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Open.Michigan video translations

New Language Captions for Health Videos: Translation Update

by Kathleen Ludewig Omollo · March 22nd, 2013

Approximately eight weeks ago, we put out an appeal to our global community: help us translate two of our video collections into other languages. Our vision: make some of our educational content more accessible to non-English speakers. We decided to target 31 videos from our collection: 12 clinical microbiology videos co-authored by instructors in Ghana and Michigan and 19 disaster management videos co-authored by seven schools of public health in East Africa. We chose these two collections because they were both collaboratively authored by educators in multiple countries and they both had already attracted an audience in countries where English is not the native language.

Image CC BY NC SA Tobias Mikkelsen (Flickr)

Our community responded to the call with tremendous enthusiasm. We are very grateful to our collaborators Philomena and Julie at the Language Resource Center, who helped us recruit local multilingual talent through the Translate-A-Bowl and theLanguage Bank. We also received many responses from outside University of Michigan through the connections we have developed around the world as part of our Open.Michigan outreach and institutional partnerships.


Now we have 70 caption tracks in other languages: 28 in Spanish, 16 in Portuguese, 14 in French, 7 in Russian, 2 in Danish, 2 in Swahili, and 1 in Luganda. Woo hoo! Most captions were completed by a single translator, but some had two: one to translate and one to review.

Through this translation experiment,  we have learned a lot about the processes for crowd-sourcing captions and translations. Additionally, we have affirmed the importance of captioning for increasing accessibility, for improved ease of searching within videos, and for enabling translations. We have already begun adding English captions to additional videos in our collection for further translation activities and have even added a tag “multilingual” for our learning materials to make them easier to identify.


We will continue to invite translators for those 31 videos and will post new languages as the translations are completed. Volunteers can sign up to translate at:

For a list of current volunteers, as well as a review of the videos translated so far (and the languages those videos have been translated into), see the full post on the Open.Michigan site.

The Triple Threat: Translating Tagore

After our in-class presentation by Professor Edward Sarath on Wednesday, our class attended the Celebrating Tagore performance at Hill auditorium. I found it a little weird that a performance was being held during a weekday at Hill auditorium, only because I did not expect such a turnout. Nor was I expecting just how big of a collaborative effort this show was. There was the Michigan Choir, the student orchestra and other faculty from the school of Performing Arts.

I had not witnessed three types of translation happen at the same time. Some people might find it hard to focus using multiple senses of hearing a musical piece and trying the understand the message and seeing the dance performance and that translation as well. Luckily, all of it flowed together quite nicely. It was interesting to see two cultural influences translating the same piece of work. The choir and string quartet were playing more contemporary jazz and the dance group, the Michigan Sahana, were translating using a traditional Bengali dance. After each performance, there was written piece of another one of Tagore’s poems which had been translated as well.

This was a nice culmination of all the ways of translation we had discussed in the class. There are many ways to translate and things are lost in translation, but when there are multiple translations simultaneously, it is hard not to understand the message. They almost begin to translate each other, because there are multiple perspectives. During the translation of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, it was most engaging in the way the instruments and the vocals of the choir added emotion and a spiritual context to the physical display of the dance. It also shows the complexity of Tagore’s work and its versatility to his artistry.

Raqman Lewis

Art for Translation’s Sake

Deep in my heart of hearts, I believe that art is art because the artist says it is. And I really like that definition, because it means that anyone can do art as long as they believe they can. But there is so much art that stirs up emotions that I can’t explain and make me think that sometimes I wonder if that’s not the only definition of art.

When I first heard of and saw Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries’ art, I had no idea what they were all about. I went to the UMMA during welcome week and watched half of their exhibition there, Isn’t it the Greatest in the World? All I knew when I left was that it had made me feel troubled and a little bit sick. Now, some people would walk away from that and never look back, because the feeling wasn’t enjoyable, but when art is able to do that it intrigues me. It lodged itself in my brain and kept nagging me: Find out more about them and why they did this to you. But school was happening, and I didn’t have the time. When my Complit course revealed that they were going to spend almost a whole week on it, I was incredibly excited and used it as an excuse to learn as much as I could about them.

I took the opportunity to go to the Penny Stamps lecture that they did, though I had to leave most of the way through, and they did it again. I left thinking about the way I lived my life and wondering how hypocritical I could possibly be. But I also left thinking about what was being translated, thanks to the attention that 22 Ways brought to it: from their minds, to their language (which is Korean, although, Marc is American, so maybe it goes straight to English), to my language, to my mind and heart.

I had never thought of intellectual and emotional translation before. But it makes perfect sense. That is why art is a form of translation, as Heidi Kumao was talking about when she came to lecture. But she called it “translation from everyday experiences into art,” and I think it goes deeper than that. When people make art, most of the time, they are not purely translating an experience to a medium. Their mind comprehends the experience first, and then they translate it into art.

And the viewer translates it however they see fit. When I went back to the exhibit at the UMMA, after having looked at their website and seen the artists in person, the exhibit didn’t make me feel sick. It didn’t even make me think about the things I was probably supposed to think about. I thought about all the translation aspects of the piece, and how the room was set up, as opposed to the words on the screen. There’s something to be said for both experiences, but I think I may have enjoyed the first exposure to their work more. When it comes to art, I think I prefer the raw emotional translation that a piece instills in me, as opposed to the intellectual analysis that comes after. Nothing can ever replace that first raw emotional response. It’s my favorite part of the translation of art.

Theme Semester Newsletter #12

Students display and discuss translation projects at the Translation Showcase, December 10

This has been a fantastic semester of translation-related events, courses, blogging, and game-playing! Thanks to everyone who has shown interest in translation studies.

On December 10th, the theme semester culminated in our Translation Showcase. Students presented multi-media translation projects, prizes were awarded for theme semester contests, and attendees had a chance to play That Translation Game!

Information about the Language Bank, with Julie Evershed (Director of the Language Resource Center), at the Translation Showcase.

Julie Evershed from the Language Resource Center (pictured left) invited volunteers to sign up for the new Language Bank. Check out more photos from the Showcase in our photo gallery, and click here to read what students have been posting on our blog.

Interview with Rona Beresh (Junior in Comparative Literature) at the Translation Showcase

Excerpts from theme semester events will be available soon on our video archive. We are grateful to faculty, students and staff for help with organizing many events, especially Meg Berkobien and Patrick Tonks (pictured below) for coordinating the North Quad Translation Mondays and for managing our website and publicity, respectively, and to staff members in the Comp Lit office and in LSA for supporting all these efforts.

Meg and Patrick

The work we have begun to highlight translation initiatives at our university will continue beyond the theme semester. Our website will feature ongoing activities related to “Translation at Michigan,” and the Department of Comparative Literature is proposing a new undergraduate Minor in Translation Studies. Anyone interested in getting involved, as a student or faculty member, please contact Yopie Prins or Christi Merrill. Thanks again for a great semester!

Transcultural Dance

After attending the Celebrating Tagore event on Thursday December 6, I was amazed by the level of professionalism that the dancers had. The dancers were extremely convincing in their visual portray of Tagore’s poetry and I was able to understand the meaning of the poem without understanding the language it was written in. I have had similar experiences like this during the semester, such as the Japanese benshi performance earlier in the year. So it was not a new experience to witness language demonstrated through art. However, what was very different about this performance was the fact that not only was the culture being translated, but the music was as well. While watching the dance, I noticed that the music sounded strange for the theme of the performance. It did not sound ethnically Indian, but rather had heavy Jazz influence to it. As someone who has been involved in music for the majority of my life I found this translation to be extremely interesting and entertaining. Normally a dance is matched to the form of music that it was developed for, but when a different type of music is applied to the same dance it creates a noticeable gap between cultures. It is clear that there are differences between cultures, but it may not be clear what the difference always is.

I feel that this difference in musical culture from visual culture enhanced the experience and made me more aware of my differences from other cultures. In a way, it made me feel foreign to the situation, not the other way around. I realized that my culture did not belong. It is extremely difficult to find situations in your native country in which you are the one that does not belong. While there was some universality to the performance, mostly from the expressions and moves of the dancers, there was an odd mixture of foreign and native influence. This mixture was by no means a negative aspect of the night, in fact, it made it all the more enjoyable. It is not very often that I am able to experience a foreign culture interspersed with elements of my own.

Justin Randall

Masterful Translation Through Collaboration

Attending the performance at the Hill Auditorium of “Celebrating Tagore: Translations through Music, Dance, and Poetry” last Thursday was a truly incredible experience. It was my first time attending an event at Hill–which in itself is breathtaking–and I was blown away by the passion that I felt from the incredibly talented performers on stage.

Earlier in the day in “22 Ways” class, the choreographer Sreyashi Dey, and the composer–who also played the flugelhorn masterfully at the performance–Ed Sarath gave a sneak preview into the event the class would see later that night. During the presentation, Dey introduced the concept of bhava, which she explained briefly as the most basic and deep emotions of love, sorrow and anger among others. She went on to explain that, “Ideally, the performance creates these feelings in the hearts of the audience members,” adding, “A successful performance is one that is able to bring out these emotions.” And I am very pleased to say that given this measuring stick, the performance was more than a success.

There was one part in particular that I found extremely intense that evoked a deep connection with the performance. In this moment, the orchestra, choir and dancers were all performing with such tempo and liveliness that I noticed my feet tapping uncontrollably, my posture was tense and upright, and my heart was racing. I was feeling the exact emotion that was created on stage. Not long after I became conscious of my bodily and emotional reaction to performers, in an instant, I was slouching forward–head leaned in toward the stage–as the racing tempo was replaced by the slow, calming yet dreary sound of only the stringed instruments and piano.

Due to my lack of familiarity with many of the Indian cultural components, I was clueless to the exact story being told during this transitional moment; but I suspect the details are not of primary importance. Personally, the most powerful aspect of the performance was its unique ability to translate the bhava through singing, instrument and dancing. Reflecting on the experience, I believe this collaboration was exactly what gave the performance the strength to overcome my ignorance to cultural detail and allowed me to feel the emotion of the story.

Translation through Emotion and Imagination

On Monday December 3, 2012, I had the chance to attend the Film screening and discussion with Trinh T. Minh-ha and Sarah Bouyain. It took place at 7:30pm in 2435 North Quad. I didn’t actually have time to stay for the discussion part, but I watched the two clips from the two films.

The first clip we watched was the ending of a film that had both French and Dyula languages spoken in it. I couldn’t understand the name of the movie, I apologize. It was about a girl named Emmy who is of mixed race. She lived in France with her father but is originally from Burkina Faso. She had learned the language Dyula, of Burkina Faso, as a child when she lived in Burkina Faso with her mother. However, upon going to France to stay with her dad, she learned French and forgot Dyula. She decides to come back to Burkina Faso and she stays with her aunt. Neither understands the other’s language and mostly communicate through hand gestures.

I thought their form of communication was a great demonstration of how people actually try to communicate when they don’t speak the same language. They also used another girl as a translator because she spoke both languages. It was interesting to see that even though they didn’t understand the words spoken to each other, they seemed to understand the emotion of the words. It was more of a translation from sounds to emotion. I think that though they don’t understand each other’s language, they can hear the emotion of the words which can convey similar meaning to the original words themselves. There was also the element of silence which sometimes makes scenes more dramatic because it makes you focus on other aspects.

The second film, which I also did not catch the name of, was about 2 girls and a boy that were having adventures through different places. This film kind of confused me, though it might have been because we watched different scenes through the movie and fast-forwarded through parts as well. This had a less serious mood as it had some magic and things in it. I felt that this one depicted translation through imagination. It seemed like imagination coming to life in each different adventure the kids went through because it visualizes something that another person sees. This isn’t really a type of translation I saw mentioned this semester and found it to be interesting.

Although I couldn’t stay for the discussion part of the event, I still feel like I learned about translation in a new way than before. It was a fun event to attend.

-Sasha Kenkre

Tagore or not tagore

Rabindranath Tagore is a Bengali polymath who is known for reshaping his region’s religion and culture.  His poetry and works of art are world renowned and highly praised by many.  On Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege of attending the performance, “Celebrating Tagore: Translations through Music, Dance and Poetry,” honoring the 100th Anniversary of Tagore’s Nobel Prize Winning accomplishment as well as Tagore’s efforts.  The performance included the University Choir, String Orchestra as well as classical Indian dancers.  There were many different groups that went into this collaboration, and it was well worth the effort.

The performance opened with an Indian singer, the orchestra, as well as the dancers performing.  It was so interesting watching the dancers perform, because I do not have a very knowledgeable background on classical Indian dances, so I was learning while the performance was going on.  The dancers matched the orchestra perfectly, and the orchestra worked so well with the singing.  With so many different forms of expression on stage, one might think that it could be too much, but they made it work to their advantage.   The second performance of the night was the most moving to me: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva.  Each part of the performance represented a god, whether the music and dancing started slow representing Brahma, or sped up while in Vishnu and Shiva.  During the part representing the Vishnu, there were ten avatars introduced in the dance, each avatar having their own pose represented in the dance.  It would have been harder for me to pick that out the certain moves in the performance if I had not received a preview of the performance the same week.  The dancing is so intricate and detailed, that you have to let it all soak in and not think too much about what is going on and feel the performance.  I was able to pick out certain gods that we had seen in our class and understand the performance more because of the preview we got in class.  The gods were being translated out in the performance through the dancing, music and the songs.  These three art forms worked together so skillfully and in unison to get the full message across to their viewers.

The live performance with music and dance made Tagore’s poetry more meaningful.  Throughout the performance I started to feel emotional and get so enthralled, that I would have not been able to do in just a poetry reading.  All these aspects led to a much greater performance then ever imaginable.  It helped me enter into my own imagination of translating Tagore because with simultaneously on in the performance, I was able to interpret what was going on and how it could relate to my life.


On Monday, December 3rd at 4:00 in the afternoon, I walked into the Rackham Amphitheater, aka the greenest room I have ever seen, to hear a talk about silence. I had never heard of Trinh T. Minh-ha before that talk, but I knew that she was quite famous and it was a rare occasion for her to agree to come and do lectures. When she began her talk, “Speaking Nearby: Voices from Silence,” I was first struck by how softly she spoke. Silence seemed to be present in her voice and, as her talk continued, I realized that it was more than that. Silence was a great part of her life.

We have spent so much time in this class discussing the translation of languages, the translation between disciplines, the translation of works of art, and the list continues. We did not, however, ever discuss the translation of silence. Silence is such a powerful and complete entity. Silence can be translated in countless ways. The ambiguity of silence is stronger than even the most untranslatable of texts. The translation of silence varies between cultures and requires knowledge of context and human emotions. For Trinh, silence in the night meant both the expectation of attack while she was still living in Vietnam during the war, but it also meant peace when she was living in the United States. These differences, however, did not become evident to her overnight. Silence as meaning the “calm before the storm” had completely perpetuated her being. It wasn’t until she was able to take complete notice of the silence that she was then able to place meaning to the differences between the forms. It is in this sense that silence defined her life.

I was then struck by how silent the room was. This was odd in this culture of constant noise and communication. I realized how seldom I take the time to just listen to the silence and, even more, to appreciate the meaning of the silence. I take this opportunity now to reflect on the questions that surround silence. When does silence speak louder than words? How can silence be used? Why has our American society chosen to abandon the practices of silence, except on the large and organized level? How do we gain access to silence? And, above all, how does silence define my life? And how does it define yours?

-Naomi Spoelman

Loud Silence?


     Reading a couple short bios on Trinh T. Minh-ha, I was excited for the opportunity to listen to such an amazing and powerful Asian-American women talk about her experiences that merge together so well with the theme of “translation” we have been looking at from all angles over the course of the semester. Her career has seemed to emphasize “translation through silence”, and as this is a type of translation we haven’t talked about, I eagerly desired to hear what she had to say.

     At the Silence and Translation Symposium, I had the opportunity to hear Trinh speak about her tumultuous past as a young child in Vietnam during a time of incredible political instability and how, as an adult, her past has influenced the way she approaches creative works. She stressed the fact that “Silence communicates meaning, Silence speaks” and led with stories from her childhood, where during the time of the Vietnam War, “Silence in the night took an uneasy presence.”  Previously asking the panel audience whether or not “Silence is translatable,” these stories of her past answered that question for me.

     After the panel ended and throughout the week, I wondered how silence is translatable. To her, it was the fact that during her time in Vietnam, silence was translated into a feeling of uneasiness. As the “calm before the storm,” the halt of the loud sounds of bombs dropping and guns firing only lasted so long. However, how is silence translated in my own life? Similarly, it can also be that uneasy calmness, where nothing is said before you take a test, or before screaming and yelling ensues from an altercation. Yet, it can also translate into some of the happiest feelings one can feel. That silence accompanied by two lovers looking into each other’s eyes, or even that feeling of ecstatic happiness, where all you can do is sit and smile. Thus though there isn’t only one way to translate silence, in my opinion its importance should not be overlooked.