If you are learning English and you have never heard of TED Talks, you need to stop what you are doing take a look at it right now. It is a fascinating collection of talks on a huge variety of subjects, each talk with subtitles in a number of different languages, and a transcript to follow with clickable links to navigate your way around the talk. This makes it an excellent tool for improving your listening comprehension.
If you are an advanced learner, all of the talks are accessible. If you have a lower level, you may find that many of the talks are too long. You used to be able to search for talks by length, but for some reason this function has been removed. However, many of the short talks (under 6 minutes) have been tagged « short talk », and you can access a list here (or select view all tags/short talks from the home page).
One of my engineering students put me onto a short TED Talk entitled How to Start a Movement, by Derek Sivers. Let’s look at how you might use this video for a listening comprehension activity.
1. First activate the English subtitles
2. You can also view the whole transcript from the drop-down menu « show transcript ». This becomes especially useful when you want to focus on specific vocabulary in the talk. For example, in this talk you will hear the word « guts ». After watching the video once you may want to go back to the point in the video where this word was used. Simply select ctrl + F (PC) or cmd + F (Mac), type « guts » in the « Find » field, and it will highlight every instance of the word in the transcript. To return to the exact point in the video, simply click on the word « guts », and it will return you to the right spot.
What are the qualities of a good leader?
Make a list of the top ten qualities, thinking about good and bad leaders you have known. Now watch the video, and make notes on the following question:
How do the principles in this talk relate to leadership? What qualities of good leadership are mentioned?
You will notice that there are a number of idioms and phrasal verbs in this talk. For example:
How are these expressions used in the talk (use the « find » function mentioned above to locate where in the talk they are used)? Can you guess the meaning from the context? If not, you can use a good online dictionary such as Dictionary.com to check.
For further vocabulary work, watch the talk again, and make a list of no more than ten new words or expressions, under one of the following categories:
For some writing practice, use the comments below. You could comment on the following:
The first follower is an underestimated form of leadership in itself.
Finally, note that you can also download the talks to your hard drive for later viewing. This way you won’t have the option of using subtitles or the transcript, however.
How to use automatic captions to improve your listening skills. There are many ways of using video clips to improve listening skills. YouTube automatic captions uses voice recognition algorithms to create subtitles.
To learn a language, listen to it first. The best means to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns, even if you haven’t a clue what it all means.