project

First “Access to Knowledge Awards”

translators-without-bordersTranslators without Borders honors volunteers, donors and partners with first “Access to Knowledge Awards”

(DANBURY, CT USA –21 December) Global translation charity, Translators without Borders (TWB) today announced the launch of its annual Translators without Borders Access to Knowledge Awards. The awards, honoring six individuals or organizations who exemplify the mission to translate for humanity, are chosen and given by the non-profit’s board of directors.

“We have had an exceptional year of progress and success,” said Lori Thicke, president and founder of Translators without Borders. “Reaching 6.5 million words translated through our workspace, opening our first training center in Nairobi, working with Wikipedia on critical health information—none of this would be possible without the generous support of our donors, the dedication of our volunteers, and the commitment of our non-profit partners.”

The organization created the Access to Knowledge Awards to honor volunteers, donors, and non-profit partners. The awards are given within each of the Translators without Borders’ six ‘pillars’, identified earlier this year as part of the organization’s strategic framework. These pillars—Organizational Excellence, Translator Community and Workspace, Training, Nonprofit Partnerships, Financial Sustainability, Awareness and Communications—work together to deliver the mission.

The organization’s executive committee, the management body of board members and the program director, created criteria for each award. Board members and staff members were not eligible. Board members nominated recipients and the executive committee made final decisions on the winners. In addition to six winners, a number of honorable mentions were also awarded.

The Translators without Borders’ Access to Knowledge recipients will receive a Translators without Borders T-Shirt, a lapel pen and a certificate of gratitude.

“I wish we could recognize by name every single person who has contributed to Translators without Borders this year –there are so very many people who make it work,” said Rebecca Petras, program director. “And the real winners are the people who can better understand vital information because of the hard work of ALL our volunteers and support from ALL our donors. Thank you very much to everyone!”

See the list of winners on The Translators without Borders website

Translators Without Borders Newsletter II

  Click on the image below to read the original newsletter in your browser

Webinar with Lori Thicke: Helping to Save Lives by Overcoming Information Disparities

Helping to Save Lives by Overcoming Information Disparities

Knowledge is power: It saves lives, lifts people out of poverty, creates and maintains economies, and ensures better health and nutrition. Aid groups working in crisis-situations often face the mission-critical challenge of breaking down language barriers to provide access to information to those who need it.

Join Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler, and Val Swisher, CEO of Content Rules, for a discussion with Lori Thicke, CEO of Lexcelera about how Translators Without Borders facilitates the transfer of knowledge to people who need it from one language to another by leveraging the power of professional, vetted translators who volunteer their time. Learn how you can help Translators Without Borders save lives, protect human rights, and make the world a better place, one word at a time.

The webinar starts on July 13, 2012 10:00 am Pacific Daylight Time

Complete info on

Can better content save lives?

Lori Thicke about Translators without Borders doing medical articles with Wikipedia.

Source: Translators Without Borders

TWB Kenya Healthcare Translation Training Program

An overview of Translators without Borders and its work in the Kenyan Healthcare Translation Training Program, featuring an interview with co-founder Lori Thicke

Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap

Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap

Volunteers translating health messages from English into local languages are providing a vital service for NGOs and freeing up millions of extra dollars to be used for medical aid.

Lori Thicke had an epiphany in Thange in eastern Kenya when she saw Aids orphans playing in front of posters with advice on Aids prevention. “The posters carried excellent advice, but they were in English, a language that people didn’t understand,” she said.

What was the use of this information provided by well-meaning NGOs, she wondered, if the people they were trying to reach could not read English. “People are delivering aid every day in Africa in English, French and Portuguese,” said Thicke. “That is fine for the educated elite, but they don’t need aid. It is the parents among the poor who need the information on symptoms of malaria.”

She saw the fatal effects of the language gap in India too, where mothers could have saved their children from dying from diarrhoea if they had followed the simple advice on health brochures and leaflets.

Thicke, a Canadian who came to Paris to write the great Canadian novel but founded a translation company instead, had pinpointed a glaring but little-noticed paradox in the information revolution. Thanks to the internet and mobile phones, knowledge and information is disseminated far and wide and at speed. But that knowledge is wasted unless understood by those who need it most.

Translators without Borders was founded by Thicke and Ros Smith-Thomas in 1993 after Médecins sans Frontières, the medical NGO, asked her company, Lexcelera, to work on a translation project. She asked if they needed translation often, and if giving them the words for free would be like a donation. They said yes to both questions, and TWB was born. But until that moment in Kenya two years ago, the group dealt mostly with European languages. Now Thicke is determined to bridge what she calls the “language last mile” in the developing world.

One of the group’s current projects is to teach sex workers in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, to translate material in English on sexually transmitted diseases into languages such as Swahili, Luo and Kikuyu. The project started last week, with Simon Andriesen, a specialist on medical translation who is on the TWB board. He will teach about 125 women from Kibera, who speak different languages, to translate four-page brochures in English into the different Kenyan languages.

“He is teaching them translation skills so they can reach their own people,” said Thicke. “All the girls from Kibera represent different languages. They have been recommended to us by a health NGO and their job is to pass on information to other girls. We want to provide brochures in a language that can be understood so it doesn’t get thrown away.”

Paul Warambo, a recent masters graduate in the Kiswahili language living in Nairobi said: “The health translators training has come at a time when the country urgently needs translators in every sector, but especially in the health sector where little information is available in languages that can be understood by the majority of Kenyans.”

TWB is working on an even more ambitious project with Wikipedia. The aim is to take Wikipedia entries on the most important health topics, turn them into simple English and then translate them into as many languages as possible. The articles will then be accessible for free on mobile phones through new agreements betweek Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia, and telecoms operators. A number of Wikipedia articles covering dengue fever, Aids, malaria, cholera and tuberculosis are awaiting translation from TWB’s army of volunteers.

The group has about 2,000 translators, who have passed its translation tests. Indian languages are well served but Africa is a big gap, with only about 15 of TWB’s translators able to deal with African languages. Africa has more than 2,000 different languages, such as Amharic, Swahili and Berber, spread across six major language families. Nigeria alone has more than 500 tongues spoken within its borders.

Until the 2010 Haiti earthquake, TWB had limited reach. But the crisis revealed not only the need for translations from thousands of aid groups that need humanitarian translations but also a critical mass of translators willing to help.

So the group created an online platform to bring the two communities together. Last year,, the world’s largest translator organisation, created an automated translation centre for TWB so it could broaden its reach. Approved NGOs can now post translation projects such as field reports, treatment protocols and websites. Alerts then go out to the translators in those language pairs. Those who are interested in the work of that particular NGO will take on a project, translate it, and return it to the platform for delivery. Most of the projects are picked up within 15 minutes.

Translators without Borders can easily handle projects for 100 non-profits at a time, but as its volunteer community grows, so does its capacity. Over the years, it has donated almost $3m in translation services, which means that money went towards medical supplies, vaccines, rehydration kits and more.

“We are working to build a world where knowledge doesn’t have borders,” Thicke said. “With technology, and cellphone penetration in Africa, we have the potential to spread knowledge, but no one is talking about how people are getting information even if they are connected. People die not just of disease but from a lack of knowledge on how to avoid getting sick.”

Mark Tran, “Translators fight the fatal effects of the language gap”, The Guardian (, April 11,2012

View the original article on the Guardian website here . We’d like to thank the author, Mark Tran, for allowing us to reproduce it here on the Stinging Nettle. Some in our staff are volunteering for Translators Without Borders themelves and this article is a very good tribute to Lori and to TWB and the amazing work they do everyday along with their volunteers.

Fresh out of the oven: meet the Translators Without Borders newsletter!

The very first Translators Without Borders Newsletter was sent out on March 13th 2012!

“Translators without Borders is a truly volunteer effort. From translating vital information into many languages, to managing our automated translation center, to developing the first translation training center in Nairobi, Translators without Borders is run by dedicated hard-working volunteers.  In this first issue of our newsletter, you can read about a few of those committed professionals. The newsletter is also completely run by volunteers.  What a pleasure it has been to work with such a talented group of writers and designers putting together our first issue.  Watch for our next issue in May!” Rebecca Petras