The best TED talks for English language learners

TED talks are a hugely helpful accompaniment to an online English course. When it comes to learning English, the more resources we have the better.

What is a TED talk?

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and is a global set of conferences that have run every year since 1990. Speakers from around the world gather to deliver talks on their specialist subjects, life experiences, professions, areas of research and more.

They cover topics that are scientific, cultural and academic; past speakers include Bill Gates, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Bono and more.

TED talks have an educational focus, and the conference’s slogan is Ideas Worth Spreading. They aim to open the mind to new ideas, inspiring and educating viewers.

Since 2006 TED talks have been available to watch for free online via the official TED website and YouTube. More than 1,900 TED talks are available at TED.com, and they’ve been viewed more than one billion times worldwide

How can they help?

TED talks can help English language learners in a variety of ways:

  • Talks about language – you’ll find some TED talks given by linguists and language teachers. The talks feature content that can add to your English language knowledge and teach you more about linguistics in general.
  • Simply listening – TED talks are delivered by native English speakers from all over the world. You don’t need to listen to a TED talk about language to learn about English. Watch any TED talk about a subject that really interests you and you’ll be helping to improve your vocabulary, comprehension and pronunciation skills – simply by listening to a native English speaker.
  • TED transcripts – transcripts of each TED talk are available so that you can read along with the spoken word. This helps you to improve your pronunciation skills and more easily understand what’s being said.

Five great TED talks for English language learners

James Geary: Metaphorically Speaking

Aphorism enthusiast and author James Geary takes a fascinating look at an important part of human language: the metaphor. From Aristotle to Elvis, metaphor can subtly influence the decisions we make, Geary says.

Tim Doner: Breaking the Language Barrier

Tim Doner is a senior at the Dalton School in New York City who has studied over 20 languages. An inspiration to English learners everywhere, Tim’s talk reveals why language fascinates him, how learning a new language can change us forever and more.

Erin McKean: Go Ahead, Make Up New Words!

Forget learning English – how about improving it? A fun, short talk from lexicographer Erin McKean. She’ll give you six ways to make new words in English, in order to make language better at expressing what we mean.

Jean-Baptise Michel & Erez Lieberman Aiden: What we Learned from 5 Million Books

Taking a look at a new Google Ngram tool that lets you search for words and ideas in a database of 5 million books from across centuries. Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel show us how it works and a few of the surprising things we can learn from 500 billion words.

Stephen Burt: Why People Need Poetry

Listen to Stephen read some of his favourite poems and learn about rhythm, intonation, word stress, linguistic sounds and more.

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